5 Red Flags That Opening Up Your Relationship Will Only Create Bigger Holes In It

Are you and your partner considering an open relationship? If so, you're not the only couple who's looking into it. A poll by YouGov shows that 25% of U.S. adults are willing to experiment with an open relationship.

Opening up your relationship can be a positive experience, but it requires a lot of communication and careful reflection to work well. A 2019 study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that couples in partially-open or one-sided non-monogamous relationships were lower functioning than couples in monogamous and consensual, mutually non-monogamous relationships. In other words, you can be happy in an open relationship, but the rules you set will matter a great deal.

When deciding whether an open relationship is right for you, there are many potential red flags to think about. Whether you're interested in a sexually open relationship or polyamory (a romantically open relationship) looking out for warning signs in your communication style and relationship dynamics is essential to navigating new sexual boundaries.

Someone cheated

Don't open up your relationship because you or your partner cheated. Having an open relationship won't magically erase the harm of infidelity. Cheating can have a profound impact on a relationship. A healthy open relationship requires immense trust. Recovering from the trauma of cheating involves taking the time to rebuild trust and address foundational problems in the relationship. If you can't trust each other in monogamy, you likely won't be able to trust each other when navigating the complex expectations of an open relationship.

Not only does infidelity violate the trust in your relationship, but it can be deeply damaging to someone's psyche. Research published in Personality and Individual Differences demonstrates that a partner's infidelity can lead to an increase in depression and anxiety. Opening up your relationship to solve issues of infidelity is not only detrimental to your own healing but also an unfair dynamic for the new partners you bring into the relationship.

Jealousy is overwhelming

If you open up your relationship, jealousy will happen. Jealousy is a natural emotion to experience in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships and isn't necessarily a problem sign. What matters is how well you and your partner handle jealousy.

In a healthy relationship, you should feel safe being vulnerable. When you and your partner discuss your feelings of jealousy and listen to each other's needs, you honor each other's vulnerability (via Gottman Institute).

A constructive approach to jealousy involves honest communication and active listening. You need to reflect on what triggers your jealousy and insecurity and pay attention to what triggers your partner. Together, you and your partner can establish boundaries and support strategies that make you both feel secure in the relationship. If you and your partner are still working on how to handle jealousy, you aren't ready to open up the relationship.

Another emotion to keep an eye on is compersion. Compersion is the pleasure you experience when your partner is happy with a second partner, per Psychology Today. Authentic compersion is a positive element of an open relationship, but be sure it's an emotion you both genuinely experience — if only one of you feels compersion, it is not a fair situation.

Bad communication

Good communication is key to a successful open relationship. If you can't communicate well or speak honestly with each other in a monogamous relationship, you won't do any better in an open relationship.

Communication plays an important role in monogamous relationships, but it plays an even bigger role in non-monogamous relationships. Unlike in a monogamous relationship, where you have established norms that you can use as a guide, open relationships can feel entirely new to you. Existing cultural structures aren't designed for non-monogamous couples, so you encounter more obstacles and questions, explains therapist Avital Isaacs to CNBC.

On the practical level, non-monogamy involves a lot of logistics. Your calendar can get crowded quickly when you invite new people into your relationship. On the emotional end of things, an open relationship can bring up a lot of insecurity and uncertainty that has to be discussed and resolved. Before opening up your relationship, consider how you handle making plans now. Can you and your partner keep track of a busy schedule without bickering? More importantly, how do you communicate your feelings? Do you both feel heard and satisfied at the end of tough conversations?

Double standards

If you start to notice that the open relationship rules you and your partner are discussing aren't well-balanced, it's time to hit pause. You can't have a successful open relationship with double standards. Double standards are a toxic manipulation tool in any relationship, damaging intimacy and breaking down trust, as per Psychology Today. In an open relationship, you're at risk of sexual double standards emerging. For example, your partner may be allowed to have sex with other people, but you aren't. Or perhaps your primary partner insists that they meet all of your potential sexual partners, but isn't volunteering to have the same rule for their partners.

Another common double standard in open relationships is delegitimizing same-sex relationships. This double standard is particularly common in relationships where partners have different sexual orientations. For instance, in an open relationship between a man and a woman, the man may decide that it's alright for the woman to have sex with other women, but not other men. Not only is this a controlling behavior, but it invalidates the woman's authentic sexual experiences with women, implying that it's not "real" sex.

When changing the sexual boundaries of your relationship, you and your partner need to be on the same page and have the same expectations. Otherwise, you risk creating an unequal power dynamic that feeds resentment and emotional manipulation.

You don't really want to

Ultimately, the biggest red flag for an open relationship is not wanting to have one. An open relationship will only work out if it's something both you and your partner desire. Forcing an open relationship onto someone is not ethical non-monogamy and is pushing the boundaries of consent.

Some people agree to an open relationship out of fear that their partner will leave them. However, saving a relationship by dramatically changing the boundaries isn't really maintaining an authentic relationship. As Dr. Stephanie Webb explains to Self, if one partner wants monogamy, "it should be respected or the relationship should end."

Additionally, you may fear that saying no to an open relationship will make you seem judgmental or too conservative. This insecurity couldn't be further from the truth. Meaningful sexual liberation should always involve the freedom to choose. If an open relationship doesn't align with your feelings, values, or long-term life goals, then there is no good reason to have one.