Top 3 Open Relationship Challenges
Many people believe that opening up their relationship is a way to solve all the problems they've been having. Sadly, this doesn't work: if anything, opening your relationship shines a spotlight on all the issues you already have, whether you know about them or not.
On the other hand, if you have a strong relationship with lots of trust and communication, both of you want to open up, there are many amazing benefits. In fact, opening up your relationship can take it to the next level, and allow you to experience a powerful new connection with your partner. That's right--seeing other people can really bring you closer together, rather than drive you apart. There's something special about knowing your partner is desired by others, and that they're having unbelievable new experiences with your full support.
Even when you enter the world of open relationships with a stable foundation, there are always going to be challenges. This should be no surprise--monogamous relationships have many well-known challenges, so why shouldn't non-monogamous ones? What kind of challenges should you expect? Here, we'll cover the three most common challenges, and how to overcome them.
Challenge 1: Jealousy
Jealousy is the first thing people think of when they learn about open relationships, and it's for a good reason. It's one thing to agree with the concept of open relationships, and a completely different thing to actually experience your partner being with someone else. While some people seem wired to love knowing their partner is enjoying someone else, most people do experience jealousy--it's a myth that successful open relationships are jealousy-free.
You might feel jealous in some situations and not others, or only when certain people are involved. And the jealousy may feel different at different times; perhaps one way when your partner is interested in someone only sexually, and another way when there are emotions involved.
Jealousy is caused by some combination of fear and insecurity. These are not things that can or should be "solved", but understanding more about why you're feeling the way you do will go a long way to helping you feel better about things. In some cases, you may need to communicate new boundaries to your partner, but other times you can do the work and feel better about things on your own.
Insecurity is a difficult thing to deal with, and is at the root of many relationship challenges. Open relationships have a particular way of triggering insecurities, especially when someone else seems superior to you in ways you really care about. The funny thing is, sometimes you have no idea that you felt insecure about something until those feelings come rushing to the surface after your partner meets someone new. This is a good example of how the challenges of open relationships can help us grow, if you're willing to put in the time and energy.
Fear is also no walk in the park. The most common fear in open relationships is of being replaced, or of your partner leaving you because they've found someone better. Even when this is obviously not happening, irrational fear can take over your every waking moment.
In all of these cases, frequent and deep conversation with your partner is extremely important. Reassurance, reconnecting, and building trust are the keys to working together to identify the root cases of these feelings, and helping to minimize their negative impacts.
Problem 2: Boundaries (or lack thereof)
If there was one concept I would most recommend people learn before entering open relationships, it would be boundaries. Boundaries are so fundamental to any healthy relationship, but exponentially more important in open ones. As soon as three or more people are involved with each other in deeply personal ways, it's inevitable that there will be conflicting needs and preferences. And as soon as any one of these people isn't clear about their own needs, and able to communicate that, relationships will start to break down.
I've seen so many relationship challenges caused by lack of boundaries, but the good news is that it's never too late to start identifying your own needs, and to set new boundaries with your partners and metamours.
Before you can set any boundaries, you need to know what you want. This may sound simple, but it can take a lot of introspection, as well as deep conversation with others you trust, to discover your true wants and needs. A good therapist is often very helpful here: sometimes your partners are too wrapped up in their relationship with you to be objective enough to help you. In terms of your needs, think about what makes you feel most fulfilled when it comes to your relationships: emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually, as well as with goals, activities, life enmeshment, and values.
Communicating boundaries can be scary at first, especially if your partners aren't used to hearing that kind of language from you. It always helps to be empathetic and kind, but be careful not to be too indirect: you must explain your needs and the resulting boundaries clearly, and ensure you're fully understood.
Of course, nobody can be forced to accept a boundary. Conflicting boundaries are a complex topic that we'll cover another time, but this is where negotiation can occur. In most cases, there's a compromise to be had. But sometimes, incompatibility over a boundary is reason to reevaluate the relationship.
Problem 3: Time Management
How many people do you know who complain about not having enough time in their week? I'll bet the answer is "lots", and I'll also bet that most of those people haven't even considered having an open relationship. We all lead busy lives, and adding more physical or even romantic relationships to the mix is only going to make us busier. Many people underestimate how much time is involved with any kind of relationship, even if you're only looking for casual encounters. There's all the time spent texting, making plans, not to mention dates, shared experiences, and of course time for all the sex you want to be having.
Poor time management will put a lot of strain on your relationships, and can cause resentment if you start dropping the ball on things you've committed to. It's difficult to enjoy a connection with someone if you're always feeling stressed about finding the time to see them.
The good news is that there's nothing different about the time management skills you need in open relationships compared to the rest of your life. The difference is that poor time management impacts many more people, and can affect your own fulfillment. So it's especially important to put a solid organizational system in place.
At minimum, keep an online calendar to track everywhere you're supposed to be. Many open people share an online calendar with one or more of their partners, to simplify scheduling time together. There are some pitfalls to this approach that well cover in the future, but in general the pros are worth it.
It's also important not to over-schedule yourself. Everyone needs some breathing room in their schedule, so don't feel compelled to say yes to every invitation and fill up every last time-slot. If someone asks you for time together, it's always okay to propose a date a little further into the future rather than immediately. And don't forget to block off some time for yourself, especially if you're more introverted.