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How To Have An Open Relationship

Three simple tips for making it work.

Jen Angel on beach

When I was first introduced to open relationships as a teenager, I was reevaluating assumptions about intimacy, commitment, and relationships.  I was convinced that how we interact in our most intimate relationships reflected how we want the world–and our lives in it–to work.  The trials, errors, and experiences of the following years have taught me the need for guidance, self-awareness, and honesty when entering any kind of relationship. Getting to where I am now has been difficult, but there were several things that helped me along the way: 

1. Connecting to Others

Taking on anything new and unconventional can be hard if no one around you understands. As a young person exploring nonmonogamous relationships, I struggled to find guidance.  There are few examples of positive, healthy alternative relationships in popular culture, and even within the progressive circles around me very few people talked about their relationships–open or not.

I eventually found mentorship with older friends experienced in nonmanogamy. Having positive role models among my friends has been invaluable. I in turn am open about my relationship choices, providing a supportive ear to those who are struggling with the same issues.

There are also several communities around the world and online that support alternative relationship models.  Although there are few books on the topic, Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships is one of the best written resources offering insight to the complexities and challenges of polyamory.

2. Working Together

No relationship model is perfect, and I certainly made a lot of mistakes over the years.  I have come to accept that one of the most important keys to building strong open relationships is a shared commitment to working with each other in a trial-and-error process.  This means a willingness to speak up when something isn’t working for me, and commitment to finding solutions that work for everyone involved with faith in my partners’ best intentions. When we go through a negotiation process and make a decision, it needs to always be okay for one of us to say, “I thought this would work for me but it doesn’t. Let’s reevaluate.”  Being in a relationship where everyone feels safe and respected when they raise an issue creates authentic, healthy foundations.

3.  Being Honest with Myself and Others

Open relationships aren’t for everyone, and they don’t work all of the time. Sometimes honesty means acknowledging that a relationship isn’t going to work, or admitting that I want or need to be monogamous for a while. 

Relationships require a lot of work, and knowing my limits and my needs helps me meet my own and my partners’ needs better.  The limits are everywhere – how much time do I have? How much do I want to know about my partners’ other relationships? And knowing  what makes me feel supported, loved, and valued helps me make better decisions about what works – and what doesn’t.


Jen Angel wrote this article to accompany "Sex Without Jealousy, Love Without Ownership," appearing in What Happy Families Know, the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Jen is a contributing editor to YES! and blogs at jenangel.wordpress.com

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