How an Open Relationship Works: Real Facts

Updated August 31, 2020
Two couples having lunch smiling

An open relationship is an agreement between individuals who want to be together but decide that they want to have some flexibility in terms of emotional and/or sexual contact with others. Open relationships can be either healthy or unhealthy depending on the individuals involved.

Understanding Open Relationships

Each couple is unique, and their definition of an open relationship will reflect that.

What Is an Open Relationship?

In an open relationship, otherwise known as a non-exclusive relationship, partners create a set of rules that suit their unique relational needs. Couples may set various boundaries that reflect what they feel comfortable with in terms of sexual and emotional contact with others outside of the main relationship.

Open Relationship Rules

Open relationship rules will vary depending on the unique partnership and what each individual is comfortable with. Setting rules is a great way to make each partner's needs and discomforts known. Ideally, partners are checking in with each other and updating their rules to ensure that each partner feels comfortable with the agreement. Some examples of open relationship rules include:

  • A married couple who both consent to casually dating people outside of their marriage, but don't feel comfortable going further than kissing with others.
  • A married couple who both consent to being in serious relationships outside of their marriage and feel comfortable having sex with one other committed partner.
  • A committed couple who both consent to casually dating other people outside of their relationship and feel comfortable having sex with whoever they'd like as long as they are honest with each other.
  • A committed couple who both consent to being in multiple serious relationships outside of their relationship.
  • A committed or married couple who consent to having physical but non-emotional relationships with others outside of their relationship.

Do Open Relationships Work?

Open relationships can work, but whether they do so will depend on the partners' abilities to communicate their needs effectively to each other. Open relationships stats:

  • 60% of individuals who engaged in consensual extramarital sexual relations note that they felt doing so increased their marital or relational satisfaction.
  • 49% of couples who would already say their relationship felt satisfying felt that engaging in consensual extramarital sexual activities improved their relationship even more.
  • Compared to monogamous couples, those who engaged in consensual extramarital sexual activities rated their overall happiness higher.

Why Do Open Relationships Fail?

Open relationships problems may include:

  • Failure to communicate effectively
  • Not letting your partner know when you feel discomfort
  • Developing jealousy
  • Not being honest with your partner
open relationship failing

Can Open Relationships Be Healthy?

Open relationships can absolutely be healthy if both partners trust each other fully and communicate their needs and discomforts effectively. Open relationships are not more or less healthy than a healthy monogamous partnership, they're just different in terms of relational rules.

Why Do I Want an Open Relationship?

You may want an open relationship:

  • To explore your sexuality more
  • To experience a different type of relationship
  • To get specific needs met that a monogamous relationship is unable to meet
  • To better understand your needs

Keep in mind that an open relationship with a partner who you are experiencing difficulties with may be your way of avoiding a specific issue. However, if you and your partner have a healthy relationship, communicate effectively, and fully trust each other, you may just want to explore something new and there's nothing wrong with that.

How Common Are Open Relationships?

About 11% of Americans have engaged in consensual open relationships compared to 19% who have cheated on their partners. About 17% of Americans under the age of 45 have engaged in an open relationship of some sort.

Open Relationship Facts

Open relationships, just like any other relationship, may or may not work, and can range on a spectrum from unhealthy to healthy.

How an Open Relationship Works: Real Facts