What are Open Relationships and Are… | Counseling | Therapy

What are Open Relationships and Are they for Me?

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil , LCSW — Therapist, director of intern program, director of rhode island office

open relationships: sex therapy in philadelphia, society hill, ocean city, image

Often when couples are considering opening up their relationship (i.e. transitioning from emotional and sexual exclusivity to some form of emotional or sexual nonmonogamy) they may feel overwhelmed about where to start. What agreements should they make? Should they start by exploring with outside sexual partners on their own? Or by inviting a third into their bed? What if they start to feel jealous? If done thoughtfully and intentionally, opening up a partnership can help you and your partner build intimacy and strengthen your relationship. Clear and consistent communication will be key, as well as a shared understanding of the various formations your partnership could take.

Just as in monogamous relationships, open relationships can take a variety of forms. There are an infinite number of possibilities for what your partnership can look like, based on the needs of you and your partner(s). Here are some models other folks have used successfully:

Monogamy: a commitment between two people to be sexually, and often emotionally exclusive.

Example: Bob and Bill love each other and have agreed not to sleep with or become romantically attached to anyone else.

Partnered nonmonogamy: a commitment between two people to be emotionally, but not sexually exclusive.

Example: Bob and Sally love each other and have agreed not to become romantically attached to anyone else. Bob sleeps with women he picks up on tinder, and Sally does scenes at a BDSM club once a month.

Swinging: May be considered another form of partnered nonmonogamy – an emotionally exclusive couple participates in sexual activities together, with other couples.

Example: Sally and Bob love each other and have agreed not to become romantically involved with anyone else, or to sleep with anyone outside of swing sessions where they meet up with other couples and swap partners.

Polyamory: Relationships which are emotionally as well as sexually nonmonogamous. Polyamory may take a variety of formations such as a committed threesome (thruple) or a network of overlapping partnerships

Example 1: Bob, Sally and Bill are in love and make decisions about their life together. They all own the house the three of them live in.

Example 2: Bob and Bill are in love and live together. Bob also has a girlfriend of 10 years, Sally. Sally has two boyfriends: Bob and Jim.

Hierarchical Polyamory: a committed partnership that allows for outside emotional and sexual relationships, while acknowledging the primacy of the primary partnership

Example: Bob and Sally are primary partners, and while they have a secondary partnership with Bill. Bob and Sally make life decisions together regarding their house, bills, etc, while Bill does not.

Pop Quiz: Before you Begin

As you think about which of these structures may work for you, it is helpful to think about your motivation for opening up your relationship. Take some time for you and your partner to individually answer the questions below. Then make a date to share them.

  • Do you believe you can be in love with more than one person at a time? Why or why not?
  • What role does sex play for you in loving relationships?
  • Can you have sex without an emotional attachment? What role do feelings play for you during sex?
  • Have you ever had a “fuck buddy” or “friend with benefits?” What worked for you? What didn’t?
  • What is the state of your relationship? Does it feel stable? Insecure? Predictable? Loving?
  • What are your most common conflicts with your partner?
  • If time, money, morality, etc were not at issue, how often would you have sex?
  • What sexual desires or fantasies are you interested in exploring that you haven’t yet?
  • How much time do you have to devote to dating outside partners?
  • How much one-on-one time do you need with your current partner?
  • What do you fear opening up this relationship would bring to it?
  • What do you hope opening up this relationship would bring to it?

As you reflect on your answers, you may find that the two of you differ, especially when it comes to the role of sex and emotions in your life. That’s ok! Just as in monogamous relationships, partners can have different attitudes towards independence, love and sex. What’s important is being clear and transparent about these differences and how they impact your shared goals for the relationship.

If you found this exercise raised more questions than answers, or are looking for more tools for clear communication and rule-setting as you open your relationship, call The Center For Growth at 215 922 LOVE to make an appointment with a sex therapist today.

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