How to Have a Happy Open Marriage

A few key steps to successfully opening a marriage

Updated 08/01/18

Stocksy

Opening a marriage is no easy feat. It takes communication, thought, and above all: so much love. How your decision to become polyamorous came about will vary greatly from couple to couple. There is no one-size-fits-all scenario.

Whether you’ve been monogamous for the majority of your time together, are opening up after a stint in a closed relationship, or are looking to take a sexually open partnership a step further, there are ethical ways to open without throwing a wrench in the marriage.

Here are a few key steps to having a functioning, healthy, and happy open marriage.

Polyamory only works when you’re in a stable and secure relationship

First of all, opening your marriage is not a solution to relationship problems. If you have a rocky partnership, you can be sure that opening the marriage will only send you swiftly into a fiery end.

The only binary partnerships that can sustain an open relationship are ones that are on solid footing to begin with. Opening doesn’t mean throwing your other relationship to the wayside. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Monogamous is not synonymous with strong.

If you want to open your relationship to outside partners because it will add to your life and happiness, that’s wonderful.

If it is a “last resort” (or something close to it) to keep the relationship going, you’re better off either breaking up or getting into counseling rather than having sex with other people. If your relationship is teetering on the brink of oblivion, your partner sleeping with someone else will push it over the edge. We promise you.

Decide what kind of outside relationships you want to have

There are many ways polyamorous relationships can operate. If you’re married, it’s likely that you’d want a hierarchical structure. Meaning: Your spouse is the primary partner, while all outside relationships are secondary. This might not be the case. You may be married and still want all partners to have equal footing in your life.

You may decide that actual “relationships” outside of your marriage are not OK. Maybe you just want outside sexual relationships, without any romantic entanglement. That’s your decision!

Whatever works for you is perfectly normal and fine. Relationships should be built from the ground up, designing what works for each individual couple independently of societal expectations. This is obviously easier said than done, but we can try, can’t we?

Just be sure that whatever you decide, it is a comfortable (and exciting!) choice for both of you.

Boundaries have to be set, understood, and followed

Before any outside play, dating, or relationships can take place, boundaries have to be clearly set. Is it just sex? Do you want to know the details of your partner’s exploits and vice versa? Do you want a strict ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy? Are there certain sexual acts that are restricted? Can you have true boyfriends or girlfriends outside of the marriage?

These are just a few of the many questions that will need to be answered before you can proceed. Polyamory is different than monogamy in that we aren’t taught that this is the default way of being in a relationship. It is subject to the creation of your own rules because the rules haven’t been strictly set by society.

This can be both exciting and scary. Don’t be intimidated. If you have a true, solid partnership full of love and trust, opening up the marriage will be OK. Remember, if at any time one (or both) of you decide this was a poor choice and want to close the relationship up again, that must absolutely be on the table.

Communication is key

You need to be open and honest about everything that is happening and about everything that you are feeling. Everyone needs to know what is going on at all times. That means you, your spouse, and anyone who is involved with either or both of you.

Communication is how open relationships are able to flourish. It can be difficult, seeing as we keep so much inside in relationships. We don’t want to burden people with our emotions. But, polyamory cannot sustain itself this way. Because there are so few guidelines, the only way to know what is going on is to check in.

In some ways, polyamorous marriages have a lot more communication and honesty than monogamous relationships. Go figure, right?

Issues will arise, so prepare for them

A question often asked is: Won’t you get SO jealous?

To pretend there isn’t jealousy in open marriages, that it somehow just evaporates because you’re, like, so modern, is silly. Of course there will be jealousy. There will be FEELINGS. Lots of them. This is true in any type of relationship. You just have to be ready to talk about them.

If you or your partner is feeling jealous, sit down and discuss it. Most of the time, you’ll find that the issue is with the primary partnership, not the outside partnerships. Maybe you’re feeling a bit neglected. Perhaps your husband or wife wants you to spend more time at home with them.

These are OK things to ask for. Contrary to the “devil may care” attitude people think polyamorous couples have about their relationships, they take them extremely seriously. However you choose to have a relationship, your feelings always deserve respect, empathy, and understanding.

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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