Thinking of spicing things up and opening up your relationship? Here are somethings you must know to prevent your relationship heading for a complete disaster.
'Open relationships' is something many people are talking about right now. It has become a trend and I see many people in my therapy room who have come to seek help either because they want to understand how to approach it or because it has gone very wrong. So, if you are in a non-monogamous relationship and you want to see where the flaws in your relationships are, or if you want to open up your relationship and want to know where the pitfalls may be, or you are simply curious, this post is for you.
Red flags (reasons not to open up your relationship):
“My partner and I are thinking of opening our relationship. Things are getting a bit rough, so we thought we spice things up.” This is always a BIG red flag. If you are expecting non-monogamy to fix your relationship, it would only fix it the way a baby would fix your relationship, i.e. Not at all, it will make it worse!
This view comes from this place “we have a problem. We don’t know how to solve it ourselves. We are going to create a pressure release valve so it will make it easier for us to be in a relationship with each other.” However, in reality, what open relationships do is offer you more opportunities for conflict with more people! So, if you have trouble communicating or dealing with conflict, open relationships are going to make that exponentially worse. If this resonates with you, I suggest you see a qualified sexologist or couple therapist soon.
Another red flag is that people think they can keep their relationship the same and just add in other people. If you try to keep your relationship the same when you explore non-monogamy, you will end up hurting people you want to explore with, and hurting yourselves. Open relationship is NOT monogamy+ other people. Because you are not adding extra toys, you are brining in people who have their own wants, needs, history, hopes and dreams and it is so unpredictable how we are going to interact with people we bring into our lives.
This leads to the third red flag which is very common: a couple (usually heterosexual cis-gender man and bisexual cisgender woman, but not always) who wants to bring in another person (usually a single bisexual cis-gender woman) to spice things up. Here is an example of an ad on a dating website:
"Attractive couple looking for a single hot bi woman. You need to be single and happy to remain that way for the duration of your relationship with us. We are looking for someone who is good in bed and knows her boundaries too. In return we promise you a hot time and lots of cuddles."
This type of couple is known as ‘unicorn hunters’. I will explain later why the term unicorn.
This idea comes from the view that “If we could just find this person and bring them in, everything would be hot, sexy and perfect.” The problem is the couple in this way have created a whole structure and rules of how the relationship is going to be, without that person’s knowledge and involvement. This feels very objectifying to the person who is being approached. The idea that their couplehood is always going to take precedent to their wants and needs, can make the person feel the couple is just looking for a sex toy and not a person. But this person most often wants the relationship to evolve in a way that is as beneficial to them and considers their wants and needs as much as the couple's.
image from askmen.com
There is also this idea that when you bring in a third person, they need to be equally in love with and attracted to both members of the couple. The likelihood of this happening is almost zero. Attraction is complex. Who we are attached to changes over time, who we fall in love with is hard to predict. So, many couples very soon find out that the possibility of finding a ‘hot babe’ who does everything to fulfil their sexual and emotional needs and sacrifices their own needs for them is as rare as finding a unicorn! Hence the term 'unicorn hunters'.
I don’t think anyone does this intentionally. Many people are not even aware that the way they approach open relationships can impact the third person. This view is a reflection of how we are being taught about sexuality and relationships in a culture that is mono-normative (monogamy being the ‘normal’ and only healthy way of being in a relationship) and heteronormative (heterosexuality being the ‘normal’ and only healthy way of being in a relationship). We are rarely, if ever, taught about how to have ethical and consensual non-monogamous relationships.
How to have positive open relationships?
Image from zoosk.com
So, let’s assume you are now aware of the red flags and your relationship has a solid foundation, what else do you need to know and where can you learn more?
One recommendation is to seek therapy or coaching from a qualified sexologist or couple therapist. A lot of the times when we are too close to the situation, we may not be able to see what another person can see from the outside. Make sure the therapist you want to see has a good understanding of the nuances of open relationships and feels comfortable with this topic (unfortunately not everyone does.) Feel free to ask questions about their views and values related to relationships.
There are also books specifically about open relationships (suggestions below) and books about emotional intelligence which can be very helpful. Emotional intelligence, in short, is how we can identify what emotions we are experiencing and speak about them and be attuned to and speak to others about their emotions. Learning emotional intelligence skills can help you notice when things are not going well for you quickly, and helps you realise when something you are doing is not working for someone else. It will also give you the tools to talk about it in a productive way.
If you are interested in a tailored session to learn more about other ways to have a positive experience you can book a session with me. Clink here to send a request.
Books about open relationships:
Building Open Relationships by Dr. Liz Powell
Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships by Mark A. Michaels, Lyssa Browne, et al.
Dance of Anger, The: A Woman's Guide To Changing The Patterns Of Intimate Relationships
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel (This book is not about non-monogamy but it gives insight into sexual and erotic relationships.)