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Do Open Relationships Work? P2. | Navigating the Common Challenges of Polyamorous Relationships

Isaac Archuleta

Life Dynamic & Long-Term Safety

As people invest in one another, they do so—in committed relationships—with the intention of building long-term relational security. Without healthy and consistent doses of thorough communication, it is easy to feel like you might be investing in a relationship that may eventually leave you high and dry. Festering on the fact that a partner may leave you, especially after investing years or a lifetime into the relationship, can be a very scary thought and bleak possibility.

Communication should be consistent enough for all people to feel included, not just with an update on the direction of the relationship, but in the codetermination of that direction. In this light, honest, transparent, and episodic discussion are vital. One should ensure that all people involved are leaders in the decision-making process. Failing to do so may leave some playing the leader and others the follower. The leader may craft a life dynamic that is comfortable for themselves, but no one else. The followers, in their fear to advocate for their needs and desires, may end up living a life they didn’t want or accumulating cancerous resentments.

Cocreating a relational home—where each individual gets to contribute to the design aesthetic, floorplan, and location—will be a stabilizing force.

Rules of Engagement

Like most busy homes, one cleans the floors and shakes the rugs, and the other empties the dishwasher and feeds the dog. We set a list of rules—who will do what and who will not do what—so that the home can function and remain comfortable.

Here are some rules to consider if you are working toward creating an open or poly relationship:

1. Talk About Talking About Sex

Often, people in open or poly relationships do not want the details of outside sexual rendezvous, but they do want to know when it happens. Desciding with your partners about how you will talk about sex is a very important rule to establish before outside sex happens.

2. Are Some People Off-Limits?

Many open and poly relationships do not permit one partner to sleep with a friend, an ex, or a previous sexual partner. Determining who you will not sleep with can protect the relationship and reinforce your earned secure attachment.

3. Is There Agreement to Cocreate a Relational Home?

Are all people in agreement that if any plans change, all involved (poly relationships) or all necessary people (open relationships) come back to the drawing board? Cocreating means pivoting as a team and allowing the relationships to evolve, bend, and flex as is comfortable for all involved.

4. Are the Relational Roles Clearly Defined?

Not all people in an open relationship (and sometimes poly relationships) will want to have sex with new people. Talking openly about who will have sex, in what seasons of life that might change, and who needs to be told about new sexual roles will keep trust in place. Another role to consider is if the people involved will serve more as friends with benefits or long-term lovers. It should be discussed if the open relationship is about having sex or about finding sex and love. Be clear about what roles you want to play and the roles others will play. Boundaries that will keep these moving pieces in their agreed-upon place should be known to everyone involved. Keeping one another consistently informed will protect everyone in the relationship(s).

5. Is There an Exit Route?

Sometimes couples realize that open or poly relationship aren’t working or are not quite the fit for which they were going. As a means of prioritizing safety and trust, predetermine what an exit route might look like, including having permission to call it quits, informing those invited in, and how that transition will be communicated.

6. Can You be Honest and Vulnerable About Insecurities?

Opening up a relationship or becoming poly can be a very complex situation. One partner might feel completely satisfied and content, while another might simply tolerate the arrangements or sexual encounters. The uncomfortable partner might not feel safe enough to be honest for fear of being erased from the new equation. To foster transparency, honesty, and safety, I would encourage that all partners involved create a safety that honors vulnerability and welcomes legitimate concerns.

Open and poly relationships take a lot of honesty. If you are facing problems inside your poly or open relationship, perhaps its time to revisit the structure, rules of engagement, and agreements you once made. Bring clarity to the relationship.

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