Open Relationships, Open Marriages, Open Hearts
In my experience working with couples, a question that I've seen emerge more and more is something along the lines of: "we are interested in opening our relationship, but how do we handle jealousy?" The subtext of this question relates to a very natural human need, the desire to know if we are in healthy relationships.
When couples come to my office with this question, they are often surprised that my answers are less than clear. And while that is due to a plethora of reasons, more often than not it's a simple reason: I don't know what makes you feel happy and safe in your marriage or relationship.
Now from a research base, I can tell you some of the things that often makes people feel secure in their relationships. Open communication, honesty, use of love languages and so on, but those are just statistics. What those themes look like in your relationship is deeply personal.
Going back to the jealousy example, more often than not I explore what causes individual members in the couple to have jealous feelings come up. What does jealousy mean to you? What are your values around it? When it comes up, how might you want to deal with it? Because at the end of the day, this is your relationship and your life, and what's to stop you from living that?
Here are three questions to get discussion around the opening of your relationship started:
What are our reasons for wanting this?
Are we bored with our relationship? Does adding another member seem like a fun experiment? Do we have sexual needs that can't be filled here? Are we more friends than lovers? Each one of these sub-questions are important to ask, as you consider opening up the relationship. Esther Perel has an amazing Ted talk on cheating in relationships, that discusses how quickly we find ourselves fantasizing about things being amazing and different if we could only have x,y, or z, rather than putting time and attention into our current connection.
What does cheating look like?
Just because you are in an open relationship, or exploring that, does not mean that there is now a free pass to do whatever you want. Discussion around the boundaries of exploration, expectations, and needs also need to have a voice here.
When cheating or a boundary violation happens, how will we deal with it?
"Well I can skip right over this question," you think to yourself as you read this, laughing and spilling wine all over the couch. And while I love the optimism, more often than not it pays to have this conversation, because when you have a template, any stress, pain, or hurt is far easier to manage.
Ultimately you know your relationship, what your needs are and what you are looking for. Being open can be a wonderful and beautiful experience, but that doesn't mean communication gets thrown out the window.