Just like any other relationship, open relationship dating requires a strong and honest foundation. Open relationships are not short of challenges but can be fulfilling and successful if approached in a manner satisfactory to both partners. If you are curious about open relationships or wondering why it may not have worked for you, here is how to effectively navigate a consensual open relationship.

What Is an Open Relationship?

There are various relationship styles that do not fall within the category of a traditional monogamous relationship. Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is the hypernym for non-traditional relationship structures. A familiar form of non-monogamous relationship under ENM is an open relationship. This is not a new relationship style, but it certainly has sparked discussion in recent years.

Open relationships as the name slightly define it are ones in which partners explore outside of their relationship. This can lead to other non-exclusive sexual and/or emotional connections with the knowledge and consent of primary partners. This is the general definition, which applies to many partners in open relationships. Others may redefine what it means to be open in their specific relationships.

Understanding certain elements of open relationships help create a stronger foundation. Before making the decision to enter an open relationship, consider the following tips. 

Be Honest with Yourself

woman reflecting on open relationship

Starting an open relationship with internal dishonesty creates a web of unnecessary problems for yourself and your partner. This is not always an easy decision for everyone, so take the time to reflect on it.

Make sure engaging in an open relationship is truly what you want. Many people enter open relationships because it is something their partner wants. Others engage in open relationships due to the guilt of leaving a partner they have built with for many years. This can create confusion and only prolongs the hurt you are avoiding.

Develop A Set of Rules

This might lead to the question: “open relationships are meant to encourage freedom. Wouldn’t rules be a form of restraint?”

You are living your life by a set of rules, whether knowingly or unknowingly. These rules can be set by yourself or by social constructs but should not feel imposed. Relationships are no different when it comes to rules, but there is a line that differentiates rules set to control, as opposed to those set to maintain relationship bliss.

Healthy open relationship rules are beneficial because it presents a clear idea of what both partners consent to. Rules prevent arguments, distrust, betrayal, and other open relationship problems that may arise.

Discuss Insecurities (Ex: Fears & Jealousy)

Being aware of one another’s expectations creates comfort, reduces fears, and strengthens trust in an open relationship.

The initiator of the open relationship can experience fear & jealousy just as much as the partner presented with the information. It can be a natural response to develop intrusive thoughts when trying something new in your relationship. For instance, as the initiator of the open relationship, you may fear being seen as a hypocrite for bringing up concerns. This reemphasizes the importance of open communication.

Encourage Modifications

What worked at the beginning of your relationship may not be ideal as you progress. If something that you previously discussed ends up not working, be open to modifications. Being honest and telling your partner what works and what does not build healthy communication.

Have Open Communication

This is necessary for a healthy relationship. The lack of open communication is one of the common reasons why open relationships don’t work for some. By encouraging these honest, trust-building conversations, you reach better outcomes.

Sharing your thoughts, concerns, and feelings strengthens your intimacy. Open communication sets up a system in which partners approach one other with an open mindset. 

Partners are more likely to be understanding of each other’s feelings and more comfortable when discussing different areas of their relationships when communication is open.

Practice Mutualism

In nature, different species adopt specific symbiotic relationship structures to survive. This interaction can be beneficial or detrimental to one or both species based on the type of symbiosis they adhere to.

The partnership between you and your partner in an open relationship can be seen as symbiosis. For an open relationship to function seamlessly, there needs to be established mutualism—both partners benefit from actions and decisions made in the relationship. Open relationships are more likely to thrive when you make agreements with positive outcomes for both partners.

Set Clear Boundaries

This may feel like setting rules, but they are not the same concept. While a rule can enforce expectations for your partner, a boundary is mainly for yourself. Boundaries are in place to protect you and communicate your limits to your partner.

With rules, you are hoping your partner will respect what you both agree on. With boundaries, you are in control of the outcome because they are set primarily for your own emotional safety. A way to make sure your boundaries are met is to ensure they are clear to your partner.

Time Management

Always be considerate of the time you spend with your significant other and external partners. Flexibility is essential in your relationship. Your partner should not feel as if you are growing apart after your arrangement.