Do open relationships work?

I recently put out a call on my Facebook timeline for topics that people would like discussed. A couple of people mentioned relationships and, specifically, the idea of open relationships versus closed, monogamous ones. I’m assuming that at this point, most readers have a definite preference. I have to say, personally, I’m not sure. That’s probably due to my training as a coach to be neutral and not look at things as right or wrong. I think choosing an open relationship depends on what kind of experience the two people (or three, etc.) want to have.

How was that for dodging the issue? Don’t worry. Let’s break it down.

Let’s start with the similarities between the two. I believe all successful relationships have the “3 C’s” — candor, communication and commitment. Candor (or honesty) is a must. That may seem obvious, but the thing I see missing more than anything else in relationships, open or closed, is honesty with one’s self. I love how people want to be in a relationship, want to share themselves with another person, but don’t know who they, themselves, are. In regards to an open relationship, how do they really feel? Are they really open to it or are they trying to please another person? What might being in an open relationship be like?

When coaching couples, a lot of the “ah-ha” moments come when partners can admit to themselves how they are feeling and/or what they want. Honesty with your feelings, experiences and desires allows another person to get to know you.

The ability to effectively communicate your truth increases intimacy. Owning your thoughts and feelings with clear “I” statements, especially during moments of disagreement, is a way to acknowledge all of who you are. But just as important as speaking your truth is the ability to hear another’s truth without judging or attacking. The toughest thing in intimate relationships, due to the feelings involved, is to hear our partner through love rather than fear. I think when our partners say a truth that seems incongruent with ours, what is commonly heard is “I am leaving you.” The fear of someone leaving can spin us into either pushing people away or letting go of our truths in order to make them stay.

Commitment, especially in an article that first introduces the idea of open relationships, might be a little confusing but actually is one of the most important aspects. The question is commitment to what. First, one must make a commitment to one’s self. In relationships, it’s making the promise to be kind to yourself by respecting your own thoughts and feelings. It’s giving yourself permission to show up as you.

Second, it is the commitment to respect your partner. It is the promise to do your part to create a safe place for honesty and communication. It’s the commitment to support your partner as he/she grows. That support can be difficult when your partner’s growth appears to threaten you or your relationship. Committing to a person, especially when we feel hurt, can be very difficult if not impossible. A way to counter that is for both of you to commit to the relationship itself. Though the details can be different in every relationship, it is setting up the “rules” or parameters, such as not leaving over one fight, allowing there to be time outs and the like. Basically it’s the glue that keeps you together in the rough times when you both want to split, which brings us back to the idea of the open relationship.

In my experience, the three things I mentioned need to be doubled and tripled when a couple looks at having an open relationship. Each person needs to make sure he/she is comfortable with the idea of an open relationship. They must be willing to be completely honest about how they are feeling, what they want and what they need from themselves and their partner. Each must be able to communicate clearly these truths and then be willing and open to hearing their partner’s truth, even if they feel threatened. And once a game plan is created, it is committing to it and choosing to work on the relationship no matter what obstacles present themselves. It is choosing the relationship as a sacred, top priority. This is true even if it ends. It is committing to ending it as respectfully and lovingly as possible.

If the purpose of your intimate relationship is to grow, commitment can be a powerful tool. By design, and if your partner is right for you, an intimate relationship should bring up those things in you that need to be healed. A strong commitment in a relationship can provide the necessary safety to allow you to look upon and grow out of your most extreme character defects. By being in a committed relationship, you are saying no matter how bad things get, how crazy you may appear, I am here to walk through this with you.

The fear with open relationships is, quite naturally, that the other person will find someone better and leave. When couples open up their relationship, I find this is the one, most important fear that has to be addressed. Most people look at sexual monogamy as the main type of commitment that helps provide the safety mentioned above. My question to those couples who do open up their relationship is, “How will commitment look if monogamy is not present?”

Oh, and I don’t know if people should have open or closed relationships. Seems to me people should have the kind of relationship(s) that brings them joy. What do you think?

If you have a question you would like to ask Bob, email him at
Look for the answer the first Saturday of the month.

What do you think?