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A Beginner’s Guide to Open Relationships

When my current partner and I entered our relationship, we knew we both wanted to remain individual, unique, creative and continue to evolve personally without the reliance of a partner to do these things for us. I had been “single” for many months at the time. Although I was calling in a romantic partner in my life, I was very happy experiencing everything I was experiencing on my own at that time. 

Essentially, I wanted the best of both worlds: love with another, connection, companionship, partnership, friendship (someone to travel with), and a person who complimented me and the life I had already created for myself. But, in addition, I also desired spiritual growth, personal evolution, and total freedom. Freedom to spend time alone, travel by myself, or with my girlfriends ( I love myself a good girls trip), time to focus on my growing my business, surfing, meeting interesting people, and releasing attachment to one single place, person, or situation. 

So what was the “best” solution for me and my personal development, to have its cake and eat it too? The answer for me was to be in an ethically non-monogamous relationship (or open relationship) that allowed me to experience all of the things I knew I desired and more.

So What Is an Open Relationship?

The real answer is, there isn't one real answer at all. The “exact” definition of an open relationship depends on the people and partners involved. As I said above, I had a very specific list of hobbies, goals, friendships, and experiences that I knew I wanted to continue prioritizing in my own life. An open relationship or a “conscious connection,” as my partner and I like to call it, depends completely on the guidelines and parameters that are agreed upon and “set” both individually and together within your relationship “container.” 

If you look up “open-relationships” on the internet, you’ll most likely find a description similar to this - A relationship or companionship where both partners agree, together, to be consensually non-monogamous. Meaning they do not date one another exclusively. In an open relationship (or non-monogamous relationship,) both partners have the freedom and choice to explore romantic, platonic, or sexual relationships with other individuals, couples, or groups.

Why Do Some People Consider Open Relationships? 

There are a plethora of reasons why one person or one couple might consider an open relationship. Suppose you are currently not in a relationship with another person but are manifesting your next partner or connection. In that case, you may ask yourself, “what has worked for me within a monogamous relationship in my past? And what hasn't?” And then take it from there. Maybe there were areas within your previous relationships that served you and your growth tremendously, so you’d like to continue to explore those same areas in the future. 

Maybe other aspects of previous partnerships felt constraining, limiting, restrictive or unhealthy for you. So you know to avoid re-creating those same experiences in the future. Ideally, ALL relationships, whether open or closed, should be made up of individual requests, desires, needs, and boundaries that feel best for you and your partner, being met. No two relationships are or should be the same. 

My partner Matt is an excellent example of someone who discovered they wanted to explore open relationships before he was in one. Matt was “single” (I don't like this word) or solo when he and I met, yet he was very clear on the fact that he desired to be in non-monogamous relationships moving forward. Through his personal experience of being in a thirteen-year committed (monogamous) relationship with his previous partner, he had realized that his individual evolution and growth had been put on his “back burner” by the parameters of his monogamous connection. He felt he wasn't evolving as an individual because he instead placed expectations on his partner to provide this personal growth for him.

For thirteen years, he and his partner spent every single day together, traveled together, surfed together, spent time with friends together, and raised two wonderful children together. So obviously, there was a lot to celebrate in their life and relationship for many years. Unfortunately, resentment began to creep into their relationship over time, and both partners acknowledged the complacency in which individualism had no longer been fostered in their connection. Matt knew, moving forward, that his joy and happiness required an atmosphere of un-attachment, creativity, and self-expression. So when he and I met, he was clear and communicative about what he knew he desired in a relationship. On the other hand, I had never been in an open relationship and knew very, very little on the subject, let alone the actual experience. 

For everything I didn't know about non-monogamy, the one thing I did feel certain about was my willingness to learn and potentially try something new. I’ve always been an adventure-seeker. 

For every non-monogamous relationship, there are different reasons and motivating factors. In an ideal scenario, a couple might consider opening up their relationship with the intention to experience something exciting and fulfilling together.

Here are Ten Reasons You Might Consider an Open Relationship:

  • You’ve never tried one before and are curious to know what it might be like to have a “primary” committed partner while also exploring romantic or sexual experiences with another - without “cheating” or intentionally hurting or lying to someone you love. 
  • You may feel that you have a whole lotta love to give and share and can see yourself being able to love more than one person at the same time. 
  • You travel often or spend time away from your partner for extended periods of time, yet still desire to be romantic or sexual with someone else while apart. I can resonate with this reason personally.
  • You feel your long-term relationship is in need of a “re-vamp,” and you are curious to see if this could be an opportunity for you both to spice up your sex life or intimacy in a new and consensual way. 
  • You love your current partner deeply and realize that going on dates with other people may be the perfect reminder for you both to remember why you love and appreciate each other so much in the first place.
  • You (or your partner) have a particular sexual fantasy or kink that you want to explore, while the other has no interest in it. 
  • Seeing, hearing about, or participating in your partner being intimate with someone else turns you on sexually, or vice versa.
  • You want to explore your sexuality or sexual relationships with someone different - different gender, age, sexual orientation, background, or life experiences. 
  • You are curious to experience a threesome, foursome, or group sex experience. 
  • You and your partner have different libidos or sexual desires. For example, maybe one of you is interested in having sex five times a week, while the other partner only craves intimacy every so often.

The Importance of Staying Individual

I believe that our lives are uniquely magnificent and intricate, and we should never aim to duplicate or emulate someone else’s experience. When I first began to consider an open relationship and do my research in this field, what stood out to me the most was how many of us find ourselves in monogamous relationships because it is socially or societally expected of us. Never once in any of the romantic novels, romance movies, or college-level psychology classes that I took was I presented with the possibility of being in a healthy & successful relationship that wasn't monogamous. Isn't that odd? The more I learned about non-monogamy and the fulfillment it brought into so many people’s lives, the more frustrated I felt that I had only been fed one narrative my entire life about how relationships should look and be. Especially when so many marriages end in divorce (anywhere from ½ to ⅔ of marriages, depending on where you look.) Including my own parent’s marriage and more than half of my friend’s parents’ marriages. 

Similarly to discovering veganism, and the horrors of the animal agriculture industry, I questioned why no one had ever spoken to me about this before and wondered if there was an underlying intention behind this “programming” similar to the one beneath the food and diet “standard.” (And most religions continue to promote heterosexual, monogamous, married relationships with the intent to have children as the ideal.)

In no way do I aspire to “convince” or persuade anyone to change any aspect of their life or circumstance unless they wish to. And the same goes for relationships. I love and appreciate my open relationship just as much as I love and appreciate my older sister’s fifteen-year (and still going strong) monogamous relationship. At the end of each day, I pray that all people, everywhere, are fortunate enough to experience love and partnership that is perfectly unique and rewarding for them and their own needs. 

And I’ll be the first to tell you - just like many monogamous relationships, not all open-relationships or polyamorous relationships are “perfect” 100% of the time. I, too, have had my fair share of jealousy, insecurity, doubt, fear, and confusion arise in my open relationship. But I’d be lying to you if I wrote that this was the first time I’d ever experienced these feelings because I’ve also experienced jealousy, insecurity, doubt, fear, and confusion in many of my previous monogamous relationships before. Which leads us to my next piece of advice.

Don’t Enter Any Relationship Expecting a “Quick-Fix.”

If your current relationship doesn't feel fun, safe, loving or healthy, for you or your partner, opening your relationship up probably won’t “fix” it, simply because your relationship may not be meant to be right now.

Similar to buying a new house or having a baby together, an open relationship can't save a failing connection. Essentially, opening up an already weak or unstable partnership may destroy it. If you want to explore an open relationship and have any chance of it succeeding, you’ll first need to establish a foundation for your relationship rooted in trust, love, communication, and compassion for one another’s feelings and needs.  Take it from someone with some experience in this area; if you are already feeling insecure or unsure about where your current relationship stands, dating other people probably won't help.

Now to end things on a more positive note.

What Has My Open-Relationship Brought Me?

I’m no expert on this subject, but I am open to discuss and share what I’ve learned through my personal experiences so far. 

After almost 3.5 years in a non-monogamous partnership, with many ups, downs, and curves (similar to most of my monogamous relationships before,) I can now say with complete honesty and truth that I’ve never been happier in a relationship. I’ve also discovered so much about myself that I never had the opportunity to before.

Today, my open relationship has brought me

  • Improved communication and problem-solving skills
  • A deeper level of trust and understanding (for both myself and my partner) 
  • More friendships (both platonic and romantic) with interesting, open-minded individuals and couples
  • Radical self-discovery, self-honesty, and self-acceptance 
  • Joy + Laughter
  • Excitement 
  • Romance
  • Great kisses, intimacy, and sex (both with my partner and without)
  • New Experiences
  • Epic date nights
  • A healthy way (for us) to “keep the flame alive” after more than three years of being with one another 
  • A sense of self-freedom, personal identity, and individualism that I wouldn't trade for the world
  • A partner who loves me unconditionally and accepts me exactly as I am
  • Equality in our relationship - not feeling like someone else’s possession
  • The ability to trust in my intuition and not ask another for “permission.”
  • A sense of mystery and genuine interest in one another within our relationship
  • Curiousness 
  • Light-heartedness 
  • A heck of a lot of interesting stories that I would not have elsewhere
  • A partner that I trust in confide in, and can be vulnerable with without hesitation
  • And so much more.

I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you're interested in reading some learning material that interested me when I first discovered the world of ethical non-monogamy, I’d love to recommend these books (and one podcast) to you. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story.

Untrue, by Wednesday Martin
Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
Freedom The Courage to Be Yourself, by Osho
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory, by Dedeker Winston

Lessons from Inside Open Relationship with Whitney Miller | Aubrey Marcus Podcast

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