How Open Should We Be in Our Relationships? : Your Tho(ugh)ts

Last week I asked about open relationships, and how open we should make our relationships. Here are some of your Tho(ugh)ts:

"To be honest, when I think of the degrees of open relationships, the people involved should be able to constitute what boundaries or levels of comfort that fits their needs. In the past, I did not really comprehend how it made someone feel happy to share his or her happiness or comfort with another individual while staying monogamous with another soulmate. I have not tried an open relationship before just because I cannot trust myself enough to feel secure should my significant other pursue that route or option. Additionally, I think if it makes people feel happy to consider an open relationship then let it be. I cannot intervene or determine it for people. 

In my personal opinion, the persons involved in the committed relationship should be willing to discuss what conditions or possibilities may happen if they choose to pursue an open relationship. It may test the levels of trust and communication between the committed couple, for the persons involved to realize whether he or she crossed a boundary and possibly breached a brink of trust. That the level of trust and commitment in a relationship shows light more than likely — given a situation that might sway toward distrust, dishonesty or possible animosity. Just to conclude, my question is, if conditions or terms are broken in an open relationship, does it mean the relationship suffers or opens up unmentioned issues in a relationship to help it improve? Perhaps those unanswered questions reveal some needed answers about a relationship that yearns for the openness or exploration."


"There is no comprehensive answer to how open an open relationship should be, or what is too open. The answer, instead, must be found an individual basis. What am I comfortable with and where are my limits? In an ideal scenario all involved parties could give answers to these questions at the beginning of the open relationship (because as you rightfully pointed out, the discussion of boundaries is essential). However, as life plays often we find these things out as we go along. My first long-term boyfriend and I opened our relationship approximately half a year into the relationship. While I was ok with everything at the beginning, I later realised that the idea of him sleeping with friends (mine, his ours) made me extremely uncomfortable. We had to update our “agreement” to “no friends.” This is I think an important part of progressing in an open relationship, as time passes things change, people learn new things about themselves, and agreements made in the past may have to be adapted. Maybe you want to try something new, or noticed something does not sit well with you, maybe you even want to close the relationship temporarily or permanently. These things are fine and they need to be communicated. People change, and so do their relationships. That means that the agreements that defined the relationship at an earlier point, might not be suitable for the people later.

These agreements by no means have to be exactly equal. Different partners have different boundaries. Turning back to my “no friends” rule, this was a one-sided rule. He did not mind whether I had sex with strangers or friends. So, he followed my “no friends” rule, whereas I did not have to. In another relationship, we both had different ideas regarding telling each other about sex with other people or not. One did not care to hear about it, whereas the other wanted to hear everything. The rules of an open relationship, need to make everyone comfortable and sometimes that includes having different rules for the participating parties.

However, there are of course also issues and problems that come up in an open relationship but to be honest, the ones that I have experienced where not necessarily because the relationship was open: Falling in love with a different person. With before mentioned first long-term boyfriend, over the period of our seven years relationship each of us once fell in love with another person. But both cases were very different. One was what could be expected in an open relationship: hooking up with someone, then falling in love, and relationship trouble ensues. But the other was something that just as well could happen in a closed relationship: falling in love with a flatmate (without ever something sexual happening). I think there might be an increased risk of falling in love with someone else in an open relationship simply due to hormone highs. Yet, it is not an issue that seems to be specific for open relationship (and finding a way past it is difficult no matter what the relationship model).

I personally do not mind whether my relationships are open or closed, both work for me. Though I have also experienced people judging the relationship model that you have chosen. More often than not such criticism actually came from other queer people. Too often have I heard from within the community that open relationships were just an excuse to be promiscuous and not a “real” relationships. In the same vein, though heard less often, I heard the judgement of monogram relationships as “backwards”, “heteronormative”, “close-minded” or “appeasing the straights”. Each in their own way reveals the authoritarian and conformist streaks that exist within the LGBTQ+ community, which I find worrisome. (But I am getting side-tracked with this pet-peeve of mine)."


"There's another layer of complexity on top of this, though. I think it's not just about communicating explicitly about what everyone in a relationship wants (etc.) but about figuring out together what everyone wants and recognizing that what you and your partner(s) want is not a static and certain thing. I know that, especially when engaging in something that has no set social roadmap (like a poly relationship), what I want usually isn't entirely clear to me, and it changes as I experience more, grow, and depending on whom I'm with. Beyond the fact that my feelings and desires (and understandings of myself and others) are dynamics, I know that I struggle with disaggregating my own thoughts and feelings from the views into which I've been socialized. (And then, of course, as the good post-modern, social constructionist, critical theorist I've been trained as, I get caught in a trying-to-be-reflexive spiral.) Again, though, open, honest, and iteratively reflexive communication--figuring out together what folks want and need--seems, to me, to be key to relationships, open/poly ones in particular.

I don't like the idea of limiting the potential for meaningful relationships with other people. And I don't like the idea that caring for one person takes away from one's capacity to care for another. There are different kinds of care and different kinds of intimacy, and it just feels profoundly wrong to me to, a priori, shut that out. Having said that, I also am quite aware of the very real limits of time and energy, and I'm not sure how to handle that yet. The practical reality of being intimate with multiple people and maintaining the time and energy for all of the other aspects of life (self-care, work, non-romantic relationships, etc.). So I think that's the question I'm going to end with: how do you balance your theoretical desire to love more than one person with the practical temporal (et al.) constraints on how you can be intimate with others?"