Negotiating the politics of sexual and/or emotional relationships and experiences outside of one’s primary partnership is an ongoing process in open relationships. Desire, connection, circumstance are all in a constant state of flux.
Couples make attempts at mitigating the unpredictable nature of having the ability to embark upon a sexual or emotional connection with others by making rules, setting up boundaries, and keeping things within comfortable limits.
The problem with these limitations is that they are made from the stand-point of Here and Now: who you are in this moment; what your current fears are and what your current comfort level is.
The whole idea of opening one’s relationship, however, is to explore beyond comfort levels and open yourself to experience. Therein lies the fun, and rejuvenating qualities of being open. Along with this comes the eventual realization that, with each new experience one’s own comfort level, fears, and personal desires change. Among this list of changes, it is your own personal desire which plays the key role in the push to expand beyond set borders.
Desire drives expansion, fear tries to reign it in.
After all, the idea of opening one’s relationship is driven by desire: desire to be free; desire for other connections; desire for a greater spectrum of experience; desire for internal change, growth, adventure beyond the bounds of monogamy.
Couples usually climb their way up the mountain of a successful open relationship by taking turns leading the exploration of new desires, slingshotting each other to new and higher ground.
An example of this is where a husband reveals his desire to explore bisexuality. After working through this request, the wife decides that this is acceptable. It’s not long after he walks out the door to do so that she begins to wonder, “What’s in this for me? Oh sure, he gets to go out and have all kinds of fun, but what am I supposed to do? Stay home and watch TV?”
As a counsellor I come across situations like this on a regular basis. In many cases the wife is straight, with no desire to explore bisexuality. Her expanded desire would be about seeing other men – something I encourage them to do.
Nothing brings a guy who’s been flying high on his new-found freedom to have sexual experiences with men down to earth faster or with a greater thud than his wife telling him she’s going to be doing the same thing.
“Well hold on a second here Lyza. That’s a horse of a different colour.”
Yes it is, but it is a horse nonetheless. And if you can ride your horses, then I can ride mine.
And lo and behold, a balance mechanism is in place. His desire for expanded experience led the climb. Now she’s caught up and is leading them to the next ledge with her own desire. His expansion was a reach for her, and now her expansion is a reach for him.
When the time comes for her to go out on her first date, his perspective on his own behaviour will change. How it will change is an unknown – even to him. But change it will. This is growth. This is learning. This is expansion of the self.
The question we all need ask ourselves in a consensually open relationship is: will I be able to allow my partner the same freedoms and experiences I desire for myself? Because whatever it is you want to allow for yourself, you must be ready, willing and able to allow for your partner.
These desires will not necessarily be analogous, either. His desire to be with men is not the same as her desire to be with men, and that’s okay. What’s really being asked for by both is the ability to explore some kind of intimacy outside of your partnership.
The ephemeral state of balance is achieved when both partners feel good about their ability to take action, and the ways in which their partner is acting. Every introduction of a new desire then begins an new exploration, a new expansion in the individuals, and therefore in the relationship too.
Which is the whole point of opening your relationship: continuing to expand oneself, which is a requirement to expanding one’s relationship. You can’t be personally closed off and held back and expect your relationship to be vital and dynamic: your relationship is only as alive and vibrant as you are.
Along with the freedom to explore comes the need to act responsibly.
Times of sickness, periods of psychological stress, family or work requirements all may contribute to circumstances which may require you to voluntarily curtail extracurricular activities, for your partner’s sake. Or when things have expanded to the point where one or both partners expresses a need to cool off, take a break, and have a period of monogamous interaction.
If she’s going through a hard time, you need to use the Golden Measure: if I were the one depressed on the couch and feeling alone and lost in my life, would I feel good about my partner putting on her dancing shoes and whistling merrily as she prepares for a hot night on the town?