18/08/2007

On open relationships

A friend asked a very interesting question on My Questions: Is there a premise for open relationships?

Most of you who know me (for some value of know) probably realise that I openly (pun intended) favour open relationships. But, your mileage may vary, and it has a lot to do with what a relationship means to you, and more importantly, what an open relationship means to you.

In the broadest sense, an open relationship is one where its parties can negotiate any terms they can all agree to. However, I would like to narrow the case to the one used in my marriage, because it forms the ‘premise’ which I will use to answer the question.

To me, an open relationship is one where you can establish additional relationships, with the free consent of your existing partner(s). By free consent, I mean that any reservations your partner(s) have about the new relationship, including jealousy and trust issues, have to be resolved before it begins. This way, relationships are only made when everyone wants it, and there is no resentment or bitterness involved.

For this to be effective, we have an agreement in place to allow an existing partner to veto a potential relationship without reprisal (emotional or otherwise). Without this, it'd allow you to pressure your partner to let you start a new relationship against their wishes, and that's not on.

Obviously, everyone involved must have a very established and very honest communication style, so that any issues that arise from the new relationship can be sensibly dealt with, and not be left sitting to develop into destructive resentment. (We have an agreement to openly express our feelings about anything that concerns us, and not to hide anything. Despite this, I am not good at being direct, nor at listening to direct comments, so I have a lot to work on before we're ready to take on new partners.)

Now, I can hear some of you ask, what about the sex? For both of us (being the INFPs that we both are), sex is all about the emotional connection, much more than about the physical satisfaction or whatever else people get out of it. I cannot imagine either of us wanting to have sex with anyone we're not in a relationship with. Your mileage may vary, and if so, then a frank discussion of what kind of sex is acceptable with whom is an absolute necessity.

So then, onto the premise. I think with the right rules and boundaries, and with the right relationship, there are a lot of emotional benefits to running an open relationship. You get to explore relationships with other people in ways that most monogamous people never get to do (without cheating)—and I do believe that some people can add (emotional or other) value to a strong relationship, even if only because we're all unique and by learning more about others, we learn more about ourselves. Also, you never have to worry about a partner being jealous, or wonder just how far you can go before things cease to be okay—these are all discussed beforehand.

But—as I just mentioned, an open relationship can only grow from a place of strength—it cannot be used as a crutch for anything. If an existing relationship has signs of trouble, trying to start an open relationship is likely to be disastrous (much like trying to start a family from a troubled relationship). You have to have the confidence that your relationship will carry the new relationship and all the dramas that come with it. Without it, you'll always worry about whether the relationship will work, and this worry will eat the relationship alive.

And though it's my third time saying it, your mileage may vary.