The thought of your wife or girlfriend in bed with someone else probably curdles your blood. And if we had to guess, she probably doesn’t exactly love the idea of you and a swimsuit model having a romantic rendezvous, either. But believe it or not, there’s mounting evidence that more and more couples are engaged in this sort of relationship—well, not necessarily with models. And get this: it’s not cheating. Yes, the open relationship is here and it’s not going anywhere.
The only thing to decide if it’s the thing for you.
The rules, of course, vary from open relationship to open relationship. Some couples share every nitty-gritty detail; others stay entirely mum. (“I was, uh, out with the guys.”) The important part is that it’s a mutually consensual arrangement. And as it turns out, there are a ton of benefits—from more satisfying sex to making new friends—to opening up your relationship. You just have to be careful and make sure you tackle your open relationship the right way.
The simplest reason an open marriage may be right for you? “It could be an option for not separating, but still creating some distance,” says Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in California. In fact, it might be a great way to deal with issues that sometimes are at the root of the decision to divorce, like sex drive levels that don’t match up and vastly differing interests. It’s worth nothing that sexual incompatibility is one of the biggest warning signs your relationship is in trouble.
Crazy, but true. “Research has found that opening a relationship can increase the frequency and quality of sex with your primary partner,” notes Chanta Blue, LCSW, a sexuality and relationship therapist. If the reason you want an open relationship is to improve your sex life, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up happier with that aspect of your relationship than you were before. That said, there are plenty of other great ways to spice up your sex life.
One of the most surprising findings of a new study on consensual non-monogamous relationships (aka open relationships) was that couples in these relationships were significantly less jealous than monogamous couples. Of course, it makes sense that non-monogamous couples would be less jealous about the idea of their partner engaging romantic activity with someone else, but monogamous couples also displayed more jealous behaviors, meaning that being with just one person doesn’t actually prevent jealousy. In fact, you and your partner might be less likely to act jealous if you engage in an open relationship—and, as a result, far less likely to cheat.
It’s no secret that they key to making an open relationship work is the ability to talk to your partner about hopes, feelings, boundaries. That’s probably why being in an open marriage “improves and encourages honest communication between partners,” according to Blue. After all, if you’re being totally open and honest about one part of your relationship (who you’re having sex with, why, and how it’s going), you’re more likely to be willing to talk about other things openly, too. Speaking of communicating well, make sure you know the sexiest things to say to a woman.
One person can’t provide for all of your needs, all of the time. “An open marriage allows both primary partners to get most or all of their wants and needs met,” explains Christene Lozano, licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in sex and relationships. “It can take the pressure off of each partner,” she adds. And for more advice on how to get more of your needs met, here’s how to transform your wife into a sex goddess.
It may seem like a monogamous relationship is the most trusting kind you can have, but the same study mentioned earlier found that trust levels were higher in open relationships, which likely has something to do with those improved communication skills that are gained in the process.
There’s some evidence that being in an open relationship “helps you maintain your own sense of identity,” says Blue. That means you feel free to do things on your own, but still appreciate your primary partner, which is pretty much the ideal situation. Also, being (a little bit) selfish is one of the ways to make your marriage last forever.
“Opening a relationship can relieve that pressure of the common ideology that your spouse has to fulfill all of your needs,” Blue says. It’s true that married couples often feel stressed about not having a picture-perfect marriage, but being in an open marriage means that you’re okay with not going along with the traditional definition of what marriage means, which can make it easier to focus on doing what’s best for you as a couple instead of what’s expected.
It’s no secret that married sex can get a little stale (if not, count yourself lucky!) But one of the advantages of an open relationship, according to Bahar, is that it allows you to investigate different elements if your sexual identity, as well as experiment with sexual practices that your spouse might not be into.
“Failure” in a monogamous marriage is simple: separation or divorce. But the same research referred to earlier showed that people who are engaged in open relationships and polyamory are less concerned with relationship failures, since “breaking up” isn’t as cut-and-dry for them. For more great marital advice, check out the secrets of the best relationships.
“Metamours (your partner’s partner) can become a resource and support for you, creating community and friendship,” explains Angie Gunn, LCSW, a sex, trauma, and relationship therapist based in Portland, Oregon. It’s also encouraged that you network with other open couples to find out how they handle being non-monogamous, which can result in lasting friendships and a new sense of belonging.
Even though monogamy is traditionally considered the “healthiest” kind of relationship, the trust, communication, and honesty required by an open marriage mean you may end up being closer to your spouse and more in touch with who they really are than you ever were before. And for more ways to make sure you have the best possible marriage, make sure you and your wife have had these crucial conversations.
While it’s gaining popularity, being in an open relationship isn’t exactly standard. “Opening up provides opportunities for couples to explore what it’s like to challenge mononormative cultural assumptions, which presume monogamy is the only way,” Gunn says. Whether you’ve always been a go-against-the-grain type or you’re newly nontraditional, it can be exhilarating and informative to buck the norm.
“Creating a relationship configuration and structure that suits the two of you can be really liberating and fulfilling long term,” Gunn says. This is especially relevant since you’ll have to work together to outline what you each hope to gain from your outside relationships as well as your primary relationship. When expectations are clearly delineated, it’s easier to meet them and have positive, loving interactions in your day-to-day life.
Co-dependency, or needing your partner to be there for you emotionally at all times, isn’t such a great thing for relationship longevity. In fact, research shows that people with more different types of relationships, who don’t put all their eggs in one basket, so to speak, are better-equipped to deal with stress spikes.
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