Pros and cons of open relationships

Finding a relationship that fits just right can take some experimentation. If you, or your partner, are considering transitioning to an open relationship, then chances are there are lots of questions buzzing around in your mind. Let’s start off with what an open relationship is: the basic concept is that partners consent for each other to date other people. While the truth is the set up can change from one relationship to the next, the basics will remain the same. Open relationships can be sexual, or not: some relationships will focus on sexual wellness, while others will find they look for partners who they want to share their life with romantically but not sexually. Boundaries are super important, so everyone feels comfortable, and you might find that takes some experimentation. Let’s get stuck in and unpack some of the most common questions people have about open relationships.

Is an open relationship healthy?

Relationships are deeply personal, and what is healthy for one person may not be suitable for the next. Researchers estimate that around 1 in 5 adults in the US is part of a consensual open relationship, so it would be reasonable to think of it as a type of relationship that’s healthy and appropriate for some people. That being said, it won’t be for everyone. Your suitability for an open relationship will come down to several factors, but there’s one skill relationship experts come back to time and time again: communication. Relationship expert Dr. Lawrence Josephs told Brides, “Some of us might aspire to be successful at consensual non-monogamy, and that requires certain personality dispositions and interpersonal skills, like overcoming jealousy and insecurity about consensual partner sharing.” The key to having a healthy open relationship is checking in with your partners regularly to ensure everyone is getting what they need from their partners, and that being in a non-monogamous relationship isn’t putting a strain on anyone’s mental or emotional wellbeing.

Why shouldn’t you be in an open relationship?

A crucial part of a healthy and successful open relationship is consent and understanding for everyone involved. A prime example of a case when an open relationship would potentially not be the best idea is if it’s an option you feel your partner is pushing you towards. Any kind of relationship shift needs to come from a place of understanding and respect. If you ever feel like you’re being pushed into something, or even that you’re making someone else engage in something they’re not comfortable with, then it’s time to stop and check in with whether you’re going down the right path. Any relationship can be complicated, so remember that the more people who are involved, the more personalities and emotions there will be to balance and accommodate. “Most couples who enter open relationships believe they will be able to keep their emotions in check. However, emotions are messy, unpredictable, and generally uncontrollable,” relationship counselor Tracy Smith told eCounseling.

What are the rules to an open relationship?

Rules will change from one partner to another, so it’s important to discuss these together and check in every so often to make sure you’re on the same page. Some of the most common rules for people in open relationships will focus on these areas:

  • Boundaries

Establish what you are all comfortable with, set out a list of ‘no-nos’ so everyone knows if there’s something you find triggering or don’t feel comfortable doing with a particular partner, and if there are any sex-specific boundaries you want to put into place it’s sensible to share those at the outset. It’s a good idea to document these rules somehow; it doesn’t need to be some kind of contract, but sharing a note that covers what you discussed with anyone involved can’t do any harm.

  • Safety

If you’re planning on getting intimate with multiple partners, practicing safe sex is crucial. Establish how you’re going to navigate this area, including protection, birth control, and testing as appropriate.

  • Time

Decide how you will share your time with different partners, and check in that the arrangement will work for everyone. Some partners will be looking for a closer relationship than others, so make sure you set out how much time you can spend with them to avoid getting stressed out trying to balance everyone’s needs.

What percentage of open relationships work?

Data shows that open relationships tend to work best in the short term, while open marriages have a low success rate. Relationship expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie told Red Magazine: “it is said that less than 1% of couples are in open marriages. Twenty percent of couples have experimented with consensual non-monogamy [but] open marriage has a 92% failure rate. Eighty percent of people in open marriages experience jealousy of the other.” Several factors could explain this high rate of failure, jealousy being one of them, but also the very reason some people look into open relationships in the first place: the relationship becomes monotonous. 

The bottom line

Open relationships will not be suitable for everyone. They can work well when communication channels are open, and partners feel comfortable in sharing their needs with each other. It’s important that you are in the right headspace before considering entering into an open relationship because sharing partners can conjure up some big emotions. If you’re looking to change things up and monogamy hasn’t been working out for you, as long as everyone involved has expressed their consent and is happy to explore a non-monogamous relationship, it could be the perfect type of relationship for you.