Couples Therapist Talks About The Pros And Cons Of Open Relationships

by Prachi Vaish
open relationships should follow rules

Relationships are changing the world over. It’s not as simple as you like someone and go ahead and get married. People often live-in together and see how much compatible they are to take the next step towards marriage or some do not take that at all. They are more than happy in staying on in live-in relationships. In the same way, many people prefer to keep experimenting in their relationship and opt for open relationships.

You might think what exactly are open relationships? In an open relationship, two people are open to each other that they would be in relationships with others and they would keep each other informed about the relationships they get into. But their own relationship will be always constant and secure, strengthened by love and respect.

We asked our expert Prachi Vaish her take on open relationships in the current Indian social structure and here is what she had to say.

What percentage of open relationships work?

It’s very difficult to establish a percentage of how many open relationships work because we don’t have enough data. A whole lot of couples in true open relationships don’t come forward to talk about their equation because of societal stigma.

Are open relationships healthy?

Any relationship can be healthy if the two people in it are clear on what they want. When it comes to open relationships, there can be many kinds:

1. Where both partners realize that they are the kind of people who enjoy seeing other people while staying closely bonded with one another

2. One partner wants to see other people but truly loves their legal/committed partner and the partner genuinely accepts this aspect of their partner’s personality while being completely secure in their relationship (this is extremely rare)

3. There is a central issue (medical/emotional) because of which one partner is not able to play their part in the relationship and allows the other to seek fulfillment outside of the relationship

4. A physicality-based open relationship where the partners ‘play’ with other people outside but are emotionally connected with only the legal/committed partner

5. Polyamory, where the partners understand and accept that they can love more than one person and hold more than one intimate love relationship

Since this is a very new concept in India, there is immense potential for exploitation and hurt. I have come across many couples where the husband claims that they are both into the open sexual lifestyles but in fact, it is him who wants to play around sexually and the wife/girlfriend surrenders to the idea because she is afraid that if she doesn’t play along he’ll leave her. Similarly, there are wives/girlfriends who like the freedom to see other men and “allow” their husbands to indulge with other women once in a while so that they can’t say no to the lady. These are all examples of the difference between exploitation and a true open relationship.

A true healthy open relationship is based on consent, mutual respect, boundaries and a deep love for each other where one feels joy seeing their partner happy without having to sacrifice their own emotions.

open relationship

Difference between exploitation and a true open relationship Image source

What are the pros and cons of open relationships?

The first thing couples need to understand is that an open relationship is not an absolute construct. It exists on a continuum. What or how much you venture out in an open relationship depends upon YOU, you decide the rules you want to play by – it may be as simple as just kissing someone else and as complicated as actually living with two people. Another thing to remember is that the decision to try an open relationship is not like a conversion which cannot be reversed. It doesn’t mean that you can’t go back if you realize it’s not for you.

How can one experiment with an open relationship?

There are ways an open relationship can be a fun experiment. These are:

-It allows partners to see their partner being appreciated which draws their own attention to how their partner wants to be appreciated

-It gives you a chance to experience the thrill of a new relationship without having to go through the heartache and insecurity

-In many instances, it has even brought couples much closer to each other of doing right because it opens new levels of communication they haven’t experienced before

-It brings in a reminder that sex is supposed to be fun, like a sport, not like an oath of office, all serious and bounding.

For example, if you play tennis and you have a regular partner to play with if you play twice or thrice with other enthusiasts on the court, does it reduce your game or does it create problems with your regular tennis partner? No. Sex is supposed to be exactly like that.

The downside of open relationships are:

It is very difficult for the two partners to be on exactly the same page about what they would want from an open relationship; for example, the man might just want to experience different sexual engagements whereas the woman might be looking for a connection with someone or vice versa.

-In the absence of transparent communication, jealousy and insecurity are impossible to avoid

-We have been socially programmed for monogamy so it can be very uncomfortable to try and break free from that and may result in problems like identity crises or depression and anxiety

Open relationships should have rules Image source

Are there any rules for open relationships?

Yes! All the clients that I help with transitioning to open relationships, I give them a set of rules, which are:

Start very very slow. Sit down and talk to each other and understand what you think about the concept; what does your sexual knowledge contain, what do you understand by it, what are your psychological barriers to it, what makes you uncomfortable about it?

Begin with fantasy. Instead of jumping in with other people from the word go, bring the fantasy of other people in the bedroom; watch threesome or foursome porn together; create a fantasy where there is a third person involved. If you pay attention, each other’s body language in these scenarios will tell you where it is uncomfortable. Then take the time to unravel these knots.

Be sure of your reasons. Always, always be clear on why you want to do it and communicate those reasons to your partner. Then respect your partner’s reactions to those reasons, whether positive or negative, try and work through them together

Know when to stop. The kick of meeting a new person whenever you want to and getting an ego boost from it can be very addictive. But that doesn’t mean it is good for you every time. If it starts to cause problems for you like affecting your time management, your work performance, your responsibilities (especially if you have kids) and your ‘regular’ social life, then it’s time to take a break.

Are open marriages legal in India?

Open relationships in India Image source

No, and also I don’t think there is a legal angle to open relationships. It’s not like you’re marrying the third person. By their very existence, open relationships are about having the freedom to explore new horizons. By talking about things like legalizing them, you’re creating another attempt to put boundaries around them which defeats the very purpose of having an open relationship. What needs to be done instead is to provide them with social acceptance.

Whether there are two people in an equation or three or four or more, it should not be frowned upon because it is the couple’s choice and its consequences are also theirs to handle.

Do you recommend an open relationship for saving a marriage?

NEVER. The idea of an open relationship should never be used to patch up a breaking marriage. If a marriage is breaking then it is because there is a break in communication between the two partners and bringing a third person into an already broken scenario can NEVER solve that problem. What I do is first fix the marriage and then once they are reconnected and have created a solid foundation for themselves, then they can venture out into playing with other people.

Following the open-relationship rules are very important if two people decide to be in one. Anyone who wants to get into an open relationship should also be aware that there are possibilities of complications too and emotional attachment can start happening. Despite the discussions and regular communications with the partner, one can’t rule out jealousy and emotional upheaval. But if things can be worked out between the partners an open relationship could work well.

For marital counselling contact:

Prachi S Vaish is a Clinical Psychologist and a Couple Therapist who has made a place in catering to a very special niche – helping couples who want to venture into an alternative sexual lifestyle like swinging, swapping, polyamory and open relationships.

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