The other day I was having a conversation with a woman who, though she identifies as staunchly monogamous, was curious about the group program I’m offering for couples who are interested in exploring open relationships. She kept telling me how difficult it was for her to grasp why anyone would choose an open relationship. We had a long, rich conversation which left us both thinking, and I decided to write a response to her question because I’m sure she’s not the only one wondering.
I’m only going to talk about three reasons that couples* choose to explore open relationships here. Though I’m sure there are lots of other reasons, many of the couples that I see choosing to explore non-monogamy and open relationship, are choosing to do so for reasons that fall under one of these three umbrella categories:
Some people come into relationships with fundamental beliefs about monogamy. Whether philosophical, political or spiritual, these beliefs inspire these individuals to choose the path of open relationship. For example, for some, it is not “right” to try to own or possess another person, and monogamy, by its very nature, according to them, perpetuates a paradigm of ownership.
Others believe that one person cannot possibly meet all of another person’s intimate relationship needs, and it is unfair to limit one another given that reality.
Others see the path of multiple relationships as a spiritual journey where they get to confront their attachments and their jealousies while opening to the possibility of Greater Love.
- Personal Nature
Sometimes people realize that it’s just not in their nature to be monogamous. Some people have known this from very early in their lives. The idea of “the one” was always foreign to them.
Others discover this truth for themselves later in life, after years of trying to force themselves to fit inside the monogamy box. Sometimes the realization comes, and then, if they’re in a committed monogamous relationship, they’re able to begin exploring the possibility of opening their relationship in a way that really supports their connection with their partner.
At this stage, it’s essential that the couple be able to engage deeply in the inquiry before choosing the path forward that’s best for them. Sometimes the relationship opens to the possibility of non-monogamy under these circumstances, and other times the couple comes to the conclusion that this is an irreconcilable difference.
In a different scenario, the realization comes through a process that’s more traumatic – like infidelity, for example. Sometimes infidelity can be a sign of a deeper issue, like sex or relationship addiction (I’ll talk about that in another post—because it’s such a common misconception about people who practice non-monogamy). But sometimes it can be a sign that someone has been trying to sustain a monogamous lifestyle when it’s not quite right for them.
If the couple survives the revelation of infidelity, and they are established enough, with a solid history of being able to move through deep conflict around their differences , they can end up using this rupture as an opportunity to grow and deepen their relationship.
Yes, it’s great if couples can enter the process from a place of stability and connection, but the reality is that sometimes people don’t actually open themselves to the possibility of doing something different from the norm until something radical happens.
If they’re willing, couples can use the breakdown as an opportunity to learn how to take care of fundamentally different needs while re-establishing trust and connection in their relationship.
- Sexual Differences
Sometimes a couple is deeply committed and they really enjoy their life together, but they are not able to meet each other’s sexual needs. This can be true for a variety of reasons:
- Desire discrepancy – they’ve tried every method under the sun to find a happy medium between their different “sex drives”, and they’ve come to the conclusion that this is one difference they can’t reconcile. They don’t want to separate because of sexual differences – there is so much that they love about their life together – but neither of them is willing to commit to a life of perpetual sexual frustration.
- Sexual diversity – one or both partners have sexual desires that can’t be met inside of their relationship
- One of them wants to explore BDSM or they have different “kinks” that don’t quite line up
- One or both of them wants to be intimate with someone of a different gender than their partner
- One partner identifies as asexual (I distinguish this from desire discrepancy, in which both partners have some drive. In this case the partner sees asexuality as part of their sexual orientation or identity.)
Other times, couples are compatible sexually, but they explore responsible non-monogamy as a way to inject a sense of adventure into their relationship. They may or may not limit their explorations to the sexual arena (for example, the occasional threesome) or they may open themselves up to the possibility of love relationships with other people.
Sometimes the path doesn’t fully reveal itself until the couple steps onto it. They start off with one set of ideas about what they think will work for them and later find themselves in an entirely different universe as they gain more experience.
The tricky part is weathering those initial explorations, where there are sure to be some mistakes and breakdowns. Whatever their reasons, the beginning of a couple’s foray into non-monogamy is a very vulnerable time for their relationship. They can’t necessarily guarantee a “perfect” entry point, but they can take great care in easing themselves along the path.
What are some healthy reasons that you know of that people have entered open relationships? Feel free to comment below.
P.S. For more information about The Open Relationship Incubator, a 90-day Program for Couples to Get Off to a Healthy Start with Your Open Relationships, visit www.sonyabrewer.com.
* My focus right now is on couples because I’ve designed The Open Relationship Incubator for them. Why? Because I think couples have some very particular needs when stepping into the open relationship journey that need specialized care and attention. Just know there are plenty of people who choose the path of open relationships outside of the “coupling” paradigm.