Open relationships require major consideration. As one member of a couple, or as a couple, there are many factors to think about when considering opening up your relationship and/or becoming polyamorous, such as attachments and emotional cravings. In part two of this blog series, we will consider life dynamics, long-term safety, and rules of engagement.
Attachment Styles & Emotional Cravings
Attachment styles are created within the first year of life, and the type we develop largely depends on the manner in which our primary care providers interact with us as infants. There are various types of attachment styles, such as secure (the one we are looking to create in adulthood), insecure, avoidant, anxious, and defensive detachment. These dynamics—or attachment styles—become our relational software. With little self-awareness, we will recreate our first attachment style over and over again.
Opening up a relationship will have the highest chance of being healthy if you have a secure attachment style. A secure attachment style is comprised of an internal knowing that does not, never-ever, waiver in security. People with a secure attachment style do not become anxious or fearful at the thought of breaking up, nor when relational challenges rock their boat. In fact, the thought of breaking up isn’t characteristic of secure attachment styles.
In the variety of attachment styles other than the secure attachment style, there is a lot of fear, doubt, mistrust, insecurity, and little faith in the stability of the relationship. These factors can plague any person who might wish to enter an open or poly relationship.
When we do not have a secure attachment style, we can feel lonely, exhausted, resentful, or relationally empty. Because we are hungry to deeply connect, we can search for someone who will make us feel seen, thrill, and passion. We can begin to imagine what it would feel like to have a refreshing, titillating sexual experience or a connection with someone new who can leave us feeling full. This can often be a motivator: opening the relationship to other emotionally satisfying resources, people who can fill our emotional reservoirs.
As a clinician, it is important to address the motivation when partners advocate for open or poly relationships solely because they are emotionally hungry. Before they open the gate to allow others in, I encourage the emotionally hungry to take a comprehensive assessment to ensure they are not seeking more people as a way of medicating a painful attachment style. Trying to achieve fulfillment by engaging new people can easily lead to jealousy, resentment, sexual challenges, and, dare I say, the end of an otherwise healthy relationship.
One client said, “If I could not make it work with one, what made me think I could make it work with multiple?” After doing some profound work on his attachments and attachment style, that client found a lot of happiness, stability, and success in his open relationship.
Attachment psychology has grown over the years, now offering an in-depth and research-based perspective that can help individuals ensure they are healthily connected, full of relational resilience, and capable of carrying the emotional weight of multiple relationships.
Can open or polyamorous relationships work? Of course. Maybe not for everyone, but for certain people, open or poly relationships are deeply satisfying. To make one work, you might need to prepare the emotional context with consideration, wisdom, and a ton of communication. Create the attachment structure you need to make your open or poly relationships work.