My Partner Wants An Open Relationship – But Is It The Right Thing For You?

My Partner Wants An Open Relationship – But Is It The Right Thing For You?

When we think about relationships we generally consider the set-in-stone, accepted, monogamous type of relationship. Meeting, dating, moving in, maybe getting married, 2.4 children – you know the kind of thing. Especially as people move into their thirties, then tend to want to settle down and have a close, loving relationship. Because that’s the norm isn’t it? That’s what all people want, isn’t it? The answer to both of these is a resounding NO. If there’s one thing that has come from our evolved society, it’s that pretty much anything goes. Same sex marriage, teen parents, huge, white wedding, eloping – all of these are normal things.

However, when it comes to monogamy in relationships, this can be a tricky thing to navigate. We all assume that monogamy is essential in relationships, but that is very far from the truth – and reality. There are lots of different types, and generally it’s down to both partners to choose the one that suits them best. And these can rattle along for years, in their same, accepted format, peacefully with nothing really changing. So if your partner announces out of the blue that they’d like an open relationship, it might come as a total shock, or maybe you’ve skirted around the subject before. Whichever it is, there is probably going to be a heck of a lot of talking about it before anything is decided and lots of questions to be answered. The first of which might be, “What exactly is an open relationship?”. There are no set parameters, these are all movable things so you choose what suits you both. The basic definition is a situation where both partners are free to engage in emotional/sexual/romantic endeavours with people outside of the relationship, but you can pick and choose which bits are right for you, obviously. There are some standard questions that should be asked before you go ahead with what will probably be a momentous decision. Whatever route (if any) you decide to go with, there should be one, inarguable, point that you have to agree on and that’s protection. Even if your days of procreating are well and truly gone, condoms need to be used in any casual sex situation because that’s the only way that you can protect yourself against STIs/STDs.

  • 1.Why is your partner suggesting this?
  • This is a really important one because it’s vital to understand the motive here. Is it because they’ve become bored in the relationship? Are they frustrated at the lack of sex? Have they met someone specific and want to take things further? Have they basically checked out of the relationship? Or are they happy in the relationship but want a bit of fun and excitement? The answers to these questions will tell you a lot of what you want to know. If it turns out that your partner is just bored, or doesn’t want to be with you anymore but doesn’t feel that they can leave, then the issues are to do with the state of things between you, not about having an open marriage. Is sex a problem between you? It often is in relationships, there’s no shame there. But again, addressing the issue might be the answer, not having sex with other people. Exploring the idea of an open relationship should be a shared one, where both people are happy. Or if you’re totally fine with your partner going elsewhere, that’s cool too. Before you even begin to consider outside sexual relationships, it’s well worth examining the state of your sex life as it stands now. Has it got boring? Has it become physically uncomfortable? If so, then there are a number of lube options that might help. Is there anything going on mentally and emotionally that might be affecting the intimacy?
  • 2.Do you have any relationship goals that you’d like to achieve?
  • Because if you’re broad-minded then this could open up a whole new world for you and your partner! Or it could be slamming the door in your face. It’s up to you to work out what you want and/or what you’re comfortable with.
  • 3.Are you open to the idea but want to set some rules?
  • This could be a good, halfway house here. If your partner is keen to go ahead but you’re not sure, then how about agreeing to some conditions being put in place? For example:
  • Sex is fine but there can be no emotions involved. If they start to appear then the relationship has to be ended immediately.
  • Things can only happen when your partner is away from home/travelling abroad.
  • The person has free rein to do what they want – but they must never mention it, or bring into the home.
  • There can be no secret affairs – if there are then it’s a relationship-ending scenario.
  • Work out if this is something you want to engage in, NEVER be bullied or manipulated into it.
  • 4.Be very clear that there’s a line between an open relationship and having an affair. The latter cannot be dressed up as the former, so it’s really, really important to have that honest discussion about what exactly is being proposed.

Ultimately, different things are good for different people. What suits some won’t suit others, so don’t feel guilty if you can’t agree to something that your partner thinks is perfectly reasonable. And possibly most important of all, you can always end the arrangement if you want to. Nothing is set in stone and if you agree to try but ultimately can’t, then take yourself out of the situation and wave goodbye to it. Whether or not your partner follows you will probably tell you a great deal about their suitability as your partner.

Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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