An open relationship is a type of relationship status where a couple agrees to be physically and sexually intimate with other people. The relationship can be a dating relationship or a marriage. Thus, a male or female can potentially have several other sexual partners in addition to the main relationship. Open relationships spark the old adage of a person having their cake and wanting to eat it too. At the end of the day, do open relationships work? Can people have a cake and really get to eat and savor it too?
The fact of the matter is that open relationships are extremely difficult to navigate and challenging to maintain due to several inherent pitfalls in the arrangement. Here are seven reasons why people cannot easily have their cake and eat it too:
- Jealousy: Jealousy is a normal human emotion. It is simply human nature to compare oneself to others. In an open relationship, it is just about impossible to not size up the other individuals that your partner is being intimate with without jealousy rearing its ugly head.
- Self-Esteem: An open relationship can wreak havoc on a person’s confidence and self-esteem. An open relationship creates a platform where one can be compared to another person, sexually or otherwise. If an individual deems themselves uglier, dumber, less successful, or not as good sexually as one of their partner’s paramours, self-esteem can venture into dangerous and unchartered territories.
- Power Differential: An open relationship has an inherent inequitable balance of power. No relationship is the same and it is very unlikely that all pairings are comparable to each other, even if one relationship develops purely out of sex. There are always going to be relationships with varying levels of connection, leading to anger and resentment on the other side.
- Unplanned Circumstances: Despite the best planning, accidents or mistakes in the bedroom can potentially occur, leading to surprise pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. If a person’s partner is suddenly faced with an unplanned pregnancy or an unwanted case of an incurable sexually transmitted disease, life changes for everybody.
- Uncontrolled Emotions: Most couples enter an open relationship under the guise that they will keep their emotions in check. They have the opportunity to sexually explore, while keeping their emotional barometer steady and controlled. However, emotions are never under perfect control. They are messy and unpredictable. One partner may develop more or different types of emotions than they were anticipating. Or, what about their paramour? What if that person begins to experience intense emotions? Either way, there is no simple way to keep the emotions of all parties steady and in control.
- Terms of Agreement: In the majority of cases, one partner usually brings up the prospect of an open relationship to the other. It is pretty rare for both partners to be contemplating the arrangement at the same time. Thus, one partner is usually acquiescing to the other, meaning that one party is always going to be more invested in the arrangement than the other.
- Reduced Honesty: In most open relationships, there is some type of spoken or unspoken agreement for partners to refrain from sharing too many details about their sexual escapades. This air of secrecy or lies of omission can quickly deteriorate honest and open communication between partners. As most of us know, once honesty disappears, trust is usually right behind it.
At the end of the day, if two partners are exploring an open relationship, they are not fully committed to each other. Individuals who are fulfilled by their partners and relationships do not need to seek anything outside of the relationship. Those who are fulfilled admire, respect, and treasure the cake that they have without messing it all up by trying to eat it too.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.