Open Relationship Ground Rules

Basic Open Relationship Ground Rules: Let say you are in a relationship (whether it be long term or you just met) and maybe due to distance, a recent discovery of sexuality, not being at the point in your relationship that you are ready for a commitment, or just wanting  to spice up your relationship, you are thinking about talking about an open relationship.  You have done your homework, understand some of the risks involved, have talked to your significant other and they are completely on board with it. Now what??  Well now it is time to talk some more.  I know, you thought it would finally be time to get to the good stuff.  Well, don’t jump the gun on this as it’s extremely important that you have an open line of communication the entire time.

You will need to start by talking with each other about your “non-negotiable ground rules”. These are boundaries in the open relationship that both people agree will not be crossed.  Non-negotiable ground rules are in quotes because as time goes on you may find that you have grown in the relationship and the non-negotiable rules may change.  This does not mean that you close the lines of communication on the subject.  However, it is important to use the non-negotiable ground rules as definite boundaries for now. What does that mean?  Well just for an example, let’s say you are in a committed long term heterosexual relationship and you want to have sex with someone of the same sex.  You talked about it with your partner and they are ok with the general idea.  However, during the discussion you find out that in order for them to feel comfortable moving forward with it they have some ground rules. For example they must be in the room when it happens, there is to be no kissing and it has to be sex for the sake of sex and nothing more.   Now let’s take that a step further and say that you aren’t comfortable with one of the ground rules.  For example, the sex for the sake of sex part is a problem for you because you want some intimacy and you don’t want the other person/s to feel like just a sex object.  Well now is the time to talk about this. PLEASE DO NOT let your hormones or your partner’s get the better of you.  If you  just go with it in hopes that it will work itself out, it is very likely that it won’t.

So now, you brought it up to your partner and you found out that you do not agree on some on the ground rules.  Now what?  Well at this point you will have a few choices 1) Accept the conditions as they are and move on (I would not recommend this as this has to work for both of you) 2) Abandon your plans of an open relationship, or  3) Come to some sort of agreement that will work for the both of you.  Let’s take the above example. You might talk about it and find that kissing allows you to feel that intimate connection and your partner might decide that he or she is comfortable with that enough to go forward.  Again, it is VERY important to note that as you set these ground rules that neither you nor your partner give in to things that aren’t comfortable just because of the excitement or the fantasy of being in an open relationship. This WILL lead to problems down the road.  Also, if you or your partner is not comfortable with the other being with another person don’t use the non-negotiable rules as a way to just appease your partner and “keep them in check”.  It cannot be stressed enough that an open relationship CAN NOT be a replacement for a healthy relationship, a way to keep your partner around, a way to fix a relationship etc.

Ok now you have worked out the non-negotiable rules and it’s time for you to talk about everything else. Talking about everything else will also bring up more non-negotiable rules so be ready for that as well.

  • Where are you and/or your partner going to meet this person?  For now, you just need to talk about comfort levels.  Are you comfortable meeting someone in a bar/online etc?  What are you looking for in this open relationship? Are you both going to be involved sexually with this other person/s?  Are you looking for a single person or are you looking for a couple? Are you willing to be with a couple if a single person doesn’t materialize?  Do you already have someone in mind?  Are you ok with a one-night stand or can you only have one-night stands?  Are you looking for a friend/s with benefits? Or are you looking to have a long-term relationship with this person/s?  If it is to be a long-term relationship, will it be a monogamous relationship with just that person/s? Now these are things that might evolve as the relationship does but it’s important to have an idea where you and your partner’s opinions lie on the topics. What if the relationship progresses to a level you or your partner do not find comfortable? What is plan b?
  • If you are involved with your partner and another person, consider coming up with a safe word to be used as you pursue the open relationship. This safe word could be used if either of you are not comfortable with the situation.  It allows for communication to happen right away without embarrassing anyone.   You must also talk about safe sex protocols .
  • Another issue that you and your partner need to discuss (which might sound silly but if it isn’t talked about beforehand could lead to issues down the road) is what is your “type”?  You may be surprised to learn that he or she may not have the same “type” in mind (same sex or otherwise)   that you do.  Or, if that is also your type are you going to mesh well with that type if you aren’t going to be sexually involved?  If not, again know what your plan b is.   It’s important that you have a basic plan for everything that you could come across before you start even looking for an open relationship.

Probably one of the most important things to note is that even though you set these ground rules, they  are for the most part fluid. You or your partner might agree today that this is ok and then may get to it and find out it isn’t for you or your partner.  You or your partner may also find that things that were originally a “no way” are now a turn on and something that you may want to explore. Keep the lines of communication open and check in all the time with your partner. You MUST go into this with the mindset that this is for the both of you and not just one of you. If at any time any part of this open relationship becomes for just one of you then you must stop and reassess no matter what the initial agreement was.  Master this and you can have your cake and eat it too.