Judging by Google search trends, interest in “open relationships” has doubled over the last fifteen years. I, too, had contributed to this trend when I started researching ways to revive the butterflies in my marriage. I didn’t know how deep that rabbit hole would take me back then. If only I knew then what I know now about open relationships, then maybe, just maybe, my journey could have been a bit less bumpy.
I wish someone had given me a checklist of requirements we had to complete before opening up the relationship with my then-husband. Unfortunately, there was too much-unorganized information to comb through. I read the polyamory classics — “The Ethical Slut”, “Opening Up,” and “More Than Two,” but those books had too many suggestions. I wish someone more experienced would have told me — “hold on a sec, you are not ready yet, because… “ — and I would listen to them, and I’d know what to work on before jumping into the world of non-monogamy.
But no one did. I had to learn about open relationships by making my own mistakes and getting to know my shadows. I hope my experience can help those considering whether or not to open up.
Here is a list of six signs that, in my opinion, are the key indicators of open relationship unreadiness.
1. One of the partners is strongly opposed to opening-up
Both partners have to be on board if they are interested in ethical nonmonogamy. If one of the partners is strongly opposed to opening up and the other one wants to, the chances of survival of that relationship are rather slim if they do move forward. I know a couple where one of the partners gave an ultimatum to the other in the form of “either we open our relationship… or else!” Well, they are no longer together.
There is always the non-ethical option of cheating, but that, in my opinion, is too risky: infidelity is the number one reason for relationships to end, according to this Ted Talk.
2. There are unresolved communication issues in your current relationship
If either partner doesn’t feel safe to be able to share their deep thoughts and fears with the other, that will be a problem. Any form of nonmonogamy triggers insecurities in most cases. When feelings come up, they need to be addressed. Otherwise, they will start affecting the relationship.
I struggled with this for years: I didn’t want to share anything that might have upset my partner. I believed that I was helping our relationship by “protecting” them from the inconvenient truth of my dissatisfaction. And, being conflict-avoidant, I was scared of their potential reaction to my truth. It was not a healthy pattern that led to our eventual separation. Since then, I have learned that the best course of action in any situation is to stay honest with myself and share my truth with the people in my life. Especially with loved ones. Relationships built on complete honesty and open communication tend to last much longer.
3. You or your partner are afraid of needles
Yes, this matters. When you start practicing any form of nonmonogamy, you will want to be extra careful about your sexual health. That means getting tested regularly. Ideally, every month, if either partner goes to play parties or has multiple other partners who practice non-monogamy. If you are part of a closed polycule with not many interactions outside of it, testing every member of it every three months is sufficient, in my opinion.
4. Either of you can’t imagine the other being intimate with someone else
If imagining your loved one in someone else’s embrace results in agonizing pain, you still need to work through some insecurities. I believe that jealousy is not a real feeling but rather an indicator of underlying fear, such as fear of abandonment. I have a recipe that works for me whenever jealousy comes up:
First, I notice the feeling. I watch it and describe it: where do I feel it most in my body? What color and texture does it have? Is it warm? Is it cold?… Then I ask myself what this feeling’s purpose is. Sometimes the answer is — it’s there to protect me from getting hurt. Sometimes something else. I keep asking myself questions to dig deeper into it — what is it protecting me from? What happens if that scary fantasy comes true? What other emotions come up? And so on. Once I unravel these fears and give them enough attention, I can usually go back to feeling compersion rather than jealousy.
5. You are unwilling to accept the risk of your partner finding a new primary partner
When my husband and I opened up our relationship, I had an illusion that nothing would happen to us. I thought that we would always be able to make “the right choice” and prioritize each other over everyone else. I assumed that I would have control over the hierarchy of different partners in my life.
I was wrong.
Everything was under control for the first three years of our open relationship. My ex and I successfully compartmentalized different aspects of our relationship. We were buddies and co-parents with each other and lovers with our other partners. Eventually, my perspective on relationships started to change. Being in other relationships made me realize that my ex-husband and I were meant to be friends from the beginning, not romantic partners. We tried to outsource the romance by opening up our relationship, but that wasn’t a scalable long-term solution. Each of us found someone else who turned out to be not only a good friend but also an excellent romantic partner for us.
6. You think opening up will fix issues in your current relationship
Do not open up if you are experiencing frequent conflicts and fall into the same unresolved trigger-response patterns in your current relationship. I’ve seen a few couples fall into this trap — they think that non-monogamy is a magical pill that will fix their relationship issues.
That’s not how it works.
Any form of non-monogamy brings up and highlights all the unresolved traumas, triggers, and insecurities. I would highly recommend going to couples counseling first, resolving major issues, and learning to communicate before opening up any relationship.
If you don’t think any of the above is an issue for you, you are ready for an open relationship. Just keep in mind that some deeply hidden insecurities might start coming to light. I can almost guarantee it.
It helps to have a sound support system in place — a couples therapist, a personal therapist, a physician ready to put in an emergency lab order for you, friends you can talk to, and, ideally, supportive metamours.
The decision you make about your relationship will be the right decision for you at that moment. I hope I have given you some food for thought before you decide to jump into the exciting world of non-monogamy.