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When most people think of a romantic relationship, one the first features is usually monogamy. However, the temptation to have other sexual partners might be sometimes very strong. This does not have to mean the romantic needs are not being met. What it does mean is that the couple might consider experimenting with an open relationship. Some couples have made this work, but for other couples it can turn into a nightmare of heartbreak. Which way an open relationship turns depends on many things.
The Potential Risks
Deciding to have an open relationship can be complicated. Both partners need to be completely on board with the idea; otherwise, one partner will always feel somehow cheated. Even with willingness comes some potential risks, such as the following:
• Sex, often leads to the release of hormones that encourage feelings of bonding. This has the potential of making it difficult to stay emotionally loyal to the primary romantic partner when engaging in sex with others.
• Insecurities can arise, despite prior agreement to an open relationship. It is difficult to tell in advance how you will feel about your partner sleeping with others.
• Safe sex is really just safer sex. Unless you are wearing a full body condom or have all sexual partners screened, there is a risk of contracting STDs and bringing it home to your partner.
The Potential Benefits
If both people are confident and secure, an open relationship can have several benefits, namely:
• Offering some safe and ethical form of release to a partner with a higher sex drive.
• Learning new sexy techniques to use on your partner.
• Rejuvenating an in-the-rut relationship and strengthening the bond through relaxed open discussion of needs and desires.
• Preventing lies, deceit and the hurt feelings that would arise from partners cheating.
Requirements for Making an Open Relationship Work
• Set boundaries and rules from the beginning. Once you and your partner have chosen to try an open relationship, it is time to set some important boundaries and rules. These will vary from couple to couple but should include promising to periodically re-evaluate and discuss having an open relationship in case someone changes their mind, being upfront and honest with plans, what acts or other things are allowed and what are not allowed.
• Reserve the right to opt out. Both people need to be allowed the right to change their mind. An open relationship should start out as an experiment and not a permanent lifestyle change. If one decides that it isn’t working out the way she or he hoped and the open relationship is causing too many problems or bad feelings, then it is time to stop.
• Discuss everything openly. There should be no secrets. Your partner doesn’t need to know, and probably won’t want to know, all of the details about your encounters. However, an open relationship requires a sense of trust far beyond a monogamous relationship. This means you should be transparent about your life, including your inner thoughts and feelings. If you feel you need to keep a lot of secrets from your partner, then your relationship is probably not stable enough to handle becoming an open relationship.
• Deal with jealous thoughts and feelings quickly. It is human nature to feel some jealousy when your partner sexually desires someone else, even when it is in addition to, and not instead of, you. If you hold these jealous feelings inside, the feelings can morph into resentment and other negative feelings that will take a toll on your relationship. There must be an agreement that either partner can discuss jealous feelings openly and without fear that doing so will lead to an argument.
An open relationship can sometimes work, but this can happen only if the relationship is stable on firm ground. Before opening your relationship, it is a good idea to discuss many potentialities, both positive and negative, and be completely honest. You should both expect some rough spots initially, and you should allow your partner to come to you whenever things get too much or feel too strange. Your romantic partner’s emotional needs should always come before any sexual partner’s needs.
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