What is an Open Relationship?

Looking for something casual with your partner? Read on to learn about the different kinds of non-monogamous relationships you can have.

Put very simply, an open relationship is when you carry on with your current relationship while having sexual relations with other people.

It’s worth remembering that all relationships are different, but the one thing that sets them apart is whether both people are exclusively seeing each other (monogamous) or not (non-monogamous). The whole point of being in a relationship is to enjoy yourself and your partner in whatever way works for you. If both of you feel like your relationship would do better if you open it up, then an open relationship could work.

With the usual rollercoaster of emotions in a regular relationship, you might think why would I want to make it any more complicated by adding extra people and emotions into it. But among people in their 20s and 30s, open relationships are becoming more common.

Let’s face it, if you’re able to have a loving and committed relationship with someone and still get to enjoy all that flirting and excitement that comes from a new relationship, it can be the best of both worlds.

What does ‘friends with benefits’ mean?

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Friends with benefits is a type of relationship where, ideally, two people have a platonic connection and use each other for sex. There’s no romance, there are no dates, and there is no commitment. Hanging out usually consists of hooking up.

A friends-with-benefits relationship is seen as ideal for someone who wants to have regular sex on but isn’t in a committed partnership. Friends-with-benefits relationships can play out in a million different ways … Two co-workers occasionally escaping for quickies on their lunch breaks… Former partners deciding to rekindle that sexual spark without the emotional investment… Or a way of exploring kinky new lingerie with someone new.

For some, this means going on casual dates and having friends-with-benefits-type relationships with people other than their primary partners. For others, an open relationship just means that occasional “free pass” to have a one-night stand, a three-way relationship where you introduce someone else into your relationship, or because you’ve been looking at how to spice up your love life.

Friends-with-benefits rules


Okay, we hate lists, but sometimes they just work. So here are some things to think about if you fancy a friends-with-benefits relationship:

1. Be open and honest

If you really want your friends with benefits to work, you’ve got to keep the lines of communication open - and that means listening to your partner and expressing your own desires. Put simply the more open you are the less likely it is that there will be any hassles down the line.

2. Make sure you have consent

Consent is so important when you’re fooling around with anyone, whether it’s a one-time hook-up, an ongoing friends-with-benefits relationship, or even a spouse. You and your partner need to be clear about each other’s boundaries.

3. Always use protection

Nothing sucks the fun out of sex quite as quickly as getting an infection or having a pregnancy scare. Whenever you’re talking about sexual relationships, you must consider using protection.

4. Enjoy exploring

Friends with benefits gives you the chance to embrace your sensual side and experience sexuality in fresh ways. Take advantage of the opportunity by exploring your desires and ultimately having fun with it. It can also be the chance to try out new sex toys for couples that aren’t perhaps part of your sexual portfolio with your regular partner.

5. Leave any jealousy behind you

The whole philosophy behind friends with benefits is that it’s a fun experience for two people without the added requirements that typically come with a full-blown romantic relationship. But with the lack of a commitment comes the potential for your friend to have multiple partners.

It’s counter-intuitive, but getting to know who else your friend with benefits is sleeping with can help dissipate feelings of jealousy. If you or your partner feel resentment about outside hook-ups, the friends-with-benefits relationship might not be a great fit for your lives.

6. Manage your expectations

Although you might start out as friends with benefits, there’s always a chance that you or your partner could find you want more out of the arrangement. Speak up about your feelings. Your friend with benefits might even want the same thing!

7. Is it time to move on?

No friends-with-benefits relationship lasts forever. Knowing when it’s time to move on will help things end on a high note. Not everything needs to last forever, or even for the long term, to be worthwhile and exciting.

Is a non-monogamous arrangement for you?


Open relationships fall under the non-monogamy umbrella, but many tend to differentiate between those types of arrangements and other types of non-monogamy - like polyamory. Polyamory means getting involved in multiple intimate partnerships, while open relationships are more often associated with people engaging in mainly sexual relationships outside of their two-person partnership. In other words, open relationships are less focused on emotional connections with people outside a primary relationship and more on sexual ones.

Unfortunately, determining if a non-monogamous open relationship is for you (or for you and your partner) isn’t as easy as taking an online quiz and taking the answers at face value. As a starting point it can simply be that you and your partner have different needs and want to spice up your sex life … You may want to try sex toys with someone else, or show off any lingerie to a new audience!

  • Are you monogamous? What do you know about monogamy? Are you clear what it is, and do you and your partner agree with each other?

  • Are you interested in opening your relationship up and why? Is it because you’ve developed feelings for someone else and would like to act on them? Is it because you or your partner have a lot of different sexual needs or desires that might be better met by more than one person?

  • Have you really thought about what your life might look like if you were in an open relationship? Really dig down here… Will you be happy if your partner also had other partners? What kinds of sex would you like to explore?

  • Research, research, research. Knowledge is power, right? Start by reading about open relationships and polyamorous, and perhaps even follow people who practice ethical non-monogamy or polyamory on social media. Knowledge is key and it’s great to read about how other people approach it and deal with any problems.

  • One thing is to be sure you can check your jealousy at the door… This is a two-way street and isn’t for everyone.

How to have an open relationship


So you’ve decided an open relationship will work for you. How do you navigate a non-monogamous relationship?

Often, a friends-with-benefits relationship kicks off naturally - maybe as a random hook-up that happens to go on for a few months. But if that’s not happening (and you want it to!), there are some ways you can speed up the process… We’re talking dating sites.

Negotiating the details of the open relationship is important throughout the communication process


Types of boundaries include physical (along the lines of not touching someone without permission being given), sexual boundaries, and emotional boundaries. Boundaries help to set out rules for what is and is not acceptable to the members of the relationship.

Some couples create a physical relationship contract. These can be useful in not only negotiating but also clearly articulating the needs, wants, limits, expectations, and commitments that are expected of the parties involved.


The only way an open relationship will work is if you're BOTH totally honest with each other. Like a monogamous relationship, you'll discuss what you're both comfortable with when you define the relationship. Open relationships grant both of you the freedom to pursue other people in a way that's based on mutual respect, open communication, and total honesty. In other words, you fully trust each other.

Check your diary

No matter how many or few partners you have, you'll need to be able to make time for all of them. Regardless of whether you're going out for a long and leisurely dinner or just heading to their flat for a quick hook-up, you will probably need to keep a few nights open every week. Just like any other relationship, an open one requires time and effort.

Know Your Feelings

Even if you're super open-minded, accepting, and trusting, you may still feel a pang of jealousy when your partner comes home after a night spent with one of their other lovers. Jealousy is a strong feeling that may be hard to ignore, so don't try to pretend you're fine if you're not.

If you are experiencing negative feelings about your partner, talk to them, your friends, or a therapist about it. Sometimes merely acknowledging the way you feel aloud to another person can help alleviate the negativity.

Signs that an Open Relationship had become a problem


An open relationship isn’t for everyone. Here are some warning signs that it’s not going to work:

  • One or both partners become jealous or uncomfortable
  • One partner is not on board with the arrangement
  • The marriage or partnership is strained and no longer happy
  • One partner becomes dishonest or secretive
  • Boundaries are crossed

It’s important that the two people in the partnership agree about an open relationship for it to be beneficial to both parties. Boundaries should be clearly discussed and set. Then everyone can voice what they’re not comfortable with.

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