Sex + Dating

How to Pull Off an Open Relationship

open relationship how to pull off
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Open relationships have always been a fascination of mine

How do you pull off a relationship like that? Don't people get jealous? How do you have time for THAT much sex? Is labeling something "open" just a cop-out for not really caring that much about a person?

I am not in an open relationship; and honestly don't think I could handle one. I am not chill enough for that shit. I'm jealous, uber-neurotic, and need attention from BAE like 20 hours a day.

But how do other people do it?

To get the skinny, I recruited some generous folks who know a thing or two about open relationships because they are currently in them. Here's what I learned.

Open relationships require thorough consideration and planning

Before you open your relationship to other partners, you need to figure out what both of you want. You can't have one person wanting openness and the other wanting monogamy. So you've got to sit down and have a serious chat.

Steve Dean, a dating consultant who's been in an open relationship for the last few years, said it took a lot of questions from both sides to figure out what would work. "We [asked what we] wanted, how we wanted it, what are the things that we foresaw ourselves wanting. How do we get them? How do we expand the relationship, or contract it, to suit our emotional needs? To fit our physical needs?”

James*, who is in an open marriage and a member of the group OpenMinded, echoed Dean's sentiment while talking about how he and his wife decided to open their marriage up. "It kind of all started with bedroom talk," James said. "We talked about other people and turn-ons and stuff like that, and then got to a point where we actually decided to dip our toes in the water and see what that road was like."

Communication is key

As with all romances, communication is absolutely essential to the health of a relationship. James advises anyone entering an open relationship to "try to keep an open mind on everything and try to be honest. That's really the only way that it really does work. As soon as somebody starts hiding things, then that's where shit gets off. It's easy to fall into that trap. And that's probably the hardest part. As long as you can stay honest and communicate with each other, then it's worth a shot."

When you're in a relationship that involves multiple partners, it's critical that your primary partner knows what -- and whom -- you're doing. It's not to say you have to give a play-by-play of your sex positions, but they should know who you're with, where, and for how long. If you can't be honest, you shouldn't be messing with open relationships in the first place.

Jealousy will happen

I'm a jealous person already, and hate the idea of my boyfriend flirting with other girls. The idea of him actually having sex with other women is unbearable. How do people in open relationships deal with this?

Well, they just do, apparently. James said jealousy is definitely something he faces regularly in his relationship.

"Jealousy is an issue," he said. "And we still have a lot of things that pop up every now and then, and we're still learning from all the experiences that we have. It has mainly happened on my end. Like someone I've been seeing, for whatever reason, doesn't fit well with [my wife]. And we just talked through it. And we tried to work it out. It's never gotten to a point where I stopped seeing somebody because of that."

In an open relationship, you're not dealing with just one person's emotions, but several people's emotions. You can't help but get emotionally tangled up with your multiple partners -- but James said the key is talking it through; never bottling everything up inside.

You learn to get creative around "date night"

Steve recommends having dates outside of your primary relationship on the same nights. This way, no one is left out. "[You] experience a certain sense of empathy even if your partner is out on a date," he said. "Sometimes, you're home and wondering, 'Why is my partner not with me?' The other partner that you are with makes it easier to diminish these temporary feelings of lack or wanting and really embrace the fact that you get to allow your partner the space to explore and to grow."

The last thing you want to do is make anyone uncomfortable or leave anyone out of the dating fun. If one person is feeling despondent or unsatisfied, you have to make the effort to ensure she or he is happy. The primary relationship must come before the outside exploration if you want things to work.

New partners need to understand the primary dynamic

In the same vein, the partners you have outside of the primary relationship deserve open and honest communication as much as your primary partner. They need to understand the importance of this main person in your life and respect that.

You have to set boundaries and keep them clearly defined. If you can keep the flow calm and even, you can wind up with a wonderfully fulfilling group of people in your life.

"Each different partner brought an entirely different story, a different set of interesting things," Steve said. "But the important thing early on is establishing that the new partners we were taking on understood and respected our dynamics. The key is respect and understanding, just with a few more people in the mix."

Every emotion must be dealt with in open relationships

Steve and James agree that open relationships aren't just about fucking other people in their respective relationships. Real emotions come into play and you have to deal with them. For some, physical openness is the only thing they can handle in their relationships. For others, real love can form.

James said he doesn't have much of an issue with "outside" emotions. "[I] feel confident enough in the relationship that I have [with my wife]," he said. "It may sound cocky... but I don't think, I can't see her finding somebody else that would [give her] what she and I have."

Most people won't understand

Steve admits a lot of people aren't down with open relationships -- but said that doesn't give anyone the right to judge.

"They are not going to be able to deny the foundational principles from which I operate," he said, "which are essentially based in internal trust, and support, and honesty. If they were to deny that for even a second, then they would be denying a portion of their own world, too."

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Gigi is Thrillist's Sex and Dating staff writer. Gigi's relationship is closed, but this sure is intriguing. Follow her lovable crazy on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: @GigiEngle.