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Do open relationships work?

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Today I want to address a very controversial topic. And I want to do it, not only as the couple counsellor I am, but as a person loved and in love. I'm talking about the "having an open-relationship" issue.

When people ask me: “Should we have an open relationship?” My honest answer will always be NO. Why? You may be asking. Perhaps you think I'm just another conservative shrink. And that's ok, but it's not the reason why I think it's not worth it. Allow me to explain! And I will let you know why I don't recommend this kind of bond.

Open relationships: a love game with no rules

One of the most common reasons people give for having an open relationship is that they have more fun and have no obligations, no drama. 

Social media and globalization have demonized commitment and rules when it comes to love. In an attempt to diminish the imposed obligations from our parent's generations, young people have landed in the opposite extreme. They believe that love has no directives at all!

But that's precisely the point of the problem: love does have its rules, and commitment is an essential one. Only when a couple meets these parameters, then we can talk about real love. That's when love may become beautiful and longlasting.

And with this, I'm not saying I'm the owner of the truth, and that my word is omnipotent. You probably can even find some exceptions to what I say!

But what I'm trying to explain is that, in general terms, true love is a unique connection shared by two people. That link; that bond cannot be shared with a third party. That might be another way of love, but not couples love. Let's take a better look at these reasons, and discover why they don't match with the real bond of love.

Love: a unique connection between couples

Fun is a must!

So, let's address the first point: fun. Yes, having a relationship must be fun! And that's a crucial factor to actually be in love with anyone; that you have fun together. 

In that sense, if you feel like you don't have that much fun, perhaps you could make use of some tools that counselors like me provide. Or maybe you can simply try an escapade, doing something new, etc.

But when you feel the need to bring someone else to have fun, things change. Perhaps the root problem is that you don't feel amused with your partner. And that, far from being a sign for having a third party, is a sign that you may not be in love at all anymore. 

Perhaps you should reconsider your relationship, especially if there's someone in particular that you want to include in the couple. What about trying with that third person instead? 

Turn off the drama

The second most common reason for considering an open relationship is not having to deal with jealousy and drama. But the truth is that, as imperfect human beings we are, we will always have some drama in our lives. And jealousy or distrust is the most common of them all.

Open relationships may look like they don't suffer from those matters. But, from my experience, they work only for short periods. Then comes the drama!

Jealousy is a human emotion, a result of many other human emotions going on at the same time. And love is the main ingredient; that's why when there's love, there will always be jealousy.

The issue is not that it exists or not. It's about how you manage those feelings. But that's another day's story.

Let's do an imagination exercise to see if you find having an open relationship less dramatic. If you feel love if you are in love with your partner, how would you handle the fact that only you are not enough for them, the fact that they want more?

And even if that does not pose a problem for you at the moment, what about long term relationships? Do you see yourself sharing your loved one for the rest of your life? Won't you grow tired of not being the only one? That's what I thought!

As I said, open relationships can work for a short period. Perhaps when you're not in love yet, or if it's with someone you are not interested in sharing more than sex. But I rarely hear stories like this ending happily ever after.

On the contrary, when jealousy finally hits the scene in these types of relations, they become a horror movie quite quickly!

Are open-relationships good? Having a healthy bond

So, in the end, my answer to the question: "Are open-relationships good?" will always be: "No." Because love is all about the person you have fun with the most, and about commitment. And that's what open-relationships avoid, precisely. 

To create a healthy and happy relationship, you need to commit to each other. You must build love between you two, and work hard to make it grow because love requires effort and affinity. That engagement can't happen between more than two people at a time; that would be wasting the energy, it would never grow to the same extent.

That would be leaking of love. You are pouring or draining your love for someone into someone else. Therefore you love them less.

So if you want to have an answer if an open relationship is good for you guys, then perhaps you shouldn’t be together in the first place. At least not if you are thinking about long-term relationships. OR if it's only one of you asking yourself this question, perhaps it's a sign that one of you is loving alone.

My recommendation is you wait until the right person appears. That person you don't want to share, and always have fun with, that one person that makes the word "commitment" sound less horrible.

It doesn't mean you can't enjoy healthy less-serious relationships before that. But just make sure you know the difference. And always have present that if it's love what you want, then no; an open relationship is not good for you!

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