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Relationships exist in all forms, and whilst monogamous relationships might still be considered the norm in the mainstream narrative, many people live happily within open and ethically non-monogamous relationships.
And, like any other union, open relationships require excellent communication from everyone involved.
With high-profile couples like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith talking openly about turning to an open structure as a solution to marital problems, you might be wondering if an open relationship is right for you.
To unpack this, Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with US-based mental health and relationship expert, Shamananda.
What are open relationships?
Shamananda explains that “open relationship” is an umbrella term “referring to a married or a long-term couple who are open to adding one or more additional romantic and/or sexual relationship(s) into their situation.”
The couple might agree that the additional relationship(s) are secondary in importance to their existing relationship. With that being said, there are variables, and every couple is a little different in the relationship rules they agree to.
There is a broad spectrum of relationship structures that include more than one partner, and some couples will temporarily open a relationship and then return to a monogamous structure.
“We also have monogamish,” explains Shamananda, “where the couple is mostly monogamous but occasionally has sexual encounters with others.
“And then there is polyamory where people choose to openly have multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships where everyone (usually) has offered their consent for this structure.”
Can opening a relationship help a couple resolve issues?
“There are certain people who do not feel satisfaction with only one partner, but still want to keep their relationship or their marriage.
Shamananda explains this decision can be made for a range of reasons, including variety and diversity of experiences, boredom or being unable to completely connect to your primary partner.
“For some, creating a compromise where you can have your cake and eat it too, is an attractive alternative to traditional relationships that feel dissatisfying.”
And, for those people who don’t identify with being monogamous, certain societal "norms" around relationship expression can feel oppressive, and they may prefer to express love through ethically non-monogamous relationships.
In this way, an open relationship can be a healthy choice for some couples.
However, Shamananda also warns that opening a relationship to “fix” problems within the relationship is rarely helpful to either partner.
What are the risks to opening your relationship during difficult times?
Opening a previously monogamous relationship is a big deal and takes a strong commitment to open, honest communication, and to working through your own big feelings as they arise.
“One of the risks that can occur,” says Shamananda, “is jealousy, when too much attention is given to the additional partner.
“This upheaval can be worse if this lifestyle was implemented in an attempt to remedy the relationship by adding someone new.
“With that being said, for this to be a healthy situation, it should not be about remedying an issue at all. Instead, it should be about an openness with what could create a new level of satisfaction in each other's lives, in an already satisfying relationship.
“Other risks are that some people fall in love with their new partner and leave the primary relationship, or the primary relationship is destroyed after the experience of added partners leaves them traumatised.
“This occurs when the couple isn’t fully prepared for the impact of adding a new partner, or if the couple has poor communication skills.
“Bottom line, this type of relationship should only be considered when the relationship is already a happy one and should never be used to 'fix' something in the relationship.”
What are some benefits to consciously opening your relationship?
According to Shamananda, there are many instances where these types of relationships work very well and all partners are content.
“More so,” she says, “couples who are open to each partner having sex with people outside the relationship, are often more satisfied in their relationships than those who do not.”
For some people, monogamy doesn’t fit and “having a partner that feels the same way allows both parties to enjoy the benefits of a long-term relationship, when otherwise it may not have been possible.”
She also explains that “communication among these couples is often better than for monogamous couples, so there may be a higher level of satisfaction with the relationship overall.”
Shamananda's advice for couples thinking about opening their relationship
“If you’re a couple who is wanting to experience an open relationship, excellent communication is key to ensuring you both get what you want out of your new dynamic.
“The best way to keep it healthy is to make sure you are both on the same page and will both enforce the same boundaries as needed.
“If you are a couple who feels insecure or has self-worth issues, beware that adding partners will trigger that insecurity and play a role in your new dynamic, potentially making it toxic,” says Shamananda.
“Keep it healthy by working through the issues before you add anyone new to the mix.”
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