For a lot of people, having an open relationship is anathema and should never, ever be done. There are a lot of couples who’ve tried it and have found that while it might sound good on paper, actually doing it has become their worst nightmare come true. Hell, we really don’t know a whole lot about being totally monogamous… so stepping outside this relationship box, for some, is truly stepping into the unknown.
Logically, being open might make sense, depending on how your current relationship is going but emotionally? Holy shit… if you’ve been raised to be a staunch believer in monogamy, just thinking about opening your relationship might make you want to toss your cookies in an explosive and violent way. I’ve seen people who, depending on your point of view on this, have a “valid” reason to be open – and it pays to keep in mind that just because you might not think they have a valid reason doesn’t mean that they don’t think they have one, okay? And just because you wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean anything other than you wouldn’t do it. And you can learn what I think is an important life-lesson: Thinking and doing are not the same things and if you think they are, go ahead and try doing this…
I’ve actually sat and listened to the logical argument put together in favor of being open and, yep, it always sounds good on paper… and usually fails in execution because, um, no one really knows how to do something that’s not supposed to be done in the first place. It’s not always what you do or why you’re doing it: It’s how you go about doing it and, honestly, that’s really not as easy as it sounds.
I’ve said, in those times I’ve written about this, that if you cannot unlearn everything you’ve ever learned about love, sex, and relationship so you can learn a new and very different way of doing these things, do not do it. This rabbit hole is deeper than you could ever imagine – and I just can’t emphasize this enough – and logic just ain’t gonna help much because the thing that fails the most is the emotional aspects and mastering your own emotions in this is incredibly difficult; your mastery – if you can achieve it at all – just doesn’t encompass the here and now – it has to extend into a future that can only be guessed at… maybe… if the parties involved can even look that far ahead even in theory.
I did it… and it was one of the worst changes of mindset that I’ve ever experienced. I survived the change… and I’m not exactly sure how I managed that. What I learned about being open is simple – in theory – but damned hard to actually do: You have to communicate with each other like you’ve never done it before and that’s not a joke or one of those “duh” kind of things; when I say that you have to put everything on the table, I’m seriously not kidding – and then this isn’t a conversation that’s gonna take “the least amount” of time; you talk, then keep talking, then talk some more – and then, when you think you’ve talked about all there is to talk about, you go back and talk some more just to make sure you’re both on the same page about this.
If you cannot trust in the strength of your love for each other and the solidity of your relationship, you’re in deep doo-doo; if you’re prone to being jealous, possessive, or in any way emotionally labile or even approach this with your feelings more than your intelligence (outside of that undying love you have for each other, that is), you’re screwed. If you fear loss, ditto – you’re hosed already. My short version of this is that if you’re not grown up enough to do this, don’t do it… and if you think you are, be ready to get bitch-slapped when you find out that you’re not as grown up as you thought you were. Like, if you can’t imagine your partner having sex with someone else – or can’t imagine yourself doing it while in a relationship – if it is in any way painful for you to even think about this, ya might not want to do it.
There are rules… lots of them and the first rule, in my opinion, is that you always put home first; you just do not ever shirk your responsibilities to your partner/family in favor of jumping into bed with other people because if you do, you’re fucked… and not in a good way. I’ve seen couples construct sets of rules that are so exacting (and sometimes, totally unreasonable) that it makes being open almost impossible so while you’d better have some rules in place, there is a danger in putting too many of them in place. Some are common sense, like, don’t bring anything nasty home, don’t wind up being a parent and your partner isn’t the other parent in this – stuff like that. If you’re of a mind to put in rules that seek to control the other person’s feelings – like, they’d better not go out and fall in love with someone else – eh, you might be fucked and more so if you have it in your mind that it couldn’t and/or shouldn’t happen – and I know a lot of couples who actually do this, just like some of them found out that there are some things you just cannot control – and if you think things got ugly, you’re right on point.
Having done the doom and gloom thing, can being open be a positive thing? Yes, it can be; people think that being open can’t make a couple’s bond to each other stronger but it can and I believe it’s in part as to why this is being put on the table: Is it being done for us… or is this really about you and you’re just tossing your partner a bone to, um, pacify them. I believe there is a great distinction here; yeah, it looks like one of those “every man for himself” kind of things – someone’s being greedy or some other uncool behavior – but being “ethically non-monogamous”can be a thing that’s done together and for the benefit of the relationship. I’d guess that on the surface, this might not make sense unless you’re willing to give it a great deal of thought but, yeah, it does make sense.
But can you make this logical and emotional leap? I hate to say it but most people can’t and I’d also have to say that the reason why they can’t has a lot to do with their resistance to change… and if you’re thinking, “What…?” then maybe you don’t understand how deep those changes have to go because, again, you’re changing everything you’ve ever learned about love, sex, and relationships and, yep, you’re even changing your emotional mindset as well – that mastery I spoke of earlier and even learning to be happy for your partner just because they’re happy in this – compersion – and this, too, is a very difficult emotional state to reach but don’t feel bad – not everyone does and they’re still very successful in being open.
I know pretty much all of the shit that can go wrong in being open but I also know pretty much all of the shit that can go right, too. It’s not what you do or why you do it… it’s all in how you go about doing it. It’s not to say that “why” isn’t important; some people get into this without really giving a lot of thought of any goals they wish to achieve; what’s in it for me, what’s in it for you, what’s in it for us – and even if those goals are a bit fuzzy because some of them are future events, I think it’s damned important to be able to see “the big picture” – and if you can’t, don’t even go here. And, yeah, I think a lot of people fail in this because they don’t take any future changes into consideration, like, um, someone might change their mind about doing this and now they don’t want to be open or they’re lobbying for a change in the rules, stuff like that. Just like any relationship, an open one is always a work in progress and if you’re not always working on your open relationship and in every aspect, you might regret ever agreeing to being open.
Yep… it’s a lot of work and can make being and staying monogamous look easy and the straight-up truth is that if you can’t change and then do the work and can’t keep doing what has to be done in this, don’t even bother to try it…