Will An Open Relationship Ever Work Out?

The first time I considered an open relationship I was 19 and incredibly naïve. I didn’t really understand the reasons people may enter them, and found it quickly failed. Rather than being a grown up and dealing with the underlying problems between my boyfriend and I, we decided to open up our relationship. At the time, it seemed like the better option to breaking up, but looking back it meant our open relationship was always doomed. We never set out the boundaries, or communicated openly about what we wanted from this relationship now that the dynamics were shifting; one day, we simply decided we were doing it and that was that. It’s safe to say that my personal experience was not of success. However, more recently I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times that made me question all I had concluded on the subject – is an open relationship, done in the right way for the right reasons, actually happier? I thought I’d open up that question to others, to really gauge what people’s opinions were on a fairly unchartered topic.

 

My study (where I posed this question to my Instagram followers) was very short and admittedly wholly unscientific, so I cannot pretend the results are conclusive. However, it did make me look inwardly and think about why and where these types of relationships fail.

 

I found that some felt it straight up didn’t work – Ben* bluntly told me it ‘never worked’. When questioned on why he felt that way, his answer was understandable. He saw it as the short-term solution to an underlying problem, and to be perfectly honest, that’s how I’ve seen them used most regularly. Another of my Instagram followers felt similarly, saying they seem fine at the time, but people often get too jealous. This was the experience of John*, who has been in 3 long-term open relationships in the recent years. Although interested in the idea of actual polygamy, he also found that an arrangement which involved total emotional commitment to your partner, but also the option of sex with others, often led to jealousy and feeling slighted, despite agreeing openly to who his girlfriend was sleeping with. Even with strict boundaries of who they could both sleep with, they would sometimes find reasons as to why sex with a particular individual was a problem. He found it could often feel ‘transactional and competitive’, and in his experience often led to more feelings of jealousy for the person having less sex outside of the relationship.

 

However, I also ended up with some positive responses – Dan* told me his experience had been of success and led to a greater understanding of his self and his feelings. Although he also appreciated that success was dependant on the ability to withstand and overcome jealousy, he found that with structured boundaries (e.g. don’t get with mutual friends, don’t do something with someone else when out together) and transparency, they actually appreciated each other and being in the moment together more deeply. In fact, their experience helped enlighten them and strengthened their relationship, as the irrational (and inevitable) feelings of jealousy were actually dealt with and thought about. But even he agreed sustaining multiple relationships could be tricky, seeing as one is hard enough.

 

With that knowledge, I came to some conclusions. Monogamy is arguably a social construct; a simple Google of the question will bring the many debates and arguments surrounding this. With monogamy coming not-so-naturally, maybe an being open-minded towards the potential openness of a relationship isn’t a bad thing. If done for the right reasons (not just to have your cake and eat it too), polygamy could actually be really healthy. It could mean gaining a new perspective on insecurities or realising that our capacity to love is much greater than we give ourselves credit for. By being forced to face irrational feelings such as jealousy head-on, it could even mean learning to overcome the underlying insecurities behind those feelings.

 

Open relationships and polygamy certainly aren’t for everyone, which is very understandable - I still don’t know if I could personally ever separate the jealousy and learn to understand it in a sufficient way for a true, polygamous relationship. But I think challenging those natural beliefs that come with being conditioned as ‘monogamously-minded’ could lead to a better understanding of ourselves and our partners, and that could only be a good thing. With proper communication, an open relationship could be even more honest than a monogamous one. So, if it’s for you, keep doing you boo.

 

*NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

Edited By Niamh Perry