5 Signs An Open Relationship Is Right For You

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Sex & Pscyhology December 27, 2019

Across genders and sexualities, interest in open relationships is common. For example, nearly one-half of American men and one-third of American women say that their ideal relationship would be open to some degree, according to a 2016 YouGov poll.

Relatively few people seem to have achieved this ideal, though. In fact, studies suggest that only about 5% of people describe their current relationship as sexually open. However, there is an important exception to this trend: men who have sex with men. Some studies of gay men have found that as many as 45% say they are currently in an open relationship.

Although people hold a lot of biases against open relationships, with some going as far as to say that they never work, studies tell us that these relationships can be very successful; however, they don’t necessarily work equally well for everyone. Some people seem to be better suited for non-monogamy than others.

So how do you know if an open relationship might be right for you? Here are five reliable indicators, according to science.


1. You can separate physical intimacy from emotion.

Everyone has something called a sociosexual orientation, which is basically the degree to which you see physical intimacy and emotional intimacy as separate (known as an unrestricted orientation) or as going together (known as a restricted orientation). In my own research, I’ve seen that people at the unrestricted end of the spectrum tend to be happier in open relationships, whereas those at the restricted end tend to be happier in closed relationships.

This makes sense because if you can separate sex from love, you’re less likely to see outside sexual interactions as a threat to you or your relationship.

2. You’re a thrill-seeker in the bedroom.

Something else I’ve seen in my own research is that people who are drawn to thrill seeking tend to be happier in open compared to closed relationships. What we’re really talking about here is a personality trait called sexual sensation seeking, which involves having a heightened need to keep experiencing new and exciting things in the bedroom (or wherever it is that you like being intimate).

Research has found that sensation seekers seem to be less sensitive to the brain chemical dopamine, which is involved in feelings of pleasure. In other words, a sensation seekers’ threshold for excitement is just set a little higher, and for them, an open relationship offers a powerful way of maintaining an exciting intimate life.

3. You’re comfortable talking about intimacy. Very comfortable.

If there’s one thing an open relationship requires in order to succeed, it’s solid communication. Partners need to be able to clearly state their wants and needs, as well as to establish clear rules and boundaries. At the same time, they also need to be willing to check in with their partners and listen to what they’re saying.

If you find that you tend to be shy and clam up whenever the topic of intimacy surfaces, an open relationship probably isn’t right for you because these relationships require frequent, open, and frank discussion of intimate matters.

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4. You’re secure in yourself and don’t have a lot of jealousy.

How do you feel about the idea of your partner flirting with someone else? Kissing someone else? Getting physical below the waist with someone else? If these thoughts are highly upsetting to you, tread very carefully because people who are prone to jealousy tend to be less satisfied in open relationships.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some people who don’t seem to experience any jealousy at all when their partner plays with others. In fact, these folks often report feeling an emotion called compersion, which is sometimes described as the opposite of jealousy. Basically, it means that they feel happy knowing that their partners’ needs are being met, even if they themselves aren’t personally meeting those needs.

If you’re typically a pretty jealous person and compersion sounds like a totally foreign concept, this doesn’t mean an open relationship is impossible—just that it might not be right for you at this moment, and especially not at the beginning of a new relationship. People who really invest in developing feelings of security in themselves and in their relationships can potentially chip away at jealous tendencies and start to experience compersion over time.

5. You’re comfortable with a little uncertainty.

Lastly, remember that when it comes to open relationships, there are no hard and fast rules or recipes that guarantee success. Different things seem to work for different people.

No one can tell you in advance which of these rules is right for you and your relationship.

For example, some couples adopt “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, in which outside encounters are never discussed. By contrast, others have open disclosure policies where everything is always out on the table. Also, while some couples allow each partner to play separately, others only play together. Then there are those who reserve certain activities—like kissing or sex—for the primary relationship and/or make rules about who can be with whom and how many times; others, however, have no limits placed on who or what they can do.

No one can tell you in advance which of these rules is right for you and your relationship—that’s something you have to navigate on your own. So you have to be willing to accept some uncertainty and be open to revising the rules as you figure out your comfort zone.

Keep in mind that open relationships often evolve and change considerably over time because it can be hard to know in advance which arrangement will work best. This is because people aren’t very good at predicting their future emotions. More often than not, we don’t know how we’ll feel about a given situation until we’re actually in that situation.

About the author

Dr. Justin Lehmiller has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Purdue University and is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He’s an avid author, blogger and prolific researcher on topics such as the psychology of relationships and intimacy, having published more than 50 academic works to date in each of the leading journals on intimacy.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Future Method, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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