What do you expect from your relationships? Perhaps you have both spoken and unspoken rules you like to follow? It’s easy to judge open relationships but maybe there’s more going on behind the scenes that we might predict?
Love springs to mind when relationships are mentioned. What about living deeply though? There’s also the art of letting go of judgments and societal pressures. So, what can we learn from the pros and cons of an open relationship?
What is an open relationship?
Everyone is different such that most will want to define their own open relationship rules and definitions. Nevertheless, as this article detailing ‘what is an open relationship’ describes, there are 3 core types of open relationships.
These are swinging, polyamory and non-monogamy. Swinging is all about sex but polyamorous relationships are where people have several committed relationships at once. An open, or non-monogamous relationship, is where there is a primary partner along with some secondary partners.
Essentially, an open relationship means having more than one sexual partner. Although, you’re generally more romantically committed to one. As you can probably imagine, there are many pros and cons of an open relationship.
Are open relationships wholesome?
Humans are complex creatures and there’s no one size fits all despite our best efforts to find it. Cultures and societies revolve around what a few have agreed on to be the norm.
With today’s globalization and exposure to other ways of doing things, the pros and cons of an open relationship don’t feel so shocking anymore. Although, it depends on how the people involved approach it so that the benefits of an open relationship outweigh the downside.
All relationships expect some form of reciprocity and self-disclosure to create intimacy. As this psychology overview of prosocial behavior describes, we are constantly evaluating the costs and benefits of all relationships we experience.
As we seek to maximize our benefits, people find themselves looking for options outside monogamy. Essentially, we’re trying to find the perfect blend of intimacy, passion and commitment. To some people, the pros and cons of an open relationship are so balanced that they feel fulfilled in all three of those areas.
Interestingly, research shows that people are equally happy in functioning monogamous relationships as they are in functioning open ones. The key is to have a goal for getting into an open relationship rather than diving in blindly.
Typical goals might be to deal with sexual incompatibilities, to explore commitment before marriage or even to save the relationship. The pros and cons of an open relationship are varied as we’ll see in the next section.
20 for and against points of having open relationships
Let’s start by listing the pros of open relationship pros and cons. As you read through, think about how this might jar or coincide with your belief system. Are your judgments holding you back from a potentially life-enriching experience?
10 benefits of open relationship
Check out what are the pros of being in an open relationship:
1. Provide emotional freedom
It’s hard relying on one person to meet all your emotional needs, especially because they might need something different to what you need at any given moment. That’s often the key driver for people to want to deal with the pros and cons of an open relationship.
When it comes to emotional needs, we have a wide range of them. These include validation, connection, acceptance, among others. Of course, these can be met through monogamy. Nevertheless, with the pros of having an open relationship, you’ll get more of them.
2. Meet all your sexual needs
Intimacy and sex are different. Those of us who treat them as the same would probably struggle with the pros and cons of an open relationship.
On the flip side, those who have strong boundaries between intimacy and sex are much better able to compartmentalize. This means they don’t get jealous when their partner has sex with someone else. It quite literally is as if their partner is just having dinner or a game of tennis with a friend.
Are open relationships healthy? They can be if they bring you closer to your primary partner. Imagine being able to talk about all your deepest desires and fantasies with your partner and still act on them?
You also have the excitement of having someone new in your life that you can openly talk about. All this communication and sharing necessarily brings you closer and overcomes any drawbacks of an open relationship.
4. Reasonable expectations
Monogamous relationships come with lots of expectations. On the other hand, working through the pros and cons of an open relationship can be liberating. It’s a case of shared responsibility with more than one partner.
Many couples go through great heartache due to cheating.
Facing the pros and cons of an open relationship doesn’t remove mental issues but it can mean better communication and connection. Issues in those topics are often the main drivers behind infidelity.
6. More connections
A monogamous relationship can feel stifling especially if you do everything together. Instead, managing the pros and cons of an open relationship means having more people in your life.
You can explore and experience intimacy with more than one person, very much like you would with close friends.
7. Get to know yourself
Developing the rules to balance the pros and cons of an open relationship takes time and effort from both partners. Through this process, you’ll learn much more about your needs, desires and boundaries.
8. Better communication
Are open relationships healthy? If they help you communicate honestly and openly then yes. With the pros and cons of an open relationship, you’re willing to share far more about yourself and your preferences. This creates trust and loyalty.
Some people choose the pros and cons of an open relationship to avoid a breakup. After all, it’s a way to get some space while satisfying your curiosity. It doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your primary partner but it does mean that you want to live your life. The two approaches can work together.
10. It’s fun
Playfulness and fun often keep open relationships pros and cons in balance. It’s perfectly ok to have a fear of missing out and to want adventure in your life especially when both of you are willing to try open relationships.
10 disadvantages of open relationships
Despite the many benefits, there are some downsides to take note of and to mitigate.
One of the key drawbacks of an open relationship is the emotional whirlwind you might have to deal with. If you tend to want your partner for yourself, an open relationship might trigger too much anxiety and fear.
You might get envious of your partner’s other person if you rely more on the primary relationship than they do. Often this insecurity comes from low self-esteem and fear of uncertainty.
Have a look at this video if you want to further understand where insecurity and jealousy come from and if these examples describe you:
3. Risk of disease
Perhaps one of the scarier cons of an open relationship is the risk of STDs. Although, this one is relatively easy to mitigate with protection and mutual trust around the rules.
Without a solid foundation of trust and boundaries, it can be tempting to start lying about the other partner. Suddenly the primary relationship becomes secondary and what started as honesty becomes infidelity.
5. Crazy logistics
Let’s not forget that dealing with one partner can be difficult enough. You have to manage more than one, including the various dates and outings.
Add to that all the expectations from your job, children, and everything else in your life, and you might be missing out on your needs and alone time.
6. Different expectations
Sometimes, the pros and cons of an open relationship can’t be balanced because both partners have different assumptions. If you can’t align your beliefs about relationships, then an open one could just cause pain and suffering.
7. Existential angst
It can be devastating to be overwhelmed with questions about who you are and where you fit in. If this is caused by being ostracized by society for being in an open relationship, you might doubt if it’s the right thing for you.
8. Stress and anxiety avoidance
Blocking our emotions and pretending we’re ok with open relationship pros and cons will only accentuate our stress and anxiety. This lack of vulnerability can lead to mental issues and breakdowns, including perhaps your primary relationship.
As psychiatrist Hilary Jacobs Hendel confirms in her article, you’re essentially building a time bomb if you bottle everything up.
9. Priority issues
Time management can stress open relationships pros and cons. For example, you might start not putting enough time and effort into your primary relationship. Everyone demands attention, but the prioritization game can be too much for some couples.
Let’s not forget the practicalities of life when we review the pros and cons of an open relationship. You’ll have at least twice the amount of birthday presents to give. That doesn’t include the dinners and other events you might have to pay for.
Are you made for the benefits of an open relationship?
When looking at the pros and cons of an open relationship, you should start with what you need and want from a relationship. This often resonates with what you witnessed in your caregivers growing up. Then again, perhaps your life experiences have taken you away from your childhood models.
Next, listen to your instinct. Imagine and visualize what living with open relationship rules could look like. As this paper shows, visualization allows you to make decisions more confidently. You can now apply this concept and review the pros and cons of an open relationship through imagination.
So, ask yourself, for example, how much would you share with your romantic partner? Where would you live and how would you communicate? How do you deal with jealousy, or do you not even get it?
Then, don’t forget that circumstances sometimes create opportunity. There’s nothing stopping you from experiencing the pros and cons of an open relationship and then going back to monogamy.
You might have the perfect partner to test out the advantages of an open relationship but can’t imagine it with anyone else. Like everything in life, the best approach is to stay open-minded and see what comes up.
Building harmonious open relationships
The simple answer to balancing the pros and cons of an open relationship is communication and boundaries. Within that, you’ll need to communicate and agree on some rules for how to approach the types of open relationships and which one you’re going for.
Boundaries are also an important part of having an open relationship. There are several types and they all apply here. So, how do you respect your physical space at home while still including secondary partners? What about emotional boundaries and oversharing?
Life isn’t black and white, and you might never completely remove the disadvantages of open relationships. Nevertheless, you can use rules and honesty to mitigate the risks of an emotional breakdown.
In fact, this is exactly the same as within monogamous relationships. As long as there’s no lying and cheating, then you can enjoy the advantages of an open relationship. Of course, you still need to make sure there’s passion, commitment, and intimacy.
The main thing to remember is that the pros of having an open relationship come with strong communication. Of course, each couple might have different rules about how much they share. The point is to agree on them beforehand so you don’t fall into the cons of an open relationship but instead reap the benefits of an open relationship.
As you can see, the pros and cons of an open relationship include everything from greater freedom to jealousy and heartache. It’s actually a great opportunity for personal growth because you’ll potentially learn to be more communicative and trusting.
Nevertheless, it comes with possible drawbacks such as fear, secrecy, disease, and even extra cost. In order to make it work, you have to build a solid foundation of trust with clear rules and expectations.
Then, both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships have an equal chance at happiness. The trick is to make sure you know what you want from your relationships and that you have the self-esteem and positive inner beliefs to make it work. If you’re not sure, work with a therapist to get to know your expectations about life and what you want from your relationships.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Anne’s passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you don’t have to do it alone.