Open relationship

An open relationship is an interpersonal relationship in which the parties want to be together but agree to a form of non-monogamous relationship.[1] This means that they agree that a romantic or intimate relationship with people hooking up with their partner is accepted, permitted, or tolerated. Generally, an open relationship is when the parties involved have two or more romantic or sexual relationships occurring at the same time either as a short-term relationship, such as dating, or a long-term relationship, such as marriage.[2] The concept of an open relationship has been recognized since the 1970s.[3]

Types of open relationships

To a large degree, open relationships are a generalization of the concept of a relationship beyond monogamous relationships.[1] A form of open relationship is the open marriage, in which the participants in a marriage have an open relationship.[1]

There are several different styles of open relationships. Some examples include:

The term open relationship is sometimes used interchangeably with the closely related term polyamory, but the two concepts are not identical. The main unifying element to open relationship styles is non-exclusivity of romantic or sexual relationships.


Some believe that open relationships occur more frequently in certain demographics, such as the young rather than the old in America, including, more specifically, the college-educated middle-class, rather than the uneducated working-class, or people of certain ethnic and/or other racial minorities.[4] Open relationships may also be more common among females rather than males, especially those in the same categories, such as college-educated, middle-class, white, younger Americans.[4] This may be because women have more to gain by stressing this idea of equal rights, and that the women’s rights movement supports the idea of open relationships.[4]

A 1974 study showed that male students who either cohabit or live in a communal group are more likely to become involved in open relationships than females, and are still more interested in the concept than females even if not participating in open relationships.[4] A survey taken by gay men's "health and life magazine", FS Magazine, 41% of gay men interviewed have been in an open relationship and of the men who have been in open relationships, 27% believe that it is a good thing.[5][6]

Many couples within open relationships are dual-career, meaning that both primary partners have a stable job and/or a career. Both men and women in these, especially in closed groups, are also more likely to be in managerial jobs. Most also are either childfree, or post child-rearing.[7]

Reasons for entering an open relationship

An open relationship may form for various reasons. These include:

Reasons for avoiding an open relationship

Many couples consider open relationships, but choose not to follow through with the idea. If a person attempts to approach their committed monogamous partner about starting an open relationship, the monogamous partner may convince or force them to either stay monogamous or pursue a new partner.[1] There may also be concern that when beginning an open relationship, a partner may become only concerned in their personal development and pay less attention to their partner.[9]

Jealousy is often present in monogamous relationships, and adding one or more partners to the relationship may cause it to increase.[9] Results of some studies have suggested that jealousy is the problem in open relationships because the actual involvement of a third party is seen as a trigger.[10] In Constantine & Constantine (1971), the researchers found that 80% of participants in open relationships had experienced jealousy at one point or another.[10]

Cultural pressure may also dissuade switching to an open relationship. There is a commonly held societal stereotype that those involved in open relationships are less committed or mature than those who are in monogamous relationships; and films, media, and self-help books present the message that to desire more than one partner means not having a "true" relationship. Desiring an open relationship is also often claimed to be a phase that a person is passing through before being ready to "settle down".[1] The logistics of an open relationship may be difficult to cope with, especially if the partners reside together, split finances, own property, or parent children.[1]

Religious reasons

Main article: Fornication

Successful open relationships

One of the most significant factors that aids a relationship in being successful is that it is about making the relationship fit the needs of all parties involved. No two open relationships will be the same, and the relationship will change due to the current circumstances at each specific moment. The style of the open relationship will mirror the parties' involved values, goals, desires, needs and philosophies.[1]

The most successful relationships have been those that take longer to establish. By taking the time to develop a clear idea of what both partners want out of the openness of a relationship, it allows the parties involved to self-reflect, process their emotions, deal with possible conflicts, and find ways to cope with the change from monogamy to nonmonogamy.[1]

Negotiating the details of the open relationship is important throughout the communication process. Topics that are commonly found in negotiations between couples include honesty, the level of maintenance, trust, boundaries and time management.[11]

Other tools that couples utilize in the negotiation process include allowing partners to veto new relationships, prior permission, and interaction between partners. This helps to reassure each partner in the relationship that their opinion is important and matters. However, although ability to veto can be a useful tool in negotiation, a successful negotiation and open relationship can still occur without it. Some reject veto power because they believe it limits their partner from experiencing a new relationship and limits their freedom.[1]


Types of boundaries include physical, which is along the lines of not touching someone without permission being given; sexual boundaries; and emotional boundaries, which is avoiding the discussion of specific emotions.[1] Boundaries help to set out rules for what is and is not acceptable to the members of the relationship. They also help people to feel safe and that they are just as important in the open relationship as their partners.[1]

Examples of boundaries that are set could include:[1]

Some couples create a physical relationship contract. These can be useful in not only negotiating, but also clearly articulating the needs, wants, limits, expectations, and commitments that are expected of the parties involved.[1]

Time management

Adequate time management can contribute to the success of an open relationship. Even though having a serious commitment with one partner is common, negotiating the time spent among all partners is still important. Although the desire to give an unlimited amount of love, energy, and emotion to others is common, the limited amount of time in a day limits the actual time spent with each partner. Some find that if they cannot evenly distribute their time, they forego a partner.[1] Time management can also be related to equity theory, which stresses the importance of fairness in relationships.[11]


Swinging is a form of open relationship in which the partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others at the same time. Swingers may regard the practice as a recreational or social activity[12][13] that adds variety or excitement into their otherwise conventional sex lives or for curiosity. Swingers who engage in casual sex maintain that sex among swingers is often more frank and deliberative and therefore more honest than infidelity. Some couples see swinging as a healthy outlet and means to strengthen their relationship. Swinging can take place in various contexts, including spontaneous sexual activity involving partner swapping at an informal social gathering of friends, a formal swinger party or partner-swapping party, and a regular gathering in a sex club (or swinger club) or residence.[14]


Main article: Polyamory

Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is often described as consensual, ethical, or responsible nonmonogamy. The word is sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to sexual or romantic relationships that are not sexually exclusive, though there is disagreement on how broadly it applies; an emphasis on ethics, honesty, and transparency all around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic.

While "open relationship" is sometimes used as a synonym for "polyamory" or "polyamorous relationship", the terms are not synonymous. The "open" in "open relationship" usually refers to the sexual aspect of a nonclosed relationship, whereas "polyamory" refers to the extension of a relationship by allowing bonds to form (which may be sexual or otherwise) as additional long-term relationships.[1]

This term and "friends with benefits" are fairly recent, having come about within the past few decades.[9]

A subset of polyamory is polyfidelity. These are relationships that use an evenly distributed rotating sleeping schedule that determines who sleeps together and when. In this type of relationship, no one sleeps with anyone outside of those originally involved in the group.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Tristan Taormino (1 May 2008). Opening up: a guide to creating and sustaining open relationships. Cleis Press. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-1-57344-295-4. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  2. Boston Women's Health Book Collective (19 April 2005). Our bodies, ourselves: a new edition for a new era. Simon and Schuster. pp. 165–. ISBN 978-0-7432-5611-7. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  3. Doheny, Kathleen. "The Truth About Open Marriage". Web MD. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Hollander, Elaine K.; Howard M. Vollmer (1 September 1974). "Attitudes Toward "Open Marriage" Among College Students as Influenced by Place of Residence". Youth & Society. 6 (3).
  5. Duffy, Nick (3 February 2016). "Nearly half of gay men have had an open relationship". PinkNews. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  6. Haggas, Stuart (February 2016). "Open Relationships Uncovered". FS Magazine (152). Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 Ramey, James W. (July–August 1977). "The Sexual Bond: Alternative Life Styles". Society. 14 (5): 43–47. doi:10.1007/BF02700827.
  8. Ramey, James W. (October 1975). "Intimate Groups and Networks: Frequent Consequence of Sexually Open Marriage". The Family Coordinator. 24 (4): 515–530. doi:10.2307/583035.
  9. 1 2 3 Leonie Linssen; Stephan Wik (1 August 2010). Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships. Findhorn Press. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-1-84409-183-6. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  10. 1 2 Buunk, Bram (August 1981). "Jealousy in Sexually Open Marriages". JOURNAL OF FAMILY AND ECONOMIC ISSUES. 4 (3): 357–371. doi:10.1007/BF01257944.
  11. 1 2 Watson, Mary Ann (February 1981). "Sexually Open Marriage: Three Perspectives". Alternative Lifestyles. 4 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1007/BF01082086.
  12. Bergstrand, Curtis; Blevins Williams, Jennifer (2000-10-10). "Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers". Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality. 3. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  13. "Why Swing?". Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  14. "Advice on Swingers' Clubs". Swinging Heaven. Retrieved 5 October 2012.

Further reading

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