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Are Open Relationships Healthy?

Open relationships are becoming ever more common, and more people are happy to talk about the fact that they’re not exclusive with their partner. If you haven’t been in an open relationship before, you might be wondering how to have a successful open relationship and whether you can have a healthy open relationship.

In this article, I’m going to give you everything you need to know about open relationships; why some people like them, how you might know whether you’d be ok with it, and what you need to talk about if you want your open relationship to be a healthy one.

What Is an Open Relationship? The Psychology of Open Relationships

Let’s start at the beginning. What do we mean when we talk about an open relationship?

An open relationship is one where a couple are committed to each other, but that commitment doesn’t include an expectation of sexual exclusivity.1 You’ve agreed that you can each sleep with other people under certain conditions.

Each couple will have their own rules or boundaries around being in an open relationship. I’m going to talk later about some of the most important things you might want to have rules around.

One of the most important things to understand if you want healthy open relationships is that there isn’t one set way for how to have an open relationship. You can’t say “I want an open relationship” and have an automatic understanding of what that means in practice.

Every open relationship will have its own unique ruleset because every couple has their own, unique needs.

It’s normal to assume that someone in an open relationship is trying to fill a void in their main relationship, and they’re either less committed or more unhappy than their monogamous counterparts, but this isn’t the case.2

If you want an open relationship and you and your partner are willing to put the work into your communication and connection, you stand as good a chance of having a happy, fulfilling relationship as anyone following a more traditional path.

How to Understand Why Your Partner Wants an Open Relationship

Hearing that your partner wants to consider an open relationship can be hurtful and it might trigger a lot of anxiety and doubt in your mind. You might wonder why you’re not enough for them or what you’re doing wrong.

That’s a completely normal worry, but that’s not usually how wanting an open relationship works. Let’s look at why your partner might want an open relationship, and why it’s not about you not being good enough.

1. They just don’t get jealous

This doesn’t apply to everyone in an open relationship. Lots of people in open relationships do experience jealousy but they find healthy ways to deal with it. For some, however, they simply don’t understand getting jealous when their partner sleeps with someone else. 

They want an open relationship because they just don’t see any reason not to.

2. They like knowing that they’re not the only person responsible for their partner’s needs

We all have needs that we look to others to meet. We need respect, care, love, affection, and more. We often assume that our partner should be able to meet all of our needs, but that can be a heavy burden.

Some people like an open relationship because it means that they know that their partner has other ways to get their needs met. This is often the case if you’re in a long-distance relationship, for example. 

3. They value freedom and autonomy

We probably all told our parents “you can’t control me” at least once in our teenage years. Few of us like feeling controlled or limited, even by the people we care about. Some people like knowing that they still have a full choice about who they’re intimate with despite being in a relationship.

4. They have specific fetishes or interests

they have specific fetishes or interests

Sometimes you can have a great relationship with someone and want to share your life with them but there’s one thing that you really wish they were into. 

If someone has a strong fantasy, fetish, or interest that their partner doesn’t share, it’s often more ethical to move to an open relationship than try to encourage them to try something that doesn’t appeal to them.

Great sex is important for your health and happiness.3 If one of you has needs that can’t reasonably be met in the relationship, an open relationship can provide the answer.

5. They’re bisexual

This isn’t the “bisexuals are just greedy” trope, which is both inaccurate and harmful.4 Many (probably most) bisexual people are happy in a monogamous relationship. But some people will be utterly happy in their relationship but still miss the experience of being sexual with someone of a different gender to their partner.

An open relationship can be a way to meet that need.

6. They can learn about themselves

Dating and being intimate with new people can teach you a lot about yourself. You can learn more about what’s really important to you in people, what makes you happy, and find new things that you enjoy in bed.

People who want an open relationship often want to be able to explore new things in a way that doesn’t threaten their main relationship

How to Communicate with Your Partner If You Want an Open Relationship

If you would like to try having an open relationship with your partner, it’s important to make sure that you’re opening a discussion about it, rather than trying to push them into something that doesn’t feel right for them.

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Explain your needs and your thought process behind why you would like to open up your relationship. Use I statements to avoid sounding like you’re unhappy in your relationship at the moment.

Offer them lots of reassurance. They’ll probably feel at least a little bit insecure and anxious, so be really clear about why you love and value them. If you’re still happy to stay in the relationship if it stays monogamous, make sure that you tell them that.

How to Understand Whether Your Personality Type Is Suitable for an Open Relationship

Some people are naturally better suited to having a healthy open relationship than others. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of people who are great at having open relationships.

1. You’re great at honest communication

you're great at honest communication

All healthy open relationships are based on a huge amount of open and honest communication. It’s the single most important factor. If you’re considering having an open relationship, ask yourself whether you’re going to be able to meet that standard.

This is one area where people-pleasers often struggle. If you find yourself telling people what you think they want to hear, rather than how you really feel, you’re going to struggle to have a healthy open relationship. Even worse, your partner probably won’t know that anything’s wrong, which means they’re not going to be able to fix it.

Imagine bringing up a conversation because you’re feeling hurt about someone your partner just slept with. Do you think you’d manage to bring the topic up? Do you think you’d be able to tell them honestly how you feel, instead of pretending that it’s no big deal? If not, think carefully before trying an open relationship.

2. You can deal with difficult feelings

Even the most stable and secure relationship is going to have a few awkward or difficult moments as you start to engage with other people. You might find yourself becoming unexpectedly jealous about something you didn’t realize mattered to you or have had an awful day at work and then find your partner has a date that night.

There are going to be difficult feelings and you’re going to need to be able to cope with them. This takes a fair amount of emotional self-awareness and great self-care. If you naturally either lash out when you’re hurt or suppress your emotions, you might want to work on that before moving into an open relationship.

3. You don’t place a high value on sexual exclusivity

People who love open relationships or polyamory don’t always acknowledge that it’s actually completely ok to want and need sexual exclusivity from your partner. If sexual exclusivity matters to you, an open relationship isn’t going to make you happy or fulfill your needs.

4. You don’t have a highly anxious attachment style

Your attachment style tells you a lot about how you’re likely to react in specific situations in your relationship. Someone with a secure attachment style is usually confident within their relationship and has minimal need for reassurance.5

There are several insecure attachment styles, but an anxious attachment style is usually the least well-suited to an open relationship. If you have an anxious attachment style you probably want a lot of reassurance from your partner and you’re constantly afraid that they’re going to reject you or push you away.

Being in an open relationship can make this fear much worse. Some people with an anxious attachment style are able to have open relationships where they feel supported by several people who matter to them, but this isn’t always the case.

7 Boundaries to Define to Ensure a Healthy Open Relationship 

If you’re thinking of opening up your relationship, or even getting into a relationship that is open from the start, there are several boundaries that it’s important to negotiate straight away. Here are some of the things that you and your partner will need to consider before taking the leap.

1. Who

The first thing you need to agree on is who you’re allowed to be intimate with. This will come down to personal preferences and what allows you to feel secure in your relationship. 

Some people will want to know the people their partner sees outside of their relationship while others want to keep their activities at more of a distance.

You might also have people you would rather your partner didn’t date or sleep with. You might be fine with them picking a stranger up in a bar but hate the idea of them sleeping with a friend or neighbor. Or you might have the opposite reaction. Make sure that you talk it through and decide on boundaries that work for you.

Some groups of people you might need to discuss include:

  • Ex-partners
  • Your own friends
  • Your partner’s friends
  • People you’ve met online
  • Someone you’ve previously been intimate with

2. What

The next thing you want to think about is exactly what is ok by both of you with other people and what isn’t. This means talking about physical, emotional, and practical connections and how you feel about them.

Ask yourselves questions about how you think you’ll feel about your partner doing specific things with other people. For example, you might be ok with them having sex with other people but feel uncomfortable with them staying the night or sharing breakfast with them.

You’re allowed to negotiate any rules that work for both you and your partner. This might mean that you agree on specific acts that are only shared between you as a couple. 

Sometimes, you might struggle to find something that works for both of you. For example, one person might want to agree that relations with other people should be only physical, without an emotional connection. This will work for some partners, but someone who needs an emotional connection before sex (someone who is demisexual or demiromantic) isn’t going to be well-served by this rule.

3. When


It might sound obvious, but it’s important to make sure that opening up your relationship doesn’t mean that you stop spending enough time with each other. Spend some time thinking about what you need in your main relationship to feel happy, cared for, and loved. Make sure that your extra-curricular activities don’t get in the way of doing those things.

There may be some times that you assume your partner shouldn’t plan dates with others. You might think it goes without saying that they shouldn’t be seeing other people on your birthday or that they should cancel their date if you’re taken ill. Maybe you shouldn’t have to say it, but life is probably easier (and happier) if you do.

4. Where

One of the things that many people in open relationships don’t consider in advance is whether they need any restrictions on where they can have dates with other people. This might not seem important, but it can actually be vital if you don’t want specific important people in your life to know that you’re in an open relationship.

For example, lots of people in open relationships have been ‘outed’ to their families because one of them has been seen on a date by their in-laws or another relative. The relative then assumes that the partner is cheating and goes to the other partner to tell them. Cue a very awkward conversation.

Possibly an even worse outcome is if they don’t tell you that you were spotted on a date and spend the next decade assuming that your partner was a cheat.

Thinking about where dates can happen and where you can look for potential new playmates is an important conversation to have.

5. Why

Again, you might not anticipate having to have boundaries about why your partner might want to be intimate with someone else, but it can be a helpful way to distinguish between healthy reasons to open a relationship and others which might be less healthy.

For example, you might be totally ok with your partner having sex with other people for feelings of adventure and excitement. That’s great. That’s a pretty common (and healthy) reason for wanting to sleep with other people. But what if it was because he felt ignored by you? Would that still feel ok?

Generally, it’s more sustainable to have an open relationship that aims to add to an already healthy partnership than one that opens up to help fix a problem or provide something that’s missing.

There are times when it’s ok to see other people to fill a gap in your current relationship, such as if one of you has a specific kink that your partner doesn’t share. It’s worth being cautious, though. If there are holes or challenges in your relationship, it’s usually better to address them first and open the relationship once you’re more secure.

6. Who knows and how much

I already touched on this when I mentioned that you might not want close friends and family to know that you’re in an open relationship. Lots of people can be judgmental and you might not want to have to explain yourselves to everyone around you.

Alternatively, you might not like the idea of hiding the fact that your relationship is open. Either option is absolutely fine, but it’s important that you and your partner are on the same page about it, especially if you have children.

You’ll also want to consider how much you want to know about your partner’s exploits when they’re seeing someone else. Some people want to know all of the details and love hearing about how much fun their partner’s having. Others prefer to keep private stuff, well, private.

Again, there’s no right or wrong decision. It’s just important that you make a decision that both of you are happy with.

7. How do we fix it

This is less something specific to open relationships and more something that everyone should consider and set rules about. There’s certainly no reason that an open relationship should be any more prone to problems and arguments than a monogamous one. But, if you’re going to the effort of setting clear relationship boundaries, include how you’re going to deal with problems.

Problems are going to arise in every relationship. In an open relationship, you’ll probably find that you have some feelings that you didn’t expect or that some difficulties arise that you hadn’t seen coming. That’s completely normal. The important thing is how you deal with that situation.

Most people in long-term non-monogamous relationships focus on complete honesty and the need to bring up problems quickly rather than allow them to fester and grow.

If you’re about to open up your relationship, it’s often helpful to schedule fortnightly or monthly chats to make sure that you can both talk about the things that are going well and areas where you might want to look again at your agreement. These can become less frequent as you get used to your new arrangement.


How common are open relationships?

The overwhelming majority of relationships in the western world are monogamous, but open relationships and polyamory are both increasing rapidly. Estimates suggest that around 20% of people have tried some form of non-monogamy but far fewer are in an open relationship at any time.

Do most open relationships fail?

Many relationships will only be open for a while and then transition into monogamy. Others will do the opposite. Some relationships will fail and some will succeed.

Is there cheating in an open relationship?

Just because you’re in an open relationship doesn’t mean that you can’t be guilty of cheating. An open relationship might have different rules than a monogamous one, but those rules are just as important to the people involved. If you break those rules, you’re probably cheating.

Is there jealousy in open relationships?

Jealousy can be a huge problem in open relationships. A successful open relationship doesn’t mean that you’ve avoided jealousy or pushed it away. Instead, it means you’ve found a way to handle it together, as a team.


Open relationships are becoming more common and they can be a healthy part of a great relationship. The most important thing that you can do to make your open relationship a success is to work on open and honest communication constantly with the person (or people) you love.

Let us know what you’ve learned about how to be in an open relationship in the comments below, and don’t forget to share this article with someone who’s considering opening their relationship or needs some pointers about how to talk about it.

Utilize this tool to verify if he's truly who he claims to be
Whether you're married or just started dating someone, infidelity rates have risen by over 40% in the past 20 years, so your concerns are justified.

Do you want to find out if he's texting other women behind your back? Or if he has an active Tinder or dating profile? Or even worse, if he has a criminal record or is cheating on you?

This tool can help by uncovering hidden social media and dating profiles, photos, criminal records, and much more, potentially putting your doubts to rest.

5 Sources:
  1. Rubel, A. N., & Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Consensual Nonmonogamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961–982.
  2. ‌Wood, J., Desmarais, S., Burleigh, T., & Milhausen, R. (2018). Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 632–654.
  3. ‌DeLamater, J. (2012). Sexual Expression in Later Life: A Review and Synthesis. Journal of Sex Research, 49(2-3), 125–141.
  4. ‌McClelland, S. I., Rubin, J. D., & Bauermeister, J. A. (2016). Adapting to Injustice: Young Bisexual Women’s Interpretations of Microaggressions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40(4), 532–550.
  5. ‌Morgan, H. J., & Shaver, P. R. (1999). Attachment Processes and Commitment to Romantic Relationships. Handbook of Interpersonal Commitment and Relationship Stability, 109–124.

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