Hump Day: Navigating an open relationship

Maggie Rosenbohm

Editor’s note: In this recurring series, sex & dating columnist Maggie Rosenbohm gives advice on various dating and sex-related problems college students face. Have a question you want her to answer? Send an email to [email protected], and it might appear in next week’s Hump Day advice column.

Question: My partner and I have been talking about the idea of making our relationship open, and I have reservations about how successful an open relationship can be. How I should go about starting this?

On a campus with 51,000 students, let alone the 7 billion people in the world, finding “the one” is quite the feat. With so many people, it’s difficult to be completely sure that only one of them is a perfect match. Knowing that there could be more than just one person for them, couples are turning to consensually non-monogamous relationships to explore their options. In 2010, an estimated 8.4 million couples reported practicing some form of non-monogamy. Open relationships allow the couple to explore other partners sexually or emotionally. The conditions of exclusivity in an open relationship vary among couples — some couples are completely open, where anything goes, while others prefer some boundaries.   

Making sense of a relationship that involves only two people is difficult enough, but there are things to do to make the process of broadening the parameters of a relationship easier. 

Get on the same page.

Before starting an open relationship, consider why you or your partner want one in the first place. Do you want to be open because you’re delaying a breakup? Does monogamy just not work for you? Or are you simply just curious about what is out there? Being honest about your intentions will set a good foundation for a successful open relationship.

Set ground rules. 

Take time to map out the do’s and don’ts for the new relationship. These rules should cover every possible scenario you can imagine you or your partner getting into and where you stand on the matter. If the thought of hearing your significant other talking about someone they met in between classes makes you uncomfortable, make it a rule to keep outside affairs out of conversation. Making rules in the beginning will prevent a lot of potential hurt feelings and jealousy in the end. 

Be prepared to feel jealous.

It’s natural to feel jealousy — even when in a monogamous relationship. Jealousy comes in many different forms, so it’s important to know when it’s healthy and when it becomes overbearing. If your jealousy begins to interfere with the relationship and everyday life, it may be time to reevaluate. 

Make time for each other. 

Although you may be going on dates and spending time with someone other than your partner, remember that you are still in a relationship. Any healthy relationship requires time spent together. Don’t assume that the freedom of an open relationship means forgetting to spend quality time with your significant other. 

Embrace the experience.

Deciding to go through with an open relationship can be a great experience. Consensually non-monogamous relationships offer the combination of real intimacy and mutual independence that can be a great way of learning about oneself. A benefit of trying an open relationship is that it’s not a permanent decision. So if it ends up not being the right fit, returning to monogamy is possible. Do what works for you both, and see what can happen when the guard of monogamy is let down.