I know, I know, not all people come to the point where they have to “open up” something. Many have non-monogamous relationships for ages and have never had to open anything. Others may come into existing relationships or call themselves solo or single poly. And yet others do not like the expression “open”, it suggests something necessarily positive, they prefer “non-monogamous relationships”. And a lot more when I talk about opening relationships. However, I have to admit that this was exactly my experience. I share this story with many other people and therefore I dedicate my contribution to all those who feel addressed <3
First of all with myself.
Open relationships take a lot of work, especially because you have to think about your own wishes and needs. And this can be difficult if, among other things, we want to overcome countless years of socialization that have reminded us very relentlessly that we can only desire one person, that there can only be one love relationship, that love is basically reduced to romantic love and that there is a special person out there who makes us perfect. So the very first big challenge seems to be between “I have learned that this should be my need” and “that is my real need”. Especially when it comes to desire, we have learned that it is better to ignore and demonize desire when it is directed at anyone outside our romantic relationship (consisting of two people). I know it can be hard to realize this desire. I would even say that it can be painful because I have experienced that it made me doubt my relationship. Do I still love her? Is that perhaps a sign that something is wrong between us? It had nothing to do with my relationship but exclusively with me. Of course, it can also be a signal that you are not feeling well in your relationship or that something is missing. Therefore, the first questions to yourself may be: Is my desire coming from dissatisfaction with my current relationship or from an interest in other people? If open relationships are used as a means to an end to save relationships, then I would say that in most cases they will make things worse. Clearly it only makes the prevailing problems worse if additional problems are added. Consensual and ethical non-monogamy only works if people are interested in the form of relationship.
Theory is nice, but practice is different.
To talk about open relationships, to read, to talk about them and to make assumptions about what it will look like in practice is one thing. To try out and live non-monogamy in everyday life is a completely different chatter. I think it’s really nice and important to realize beforehand how to define things, define boundaries and get clear what you expect and hope for in an open relationship. Reality usually throws everything out three times. Whatever’s okay, after all, no one can know what it actually feels like when the relationship person falls in love with another person or spends the first night with a lover. And even if you know the feeling, every new situation can be a new challenge. Is this gonna feel like it again? Probably not, no, but the experience may – like me – make you feel better and relax and let you get a little more experienced out of every new situation. Maybe then you will know better over time what triggers you/reminds you of a certain situation and which steps are definitely good for you. I can say that every time I approach open relationships anew, of course, experience makes it more relaxed from time to time, but negotiating limits and needs can vary from person to person. I try not to assume that my counterpart wants the same thing as I do. And also does not want the same as other people in similar situations.
Trial and error
Actually, all that’s left is an attempt. Preparation is great, but before you try it in practice, you don’t know what works for you and what doesn’t. For many people this is super frightening. What if we hurt ourselves? Or worse, what if we don’t want to be together after? I think the question is whether you can imagine that the topic is losing interest? Is that something you’re in the mood for right now and not in a week? Does it make you unhappy when the subject of an open relationship is completely off the table? It can help to make a list of things that you are afraid of “losing” or giving up through an open relationship and things that you gain through an open relationship. In it you would see very nicely what scares you and whether these are things you can and want to work on together (or alone).
What are my basic beliefs about relationships?
Sometimes it is not addressed directly, but there are so many beliefs and attitudes about how relationships should look. Maybe it’s last night’s film in which jealousy is portrayed as something super negative or as an indicator that people mean something to each other. Maybe two weeks ago there was some downgrading talk at the register about open relationships. And again and again words like “fraud and open relationship” or “free ticket for bad behaviour and polyamory” mentioned in one sentence. This does not make it particularly easy to develop your own values and guidelines and to oppose them. I believe that it can help to become aware of such basic beliefs and to replace them. Of course, you can’t just exchange deep-seated beliefs in your head from now on. However, it can help to become aware of them and to remember again and again that one has decided to represent something else or has actively decided against common norms and values of relationships.
I’m always talking about definitions, partly because I think they can make things easier. That’s why I’m listing them here again. Misunderstandings can often be prevented by definitions. It can help to talk about where sex starts for you during sex, so you can get a feeling for how your partner understands sex. It is often something very fluid and cannot be defined precisely, this alone is the difficulty of open relationships. How can an agreement look like that can be defined in such a way that everyone can make use of it? Difficult…My tip is always to keep them as precise as possible, but not specific. A definition can be very broad, for example instead of talking about sex, using the expression “sexual situation”. At the same time, it is very precise in what you want to say. It usually means everything to me that falls under physical closeness. At the same time, it’s not too specific, because I don’t have to differentiate and define every small action or every small movement.
Consensual non-monogamy is perhaps one of the most important points. You can’t impose non-monogamous relationships on anyone, people have to want that. Pushing people into non-monogamy is anything but consensual. If you want an open relationship, but not your relationship person, there is little room for it. Either you talk about it and hope that it will change its mind or you try it according to the principle “don’t ask don’t tell” or in the end you split up because you don’t see a common future for yourself. Unfortunately, the range of possibilities in this area is limited. This is a common process that you can only go if everyone involved agrees to deal with it (or can live well with the “don’t ask don’t tell” arrangement).
If can make you feel shitty, even if you like the concept and agreed to everything.
And then there is this final point. Situations in open relationships can now and then feel shitty. For example, if you are at a flea market and your relationship person is flirting with a person at one of the stalls, while you watch them. As an agreement or not, it can also feel shitty, just as it can feel super beautiful. Don’t let it unsettle you so quickly. Non-monogamy sometimes consists of contradictions. Sometimes you can find things both hurtful and beautiful. Compersion is not a one-way street, it is rather multi-lane. I can be happy and sad and maybe hurt and a little insecure. And all this in a moment. This can be irritating and at the same time quite beautiful.