An open relationship can seem like a dream come true for some men: a committed and loving relationship with tons of guilt-free extra sex on the side. But without carefully considering the decision before moving into an open arrangement with your girlfriend, you might end up losing the relationship you had in the first place.
Open sexual arrangements among couples are hardly a new phenomenon. A quick scan of the Internet and magazine covers will tell you that the idea is, in fact, growing in popularity. And when you consider the perks, it’s not hard to see why.
First and foremost is the removal of temptation as a focus of guilt. What could be better than hooking up with the hot girl at the office without hiding the crime from your partner? Then there’s the view that the variety of an open relationship will keep the main relationship from going stale. And finally, what sane human being would argue against more sex?
However, open relationships aren’t without their pitfalls. Read on to find out the pros and cons of open relationships, and whether they’re right for your lifestyle.
Pros and Cons of Open Relationship
Variety – As we’ve already mentioned, outside temptation is arguably a big contributor to the downfall of many a relationship. Long-term relationships are serious commitments, especially if you never expected yourself to be the kind of person to stay with one woman. As well, you may find that in your lifetime you’ve been attracted to many different types of women (including some you might never expect to be in a relationship with!). A typical open relationship allows you to indulge your sexual desires with the agreement that your primary relationship always comes first. Lust is fine, but emotional intimacy with another woman is not.
Appetite indulgence – Gone are the times when a long day at the office or a pounding headache means she’s in bed sleeping and you’re frustrated on the sofa. In an open relationship, your sexual appetite is not confined to the one you’re with – so if she’s not in the mood, there might be someone else who is.
Keeping your relationship fresh – the repetitive nature of relationships are a big factor in causing that honeymoon feeling – whether or not you’re really on a honeymoon – to fade. You might find yourself bored with your partner, and bored with your sex life, even if it’s healthy. An open relationship would let both of you mix it up without compromising the relationship that’s most important.
Confidence – At some point in our relationships, even the best of us wonder whether our partner is cheating. This kind of suspicion can be disastrous, and can have a devastating effect on the trust we have in our partners. If you take away the primary reason for suspicion and turn cheating into a non-issue, you could have that much more confidence in the security of your relationship.
Of course, all the pros mentioned above don’t exist in a vacuum. In fact, the success of an open relationship is dependent on a lot of factors, factors which may or may not exist in a relationship. Without them, you may find that jealousy and insecurity overwhelm the benefits of the relationship.
Risk of STDs – One of the less exciting but very real things to consider about open relationships is the possibility of contracting STDs. While you and your partner may have been tested before you met each other, allowing no-strings-attached sex with potential strangers is a very real risk that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And assuming that both of you are tested regularly, what if one of you does contract an STD? Be sure you’re ready for the responsibility before taking the plunge, and be sure your ground rules are clear.
Jealousy – Sure, you were always reasonably confident your girlfriend was into you. Why else would she be in the relationship? But with an open door to sex on the side, will you be able to maintain your self-confidence and confidence in the relationship? As a best case scenario, you’ll trust that she values you above all others. But in a slightly less positive situation, you might find yourself preoccupied with whether you’re still her first choice. You might also find yourself getting angry at her for having sex with other people, even if it’s part of the deal, or fixating on what the others have that you don’t.
Emotional investment – Not everyone is hardwired to have guilt-free sex. In fact, for many, sex is a serious emotional investment, and not something to be taken lightly. That person may be you, and it may be your partner, but if it’s either, give this idea some serious thought before moving ahead. If you or your girlfriend associate sex with love, trying to deny it will only lead to trouble, and may lead to one of you developing a strong emotional attachment to someone outside your primary relationship.
Competition – In theory, unlimited sex for both of you sounds like a sweet deal. But what happens if she’s the only one getting any action? If you’re not careful, this could turn into less of a breath of fresh air and more of a competition to see who’s the most sexually successful.
Making Open Relationship Works
With so much to consider, how can you make an open relationship works for you and your partner? The key principle here, as it is in many relationship decisions, is effective communication.
Set ground rules – Before you embark on a relationship like this one, or decide to mix things up in your current relationship, set ground rules. Decide whether you’re ready to discuss outside sexual encounters – if not, do what some couples in open relationships do and institute a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If you live together, determine if hook-ups are allowed in your home, or if they must take place elsewhere. And decide whether any certain groups of people are off-limits for romantic encounters – mutual friends, for example, or coworkers. This way, you can prevent problem situations before they occur.
Stay open – Even if you do decide that certain subjects are off limits, stay open about the things that matter, like birth control and the prevention of STDs. If either of you at any time suspect you may have contracted an STD, you have an obligation to tell your partner if the two of you are sexually active. Sure, discussing a sexually transmitted disease might put a cramp in the relationship, but passing it on to your partner would be a far bigger problem.
Determine your confidence level – sure, this may take a bit of self-reflection, but isn’t it worth it? If you feel confident enough in yourself and the strength of your relationship, this may be a dream come true. But if either of you have doubts about the idea before you start, you might want to seriously consider whether you’re willing to risk your relationship for some fun on the side.
Stay emotionally close – Don’t allow the flexible nature of your relationship to let the two of you to drift apart. You may find that you have to make an extra effort to stay emotionally close. Whether it’s meeting for lunch dates or making Sunday mornings a designated couple-time, be sure to prioritize your relationship if you want it to stay strong.
Be sure it’s what you both want – Online advice columns are full of couples who’ve fallen apart because they were happy with the concept of open relationships but couldn’t handle the practice. Don’t be afraid to talk about this at length before moving ahead with it, especially if there’s anything you’re not clear on. And if you’ve started it but don’t think it’s working, be proactive and talk about it – don’t wait for the problem to resolve itself.