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What Is an Open Relationship? Meaning, Definition and Rules

open relationship meaning
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 7060673

Many people still don't fully understand the meaning of open relationships. Learn more about what kinds of open relationships there are, and how you can pursue this lifestyle.

Open relationships fall under the umbrella of consensual non-monogamy. Open relationships resemble typical partnerships between two people, but they allow for sexual and/or emotional attachments outside of the partnership. While swinging is typically focused purely on sexual relationships, and polyamory often entails multiple romantic relationships, open relationships are often seen as a sort of middle ground between these two. 

Depending on the boundaries set within the open relationship, two people typically are permitted to have relationships outside of their own partnership, which are usually more casual. These relationships are separate from the main partnership, and they are pursued by each partner individually, rather than jointly. They may involve kissing, penetrative sex and/or emotional connections. Open relationships vary from person to person, so there isn’t one single way to partake or one open relationship meaning.

Types of Open Relationships

There are several types of open relationships.
There are several types of open relationships.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / StockSnap)

Open relationships are all about setting boundaries to ensure comfort and security in the “main” relationship. The parameters set within each partnership are generally what set different open relationships apart. Here are some common elements which help define open relationships

  • Dating: Some open relationships allow for casual dating outside of the partnership, while others do not. If an open relationship allows for dating, individuals might use dating apps or meet up with people that are interested in to see if there is a connection. Some couples may not allow this type of dating if they are trying to limit emotional connections.
  • Emotional connection: Open relationships are usually not about deep emotional connections, as opposed to polyamorous partnerships, which often involve multiple romantic relationships. While there may be connection allowed in casual dating, some people in open relationships prefer to keep their outside relationships strictly sexual.
  • Sex: Sex is defined by each person differently. Within an open relationship, partners discuss and agree on what types of sexual relations they are comfortable doing with others. Some couples might only be okay with light foreplay or kissing, while others will be comfortable with penetrative sex, BDSM or other sexual practices.
  • Sharing: Some people in open relationships share their sexual and dating experiences with their partners, whereas others choose not to discuss these experiences. While some find it hurtful to hear about their partner’s outside experiences, others may find it hurtful for their partner not to share their experiences as it may feel deceitful. Some people in open relationships even report experiencing compersion, a feeling of happiness when seeing or thinking about your partner with another person. In the end, each person must decide for themselves what works for them.

Pursuing an Open Relationship

Define what your open relationship means to you.
Define what your open relationship means to you.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Pexels)

If you’re thinking about pursuing an open relationship, first you need to fully understand the meaning of open relationships, and how to navigate them. Start by doing some online research, or check out one of these guides:

  • A Happy Life in an Open Relationship: The Essential Guide to a Healthy and Fulfilling Nonmonogamous Love Life by Susan Wenzel, available on Amazon**
  • Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristian Taormino, available on Amazon**

Once you’ve learned more about open relationships, and you are sure of what you’re looking for, make sure to be completely honest with people in your life. This includes your current or potential partner as well as anyone you date in the future. To be in a healthy and happy open relationship, you must agree on boundaries that work for you and your partner. Remember, open relationships cannot be forced. This will only work if it’s something you both want.

Once you and your partner feel you are ready, you should continue to live by the code of honesty with people you pursue outside relationships with as well. Pursuing consensual sex and dating outside of your partnership means you should disclose to others that you are in an open relationship. If someone isn’t comfortable being involved in your open relationship, it is good to give them that choice ahead of time. You can put it in your Tinder bio or bring it up early on your first date. 

Maintain a thriving open relationship by sticking to the boundaries you set with your partner, but also being open to changing them as well. Check in with each other regularly and make sure the relationship is working for both of you. If something isn’t clicking, make adjustments. Just like every relationship, issues of jealousy and hurt feelings may arise. By communicating these feelings early on, you can prevent bigger problems, such as resentment, from bubbling up.

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