You’re in a solid, committed relationship and you really love your girlfriend/live-in/wife. Like, really and truly. But . . . you have a wandering eye. You’re curious. You have a love-hate on for monogamy. You start to wonder if variety truly is the spice of life. And with most marriages ending in divorce, you start thinking that maybe those “swingers” are onto something. That maybe you should be open to an “open relationship.”
Remember all relationships are unique—there isn’t one way to have a fulfilling, happy relationship—but having an open one requires communication and a serious weighing of your options. Because, ultimately, you could be left without any relationship. So that’s why I recruited top Toronto relationship psychotherapist Nicole McCance to advise you on having an open relationship.
Most of the couples in McCance’s practice who decide to have an open relationship do so because “they have been together for a long time and love each other but are missing the passion in their relationship, or don’t believe in monogamy as a value system,” she says. “They love their partner and want to spend the rest of their lives with this person but also want the freedom to date and have sex with other people.”
More sex and different types of sex sounds good, right? Not so fast. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you start—and especially before you broach the subject to her. Here, then, is a look at the pros and cons of open relationships so you can make a balanced and informed decision about what’s right for you and your relationship.
PRO: You Get to Be With Other People
This is probably the first reason why you want to explore an open relationship to begin with. “For some of the couples I see, this keeps the relationship from going stale,” says McCance. “Both parties are able to get their needs met from other people that their partner may not be able to meet.” Now if that hot girl at the bar starts to chat you up and makes a move, you no longer have to say, “Sorry, I’m in a relationship.” And, of course, the same goes for your girlfriend.
Oh, that green-eyed monster. As Nick Jonas attests, it’s practically human nature to feel jealous when you see your partner with another person, or when you hear them talking about a new person, or looking good for a date that isn’t you. Another factor? “I often see that there is one person in the couple who is less into the idea of the open relationship but going along with it anyway,” McCance says. “They may be suppressing their jealousy which can negatively impact the relationship later on.”
PRO: Some Competition is Healthy
Being aware that you’re both seeing other people will help you and your lady “up” your game.
“Knowing your partner is dating other people can keep you on your toes, making sure the relationship is a priority.”
CON: Unhealthy Competition
All that “upping your game” stuff might get the best of you in the end. “It would be hard not to wonder if the person your partner is dating lights them up more than you do,” McCance says. “I have seen some people become insecure because they feel like they are not good enough and think that’s why their partner wants an open relationship.”
PRO: There’s No Guilt (Technically)
Since you’re being “open” and all, there’s no reason for you to feel guilty about indulging your attraction for another person. Right? “Open communication is very important in these types of relationships,” says McCance. “You are hiding nothing so it can feel freeing to be able to enjoy other people and relationships and have your partner be okay with it.”
Despite your relationship being “open” and you being allowed to sleep with other people, chances are you’re going to feel guilty about it anyway. And you’re bound to feel bad for possibly hurting your partner. “It can be a bit of a slippery slope with dating other people inside of your relationship,” says McCance. “You are always risking potentially falling for someone else because you are allowing yourself to go there.”
PRO: It’s Casual
No fuss, no muss. And, more importantly, no strings attached. Says McCance: “Some of my couples like that their relationship is not traditional. As long as both parties are aware and agree to see other people and are honest and respect each other, it can work.”
CON: Your Partner May Leave You Anyway
No matter what’s been made clear in the beginning, there is always the chance that your partner might leave you anyway. Maybe she’ll leave you for someone else, or maybe she’ll break up with you because she’s just not into the open arrangement anymore. That’s a serious chance you’ll take when exploring this type of relationship.
PRO: You’re Not Bored
With multiple sex partners and dates, you’re bound to be stimulated on all fronts. Plus, you’ll seldom find yourself “in a rut” and you’re free to explore and keep things exciting. This is particularly attractive to those who’ve been with their “one and only” forever. “Couples I see who have been together since high school are able to have novel experiences with different mates that they never got growing up,” says McCance. “They are in love with their partner and at the end of the day always come home to them.”
Well, according to McCance’s experience, it’s pretty much 50/50. “I’ve seen open relationships happen successfully and unsuccessfully,” she says. “My only concern is that it can be difficult to feel emotionally safe and secure in a relationship where your partner wants to see other people. I have seen many of my clients, especially when it’s their partner’s idea to date others, wonder if they are not good enough in some way to fulfil their partner and take this request quite personally.”
Which might leave you alone before you even start an open relationship. But maybe that was the whole point to begin with?
Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer based in Toronto, something of a humorist, and considers herself more Bridget Jones than Samantha Jones. Though she won’t reveal which parts, she will admit to liking emotionally unavailable men and drinking lots of wine. You can follow her on Twitter @briannehogan.