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What is an open relationship?

by the editorial team Published on December 4, 2012

Have you ever thought about having an open relationship? It's definitely not for everyone, we know, but some people swear by it. They say they are closer and even have better sex together as a result!

What is an open relationship?

So what is an open relationship? And can it really work?

What is an open relationship?

An open relationship, put simply, is a non-monogamous relationship. That means that either both or one of the partners has a sexual relationship with someone else, or lots of other people! Swingers, which are couples who have sexual relationships with other people at parties, are also considered to be in an open relationship.

Can it really work?

So there aren't any official stats, but we do know that it can work and for many people it does work! But it isn't right for everyone.

Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford, author of Happy Relationships: At home, work and play, says that it's really important that both people in the relationship genuinely want it, and one person isn't just saying that they want it to please their partner. "They might be doing it because they want to keep the relationship going, but they end up in a relationship that they're unhappy with," she says.

How can you make an open relationship work?

Lucy has a few tips for couples who want to give an open relationship a go.

Firstly, honesty and openness are essential. "You both have to be completely honest about why you want this but also, importantly, how it is going to work," says Lucy.

"You might need to set ground rules. For example saying you will only have sex with people five times a year, promising that you will tell each other every time you have sex with someone, or saying that you will only have sex with other people, you won't do anything intimate like going on dates."

Secondly, Lucy recommends living together if you are going to start an open relationship, and insisting that anything you do outside of the relationship happens outside of the house.

"That means that the open dimension of the relationship is always off site, and it reinforces the idea that this is the core relationship and the other bits are what you do in the open bit of the relationship," say Lucy.

Why have an open relationship?

Well, the first reason is pretty obvious. It means you can have a boyfriend or girlfriend but still sleep with other people. We should point out, however, that not everyone wants that. Plus, you've got to remember that they will be sleeping with other people too, and some people won't be able to handle that.

Also, your partner might end up finding someone else. If you are relaxed about that it's fine, but some people might not be able to handle it. "It really is a personality thing," says Lucy. "I would always want to question someone's intimacy, connection and abandonment issues if they were in an open relationship. It might be that these are playing out healthily through the open relationships, but not always."

Lucy also points out that an open relationship might be attractive to people who have been in a very long term relationship and want to experiment with a different type of relationship. Also, Lucy says, it might be tempting if you have felt very controlled or suffocated in a relationship.

There are other positives too. "It encourages greater communication and emotional honesty, you can say what you really want and what you really don't like," says Lucy. "You are also forced to question yourself more."

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