Open relationships. We’ve all heard about them. But how do they work? Would one be right for you? And how can you even broach the subject with your partner?
And then, if you get into one, do you need to set rules? Can they change? Do you need to ask for permission beforehand, or take video footage to share with your partner afterwards?
It gets very complicated very quickly, and in this special episode, we set out to answer all these questions and more. The goal isn’t to unconditionally praise open relationships, but to explore what they are, how they work, and what the many benefits and pitfalls can be.
First off, we dig into the biological and anthropological history of monogamy. Andrea breaks down some of the dodgy science being cited by open relationship evangelists, while Jon takes the side of Chris Ryan (author of Sex at Dawn) and his argument against the idea that monogamy is simply ‘natural’.
Why is this all so emotionally charged for us in the first place, though? In large part, it’s because we’ve been fed a gluttonous diet of unrealistic and idealised versions of what ‘true love’ is and should be through TV, movies, books, and magazines. But real life and real people aren’t so simple (or so boring). Few people are sexually monogamous with one person for their whole lives, so it raises the question of why being serially monogamous is somehow ‘better’ than getting jiggy with multiple people at the same time.
Jealousy is the obvious issue here, and it’s one of the biggest fears about open relationships: How will I be able to deal with my partner being intimate with someone else? But jealousy doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Relationship counsellor Esther Perel argues that jealousy is ‘an erotic rage’, which can be channelled in positive directions – to inspire you to bring your best self to your relationship, to recharge your energy and really take your investment in your partner to the next level.
And that shouldn’t be confused with possessiveness. Possessiveness is when we try to keep our partners on a short leash because we’re afraid and insecure that surely they’ll leave us if we even give them a sniff of other possibilities. If the fear of being open is that your partner might fall for someone else and run away with them, it’s worth pausing to reflect that they can always do that anyway, unless you physically lock them in the house.
In any case, exploring an open relationship is neither a recipe for an immediate jealousy implosion nor abundant wall-to-wall orgies. As Jon explains from personal experience, it’s more of a crash course in confronting your deepest insecurities.
To work well, open relationships require more communication, more willingness to be vulnerable, more trust, and so on. This isn’t the absence of commitment, but a much more active and conscious approach to that commitment. It’s a process – often an immensely challenging one – which can be incredibly rewarding for your personal development, self-understanding, and your ability to remove the masks of fear and truly connect with another person.
Jon shares plenty of stories from his own experiences of open relationships – including his many fuck-ups – and why, despite all the challenges, he wouldn’t want to go back to monogamy. Andrea is, if not on the other side of the debate, at least standing on the fence, so this is a juicy discussion rather than a manifesto.
But being a discussion – and on such a hot topic – we want your questions! Get in touch via our Facebook Group or through firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be recording a follow-up episode where we dig into the digital mailbag to continue the conversation.
- Why being teammates is the most romantic kind of relationship
- How to deal with strong emotional reactions
- Are threesomes the gateway drug to open relationships?
- Erotic rage!
- ‘You’re mine’ vs. ‘I’m yours’
- Using the right language to discuss emotional issues
Find Out More:
- Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jethá’s landmark book, Sex at Dawn
- Esther Perel
- Aubrey Marcus’s Open Relationship Field Guide and other resources – highly recommended