I mentioned in a couple of the articles I have written that I have been married twice. My first husband was a relationship of almost ten years; four and a half were married years. He was a wonderful man, and still is. I was his second wife; his first was also a lovely woman with whom we remained friends.
To this day, I believe part of the reason he proposed marriage was because he thought he had found a girl who was cool with an alternative lifestyle. I specifically remember him saying (during the proposal), “If you’re never going to change and I’m never going to change, we can be happy together forever.”
Well, I changed. I had never planned to get into an open relationship. It wasn’t a personal goal of mine or anything. Certain specific circumstances, people, places, adventures, wine and other substances somehow led me down that road. Somehow, as crazy as it sounds, it just happened. And once it happens, it can never “unhappen.”
Open relationships, however you define them, aren’t good, bad, right or wrong. They are a lifestyle choice. There are people who can make it work, and I respect that. I was not one of them. I’m grateful to say my first husband and I are still very good friends; we came out of it all with that and we are both better people for having been together. Here are 15 of the tough lessons I learned from my open relationship.
15Trust is more than monogamy
If you are willing to try or are wanting to embrace an open relationship, whether it is letting a third person into your established relationship or both partners experiencing other people, trust has to be more than monogamy. It means knowing your partner will come back no matter what. It is being able to release the fear that the other person will find someone better than you at any moment.
If you have this kind of fear going on, you may not even be ready for a monogamous relationship. You need to spend some time in relationship with yourself first. Aside from all the airy-fairy self-confidence boosting I am a powerful and worthy woman crap, you need to know that there is no one better than you. There are only women who are different than you.
You will never survive an open relationship if you don’t trust; first, that you are perfect just the way you are and, second, he loves you for exactly who you are. I didn’t have this going in, so I obviously spent years wondering if he was seeing these other women as better than, more beautiful than or more exciting than me. It was painful to constantly compare myself, even if he wasn’t. I never believed he only really wanted me.
14Your partner should not be “everything”
One of the reasons people choose open relationships is because it can be a lot to ask one person to be your lover, parent, friend, counselor, cheerleader, date, and all those other roles our significant other gets assigned throughout a relationship, especially if one of those people are fairly needy. Sometimes, the demands of a monogamous relationship are more than a person can handle.
Some people say just have more friends – you don’t need to add the dynamic of another into your intimate relationships. People who have successful open relationships appreciate that their partner has another outlet for their abundant sexual energy, their constant need to discuss everything or their desire to be active all the time when all the other person wants to do is relax. It can work.
It didn’t work for me. I really wanted my man to be everything for me and be on my schedule. During our open relationship years, I tried very hard to appreciate that he had someone else to turn to when I wasn’t in the mood to go to yet another party or to have sex every night. Instead, I felt cheated on, even though I was an active participant in the circumstances. I would’ve rather had us compromise for each other than always have someone else to take care whatever we wanted in the moment like spoiled children.
13Happy fulfilled people do not leave
Whether you are in a monogamous, a polyamorous, or an open relationship, the rule is still the same. Happy people do not leave. Unhappy people will always be on the lookout for something to make them happy. People always forget that other people cannot make you happy. They can’t make you anything. You are responsible for your happiness and it starts with yourself.
Psychologists will say, you cannot bring people up – you can only get dragged down. If you try the open thing and, like I did, you spend every waking moment wondering why you aren’t enough for this man, everything will change. The more insecure and upset you get, the more it will transfer to him and he will seek happiness elsewhere. He would rather have one happy you than 15 unhappy beautiful women.
If, on the other hand, you honestly enjoy and appreciate the aspects of an open relationship, your happiness will only draw him closer to you – regardless of who else is involved. His relationship started with you and in the end, it’s you.
12If you’re not solid already
This will ruin you. You cannot go into an open relationship on shaky ground; it’ll only get worse. The only reason my open relationship lasted as long as it did was because I went into it feeling loved, confident and like I was the most amazing woman on the planet. He felt that way about me too.
I don’t think his feelings about me ever changed, but my perception of them did. As time went on, that part of me that didn’t always feel so amazing started attacking my self-confidence. I started wondering if this would ever end; if I wasn’t enough anymore; if there was someone better for him in all this.
Slowly, the woman he fell in love with became an angry, resentful, insecure shrew. When I demanded we quit this lifestyle, he looked at me and probably thought, “Why would I give all this up for you? And what happened to the other girl who looked just like you and was super happy all the time?” You gotta know yourself going in, girl, you really do.
11The judgment of others
His friends will think you are the coolest thing since microbrew, and that will feel really good to you. Your friends will think you are an idiot, and that won’t feel quite as good. It’s nice to think it won’t get out, but we all know stuff like that never stays in the closet unless you are occasional secret swingers like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in that crazy Kubrick film. Even then, it slips out eventually.
People always judge what they don’t understand, which is why it is even more important that you have a stable relationship before you delve into this world and are fairly confident that this is something you want. More often than not, you will be called upon to defend your decisions as an individual and a couple, so you should prepare for that.
For me, the worst discovery was my mother’s. Parents are not stupid, and no matter how much you think they are clueless, they rarely ever are. My mom never came right out and said anything, but she put two and two together based on our activities and our friends. Thank the Lord she is open-minded. She also wasn’t that surprised when we split as a couple, although she was disappointed as she liked my ex very much; she still does.
10Knowing what you want
One of the most important things you must understand and decide about before going into the open relationship experience is how you want to come out of it. What kind of relationship do you want to have in the end? Is this something you want to experience together to make you closer, to create some excitement, to learn and increase your sexual experience?
I have a very good girlfriend who encourages her husband to explore other women in what she considers a safe space. When they came together, she was very experienced and he was a virgin. Bless her heart that she feels he deserves to have more experience with other women. They have a close group of friends that they travel with and go to festivals like Burning Man, and that is when and where he gets to have this freedom.
At home they both have high profile careers and two lovely teenage children, who know nothing of their lifestyle choices. They love each other very much, and I am always impressed by their openness and trust with each other.
9Going in blindly
Going in blindly is something I did. It means I was completely unconscious about what was really going on. Instead of making the choice, I just let things happen. Later I believed it would never happen again, and when it did, I clung to the idea it wouldn’t happen often. Then I was loose in my definition of often. I totally let my life get away from me.
Letting one or more people into your intimate relationship with your man must be a fully conscious choice. It must be discussed with all possible consequences covered, including the possibility of one of you changing your mind midstream.
Like everything in life, it helps if you know another couple that has a successful open relationship to “mentor” you. That does not mean you have to be with them, just that you have someone to talk to and ask questions that has positive answers. Also, pay attention to your feelings and constantly check in with each other.
An open relationship is not a game, but it does have rules, and you have to set them up in the beginning. You also have to allow them to fluctuate and change when new decisions are made together. Boundaries of what is okay and what is not need to be set and followed. I can’t stress enough that you must go into this with your eyes open and knowing what you may be getting into.
For me, the first time was too much wine and cool people in a magical place while on vacation. I thought, “Wow, that was a kind of exciting once in a lifetime thing.” The second time it seemed easier to go with the flow than pitch a fit and put my foot down. After that, I just kept convincing myself that this would all end soon and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Rules only came up when something happened that upset me enough to speak up, and then he was willing to agree to anything as long as the lifestyle continued.
It is a big deal. It’s a game changer and not something you take on idly. The other great thing about setting boundaries and making rules is that it is one more thing you do just the two of you to ensure you stay on the same team.
7This is not a fix
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it is broken, this definitely will not fix it, unless you happen to swing with the world’s most perfect couple and end up just swapping partners permanently. Sound realistic to you? I’m sure it happens every day – NOT!
If you are trying to add a little spice to your fizzling relationship, try date night, a new position, sexy lingerie or complimenting him at least once a day just for the heck of it. Do not try adding someone(s) to your already uncomfortable bed. Pick a different male fantasy.
As I said earlier, I sort of went along with the whole thing when this was part of my life. I liked most of the women so it took quite a while for that evil jealous monster to take over, and I never really did much with the men. When my relationship felt a little rocky, I should’ve insisted we take a break and work on us alone.
Instead I had this great idea that maybe if I got really into this, it would bring my husband and I back together. I started looking for someone I was attracted to and could really do this with. Backfire! Well, sort of…I am now married to that guy and neither of us have any desire to go outside our little circle of two. I should’ve known I was just a one-man woman.
6Want it equally
If you and your man don’t want this equally, it will never work. Even if the one who doesn’t really want to go in this direction thinks once or twice can’t hurt – believe me, it does. You cannot give this as a gift or just go along with what someone else wants. I promise if you do, you will kick yourself for ruining your relationship forever.
Honestly, when we first tried this, neither of us expected it. We never talked about wanting it, and I honestly don’t think my partner ever imagined something like this happening. Of course, when the opportunity came up, he jumped on it and I was coaxed along for the ride; the long, never-ending, uphill, pothole filled ride.
Open relationships should be premeditated and planned. If your first experience is anything like mine was (a total surprise), don’t make the mistake of not having a full on discussion about it after. It will not go away, and there is not enough alcohol in the world to make either of you forget it. Besides, he probably won’t want to.
5Once that door is open
It is mightily difficult to ever close it again, if not impossible. As I said, this is not for the faint at heart. It’s also not something you just “try out.” It’s hard to just crack the door open for a peek. Rare is the man who won’t say yes when you offer him milk from several cows with no real consequences, and rarer is the man who will just shrug and say, “cool” when you change your mind and don’t want to do it again.
I made the unfortunate choice of not choosing this an instead just going with the flow. Because I never consciously chose it or set down any ground rules, my door didn’t just open a smidge, it was flung open and a million pound door stopper held it there.
All right, enough of the “open door” and “free milk” metaphors. You catch my drift. People often say, “Oh, I experimented with (same sex, open relationships, three ways, etc) once a long time ago, and it just wasn’t for me.” I’d bet a gazillion dollars that person is no longer with the person they did the “experimenting” with. Most likely, the experiment turned into an unwanted lifestyle change, which eventually ended the relationship. I betcha.
4Do you want sex or love?
As you are considering this kind of lifestyle, ask yourself, “What do I want out of this?” Ask your partner, “What do you want out of this?” Do you want sex? Love? More friends with benefits? Do you both want the same things or different things? Are you okay with what the other person wants out of this experience?
Sex is easy to get, especially for women. It’s not hard for men either, especially men in a relationship. For some reason, a taken man is always more attractive to other women; probably because he must be worthwhile if he has a girlfriend. Make no mistake. Whether you open your relationship to anyone or just allow one more person in, you are both taken. You are with each other first.
I never had this discussion. What started as fun and games eventually turned into me believing he was looking for love in all the other places. Thinking about it now, the truth is that he just wanted more sex. I was the one who wanted more love, and eventually I found it – somewhere else.
3Not enough to go around
One thing people forget when they choose to try an open relationship is that now there are more people wanting their time, their energy, their money and their sex. Sometimes there is just not enough of you or him to go around. If you give everything to all these other people, what do you have left for each other?
This is definitely something to discuss as you set down ground rules. If you are both already juggling advancing careers, family issues, and multiple other commitments, now may not be the time to add another complicated dynamic to your life.
My husband and I were both very busy in our lives when our relationship suddenly opened. Slowly, all our personal and fun time got filled up with other people wanting to be with us, or him. It got to the point that I looked at everyone we had dinner with or hung out with like they were on the prowl. We never took vacations alone together or had dates solo. We never worked on us so we fell apart.
2Don’t ask don’t tell
The key word in open relationship is open. It does not just mean open in terms of letting other people into your relationship. It means be open with each other as well. Don’t ask don’t tell only breeds suspicion and jealousy. Many a woman has said in the heat of the moment, “Go ahead and do what you want. I don’t want to know about it.”
Not knowing in this case is far worse than knowing. This has to be a conscious decision together, and it is imperative that communication remains open, honest and forthright. Trust is all-important here.
My husband believed that once he had relations with another woman with my permission or with me involved, it meant she was acceptable to have relations with at any time. Imagine his surprise when I accused him of cheating on me with someone he’s been with previously with my permission. The man was just plain confused.
1Space for change
When you agree as a couple to try an open relationship, you also have to make the agreement that this may not be forever; that there has to be room for one or both of your feelings to change about your choice. I didn’t do this.
We sort of fell into it the first time and then never really discussed it. In my mind, it was just a phase that would eventually end. In his mind, this was a new lifestyle to embrace for the long run. Because we were never clear about our wants and needs around the choice, what we had decided as individuals never came out until it was in a fight. As you can imagine, I was hurt, angry and defensive and he was just surprised.
I was okay with a temporary alternative lifestyle, but as my feelings changed, I assumed he would understand and pick up on it. After all, I hinted enough and I was certainly not as welcoming to the experiences anymore. He did not pick up on it, and our opposite attitudes were not discussed until it was too late to fix it.
Most of us have many relationships throughout our lives. We love, we learn, we make mistakes and we move on. We are always in search of the one when we are single, and when we are in love we want this to be the one. We also want to be the one for him.
The thing about open relationships is that there are no “ones.” While being part of something bigger can be fulfilling and exciting, I don’t believe it will ever be intimate. Most of us, myself included, are not built for Stranger in a Strange Land. You have to decide for yourself, but as Yoda once said “Do or Do Not. There is No Try.”