Are Open Relationships a Problem?

Posted by on Jul 15, 2019 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Are Open Relationships a Problem?

Society is evolving in a lot of ways, especially in regards to its attitudes about relationships and the behaviors of young adults (people in their teens and 20s). The kinds of relationships that these people are seeking is a lot broader and diverse than found in previous generations.

Today’s young adult is more willing to form intimate relationships based on their own terms, not society’s. This includes entering into more open relationships. The reasoning for this is simple:  to create more emotional connection with one another.

Defining Open Relationships

Open relationships can be defined as consensual, non-monogamous relationships where all parties or partners agree to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with other partners as they wish, or at their own discretion. That is, there is an understanding among everyone involved that there is an agreement that they are in an open relationship.

The most important word in this definition of an open relationship is the word “consensual.” If someone doesn’t know that they are in a non-monogamous relationship (such when a partner cheats on the other), then it is not consensual.

An Old Concept but a New Trend

Not surprisingly, non-monogamous relationships are not a new concept. In fact, open relationships have been around for as long as people have been forming relationships at all.  However, in the last few decades, there has been an increase in these kinds of relationships.

Open relationships have become more frequent in particular with young people especially. Common wisdom would say that these kinds of relationships are not healthy or positive at all. Rather, monogamous relationships are seen as the most perfect and desirable kind of relationship.  

Whereas, other relationship models are seen as less satisfying and also less emotionally healthy than monogamous relationships. Indeed, with open relationships, there is the perception that you can have sex with anyone you want all the time. People in open relationships are seen as having a free-for-all and have no loyalty to their partners.

Research into Open Relationships

Research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that a lot of these perceptions about open relationships just don’t hold up. Partners in open relationships have been found to experience the same level of relationship satisfaction, personal well-being, and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships. Interestingly, overall, people in open relationships are just as satisfied as those who are in closed or exclusive relationships.

This research challenges the common perception held by Western society that monogamous is considered the “ideal” relationship. For many people, an open relationship meets their emotional needs. 

Still a Small Percentage of All Relationships

Despite the research and the benefits, some find with non-monogamous relationships, these kinds of situations are not a good fit for everybody. Yet, they can work for some. It’s estimated that between 3-7% of people in North America are in open relationships. However, 40% of people in one survey reported that they would be open to being in a non-monogamous relationship if it was more accepted by society. Still, social norms, at least in North America, are still rooted for many in monogamous relationships. However, that may change in the future.

Relationships that are exclusively based on sex cannot survive on their own. That is well known and holds true no matter what kind of relationship one is in. What really matters, when it comes to forming lasting relationships, in the long run, is commitment and connection. It’s that sense of satisfaction and well-being that determines whether or not the relationship is “good.”

What we are learning is that couples, in open relationships or closed, both have the potential to experience high levels of relationship satisfaction.   Are you ready to examine your own relationship needs? Read more about couples counseling and contact me soon for a consultation.

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