You love your S.O., and you’re super happy in your relationship (even if it’s not always fairy-tale perfect). But maybe the idea of committing to one sexual or romantic partner for the rest of your life seems… just not you. More and more couples are considering the idea of going monogam-ish, and trying what’s known as an “open” relationship. But how do you pull it off without things getting messy?
We talked to Andrea Syrtash, a relationships expert and the author of the book Cheat on Your Husband (With Your Husband). Andrea’s also lent her expertise to The View, The Today Show, NPR, On-Air With Ryan Seacrest and more, and she has a lot of experience helping singles and couples navigate their boundaries and find the right relationship patterns that work for them, even if it’s not so traditional.
First, we asked Andrea to tell us how she, as an expert, defines an open relationship. “It’s essentially one in which the two people involved have agreed to engage in a romantic and/or intimate relationship outside of their primary romantic relationship,” she says. So here are some tips for having that talk if you feel like you’re ready.
1. Tread carefully. It’s probably unlikely that you’re both going to be hit with a lightning bolt of realization that that’s what you want at the same time — so that means either you or your S.O. is going to have to bring it up. And you should be careful how you do that, if at all.
“It’s important to already have clear communication, respect and trust as the foundation of your relationship before broaching this,” says Andrea. An open relationship can potentially challenge all of those things, so if you’re not starting from a secure place, you’re more likely to run into issues like jealousy, or misunderstandings about what the goals and benefits of opening up the relationship were supposed to be in the first place. It shouldn’t ever feel like cheating, to either of you.
2. Know your partner’s receptiveness. If this is the first time you’re talking about it, “ask yourself if you think your partner senses this may be a need or will feel it’s come out of left field,” says Andrea. “Have you ever expressed a desire to be with others?” Maybe you’ve disclosed a celebrity crush or two, but that’s way different than telling your partner you want to go on a real live date with the guy who works at the coffee shop down the street.
3. What if it’s not your idea? On the other hand, if you’re the one being put on the spot, don’t feel like you have to give your partner a “yes” or a “no” right away. If you haven’t been thinking about it too, the idea might come as a shock at first — but maybe you’ll realize you’re actually totally cool with the idea of a less conventional relationship, and this is something you want as well.
“Check in with yourself and gauge your genuine openness or comfort level,” Andrea advises. “Ask your partner why this is of interest and express any concerns or questions. Also, consider doing a cost-benefit analysis. What’s it costing you to try this arrangement? What’s it costing you not to?”
The only person who can make the decision is you, and if you’re not 100% comfortable with it, consider it a no-go. And if your partner isn’t OK with your decision, clearly you two have some work to do on your present two-person relationship before anything else.
4. Set the rules up front. If you do decide to open the relationship, before you start shopping around on Tinder, you also need to set some ground rules — together. “In certain cases, couples establish rules like, ‘Nobody we know’ or ‘I want to be involved.’ It varies, but the primary idea of having other intimate partners is the same,” explains Andrea. “The important thing is that you dialogue and don’t make assumptions. You’re both in the relationship and should establish these kinds of parameters and boundaries together. As partners, we can’t make unilateral moves when it comes to the big decisions.”
Some couples also make rules about giving each other advance warning before going on a date or hooking up with someone else (even if it’s just a text to get a quick thumbs-up emoji from their partner), or limiting the number of times they’ll see the same person, so that it doesn’t turn into anything serious.
It isn’t for every couple, and it’s absolutely not something you should get into lightly or without some truly honest, thorough discussion about your needs and boundaries. But for some people, a working open relationship means that, at the end of the day, their partner is always choosing them — and that can provide a bit of an ego boost, and actually make them feel more secure.
Have you and your S.O. ever tried or considered an open relationship? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo.