Opening things up can help your relationship flourish... or it can be the death knell.
Open relationships: You may have heard about them on TV or in films, but never really encountered one in real life. So what exactly are they? Technically, they’re intimate relationships which are consensually non-monogamous, with each partner free to pursue other sexual relationships. Often, they can be liberating and make a relationship a happier and healthier place.
But according to psychotherapist and author of Love Rewired – Using Your Brain To Mend Your Heart, David Kavanagh, deciding to have an open relationship isn’t always a good thing to do.
In his experience, he has never been presented with a couple in a successful open relationship.
That doesn’t necessarily mean to say that people in open relationships don’t have difficulties. They do of course, but I don’t think that many therapists get that many couples in open relationships. Maybe they don’t have the same relationship as other couples or maybe they’re not serious enough to merit going to therapy. The emotional connection might not necessarily be as strong with them.
When it comes to open relationships, there can be some bad connotations, according to David. “If you’re sexually addicted or you have sexual compulsive addiction, then an open relationship will feed your addiction… I think a lot of people who are in open relationships struggle to maintain emotional boundaries and trust,” he says.
“Just because you agree that your partner can have sex with someone else doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be riddled with doubt, anxiety, fear and jealousy and that’s one of the issues some couples have flagged along the way as the difficulties of open relationships.”
The stats for people who are in open relationships are extremely low, but they don’t necessarily mirror the actual numbers of couples in one. This is because a lot of people feel a stigma surrounding the concept of open relationships and don’t admit to being in one.
David believes that this stigma is due to the the fact that “capitalist, consumerist society is based on the premise that two people are together, two people get a mortgage, two people will get married, two people have children and that should be how it should be done and that norm and value system is what we should follow.”
He says that it threatens what people perceive as a happy and healthy relationship:
I think that is expecting a lot of human beings. We are very fallible, we are very weak, we are very flawed, all of us. I think we can convince ourselves of anything – that I don’t need monogamy, I don’t need you to be faithful once we agree and are honest with each other but when does that ever happened, when are two people always honest with each other.
For Laura, 28, an open relationship was something she entered into in the hopes of saving her own relationship with her then-boyfriend. “I was in a long term relationship with this guy and we had been together for a few years and I had slowly but steadily started to lose my attraction and was running out of love. For me personally, trying an open relationship was more of a desperate way to save the relationship.”
At the time, Laura thought she was making the right decision – she thought it was better than breaking up, as she still loved and respected him. After their time in trying an open relationship, Laura realised why she was actually doing it.
I think just from a personal view that if I had been fully in love with him I would have never ever suggested or even stood up for being in an open relationship with him because if I’m truly in love with someone I only want to be with that person.
While she realised that it just wasn’t something for her she knew that being that open with a partner can work for the rare few.
“I’m sure people can be in an open relationship and still be in love with their partner but I honestly think it is very rare. Generally if you’re in love with someone I don’t think you want to share that person with other people and I don’t think you’d want to even be with other people when you’re in love, we all know how that feels. I don’t think it’s common to have that need.”
After going through the trials of an open relationship, Laura does recall the one benefit it has for her.
The biggest benefit for me I think was that I realised how it’s supposed to feel when you’re with a person you’re really attracted to, as opposed to the person you’re not at all anymore. It was mixed emotions because I felt a lot of guilt, a lot of the feeling of doing something you’re not allowed to do. But my feeling towards him being with other people was just… I just didn’t care he was with anyone else. And I think that that’s also a way to find out that you’re not in love with someone anymore. For me, I got reminded.
In the end, open relationships can be something that makes an relationship flourish, allowing two people to be explore their sexual side while still being a loving, healthy relationship. The main thing to think about when deciding to enter into an open relationship is that there are two people in it, and each person should want it as much as the other. As Laura said: “It was my idea, I suggested it and he never liked the idea from scratch, because he was still in love. If there is an imbalance in the relationship already I don’t think it’s a good idea to try something like that because, in our case anyway, it just ended with up even more of an imbalance.”
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