6 Habits to Steal from Couples in Open Relationships
DEAR DR. JENN,
I've never considered an open relationship, but my friends who are in them seem to be way more in sync than my monogamous boyfriend and I are. What are non-monogamous couples getting right that I'm not? —Two Is Company
DEAR TWO IS COMPANY,
You're observations are on point. I consider monogamy to be the gold standard for relationships and believe that limiting your sexual interactions and romantic connection to one person creates a level of intimacy that can't be achieved any other way. That said, I've been a therapist in private practice for almost three decades and see more and more couples in open relationships come through my doors — and they have a lot to teach monogamous couples, especially when it comes to communication.
Recent studies have found that committed, non-monogamous couples tend to be happier. But you don't have to bring other people into your relationship to borrow the tools and communication styles that are most likely responsible for that non-monogamous relationship bliss. Here are the most important lessons every couple should learn from non-monogamy:
1) Practice total honesty.
The non-monogamous couples I've worked with tend to be extremely honest about their feelings. Because they are writing the rule book from scratch together based on their individual needs and desires, rather than relying on preconceived expectations, they tend to be very transparent about what they want emotionally and sexually. That kind of clarity and communication allows both partners to better have their needs met — and gives them the tools to work through problems together. A wandering eye is a symptom of a larger relationship problem that can't be fixed if it can't be addressed. But a person in a monogamous relationship who's able to say, "I am finding myself thinking about other men" can work with their partner to explore what's going on.
2) Conduct regular relationship evaluations.
Non-monogamous couple tend to conduct regular appraisals of their relationship and report their findings to one another. If one person feels the relationship is getting boring or the sex is getting stale — or, in the opposite, that something new they've been trying has them super excited to come home every evening — these couples tend to process with one another and make a plan to change things up accordingly. They are evaluative and proactive about their union.
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3) Set clear rules and boundaries.
Non-monogamous couples, whether they're in open relationships or are polyamorous, have lots of rules. Often, they set more rules than monogamous couples, who tend to rely on mainstream, if murky, social standards. The benefit of writing your own rules is that you actually take the time to discuss them and make sure everyone is on the same page. You know what kind of flirting, conversations, sexual contact, and phone contact is acceptable and what's out of bounds. Too many monogamous couples leave these decisions up to assumption. They might actually secretly, whether knowingly or unknowingly, cross boundaries their partner is not OK with and be too afraid to talk about it. Laying out what's OK and what's not from the get-go, judgment free, can prevent a lot of pain.
4) Talk through jealousy.
Jealousy is a normal emotion, and monogamy is not a cure for it. You are likely to experience jealousy at some point, in any sort of romantic situation. But non-monogamous couples are pros at talking through these feelings, which can resolve conflict and tends to bring couples closer together and help them communicate why they value each other.
5) Don't rely on one another for everything.
Again, I'm a fan of relying solely on your partner and yourself to achieve the sex life you want. But embedded in the lifestyle of non-monogamy is the understanding that no matter how much you love and respect someone, you can't count on them for everything. This is a healthy perspective that more couples should think about. To often, when people are bored or frustrated or unhappy, they fault their partners. But people in non-monogamous relationships take their happiness and fulfillment into their own hands. Maybe you've grown bored of your routine together; is there any activity you want to try independently? Maybe your partner is a good listener but not the best advice giver; can someone else (who is not a threat to your relationship) fulfill that need in your life? What can you do to better your situation? What change can you bring to the relationship?
6) Be vigilant about safe sex.
Because non-monogamous couples are often sleeping with multiple people, they must be vigilant about safe sex. As a result, they are used to discussing birth control, STIs, and sexual limits to protect their sexual health. Monogamous couples must learn from this approach. A couple's willingness to own their sexual choices allows them to protect themselves and their partners — which also leads to better sex. When you're not worried about getting pregnant or catching an STI, you are more likely to cut lose and enjoy.