If you’re thinking about an open relationship, you might be looking for some open relationship or open marriage ground rules. And I get it, you want to make suer that you’re being thoughtful, that you’re protecting your relationship, and that you’re minimizing the opportunities for harm.

Let’s dive into the dos and don’ts of open relationship rules!

When I work with a couple who is opening up their relationship or with someone who is entering into an open relationship for the first time, they often want to go to figuring out ground rules. These can vary from couple to couple, but they often include things like…

  • You can’t have actual sex
  • It has to only be cyber sex
  • You can have sex, but there can’t be kissing
  • You can’t have emotions attached
  • You have emotions attached, but there can’t be any sex
  • You can’t do it in our home
  • You can’t do it in our bed
  • I have to be there with you
  • You have to use condoms with other people
  • You can’t hook up with the same person more than once

I understand all of that. Behind each of those rules, there are real human needs that you’re trying to get met there, life safety, security, stability, privacy.

When folks are setting up rules for their open relationship, there’s usually two things going on.

One: They’re, one, trying to protect the relationship that already exists

Two: They’re trying to avoid feeling uncomfortable while navigating open relationships or polyamory for the first time.

Sometimes monogamous folks will say to me, “I could never be polyamorous,” or, “I could never be in an open relationship “because I’m just too jealous.” And I always sorta think to myself, “Well like, if you’re in a monogamous relationship “and you’re still super jealous, “then it doesn’t seem like monogamy is protecting you “from those jealous feelings.”

When we’re thinking about opening up our relationship or entering into an open or polyamorous relationship, it’s understandable that we want to set up some rules…

… to reduce jealousy, to make ourselves feel better, to be secure, and also it’s important that we recognize that like rules in and of themselves aren’t going to spare you from feeling uncomfortable or jealous.

Instead of setting up rules, it’s been helpful for me to do two things.

First is to get clear on my feelings, my needs, my wants, how I might get those needs met, which I’ve talked about extensively.

And then also to figure out my own boundaries, what will and will not work for me. And then work with my partner or my partners on what their needs and their boundaries are.

So what does boundaries versus rules look like in real life?

A rule is trying to control another person, whereas a boundary is something that I can control myself.

Instead of saying, “You can’t bring someone over to the house,”

it might be,

“If this is my home, I, in order to feel safe in my home, I need to know ahead of time who’s going to be in my home. And if you trespass into my space, I’m going to trust you with access to that space in the future.”

Figuring our your boundaries (as much as you can) ahead of time rather than just sort of having this blanket list of rules and then not being exactly sure what happens if those rules get broken other than like, “You’re in trouble,” is gonna be huge.

Here are some boundaries that work for me:

  • I will not judge myself based on my partners’ interest in other people.
  • I want to know the safer sex and harm reduction practices of my partners so I can give informed consent.
  • I will collaborate with my partners in helping them to get their needs met, but I will not hold myself solely responsible for their feelings.
  • I don’t want to get close to people that I can’t be out to.

I find that this approach is helpful because you can’t really control other people. All you can control is yourself.

Plus, there’s something about rules that just like make humans want to break them. And so then like, then what? What happens if or when a rule gets broken? Figuring out boundaries to guide your own actions rather than trying to setup rules to control your partners behavior is going to be more effective. Of course, you’ll need to figure out how to — and be willing to — stick to those boundaries (that’s a video / article for another day … lemme know below if you want to stay in the loop!).