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Do open relationships work?

Clelia Opie



Open relationships: the concept inevitably raises eyebrows, grins and disapproval.

I obtained a book called Redefining our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships by Wendy-O Matik (apparently the only copy in Wellington is at the Freedom Shop – cheers Kerry).
Matik believes open relationships can work but there are guidelines that should be followed. Matik describes herself as someone who is unable to have a so-called ‘proper relationship’. She says she is unable to be monogamous and is unable to restrain herself from loving other people, but admits that most of society isn’t like that. For those who identify with Matik or want to try out an open relationship, read this book.
Open relationships are radically different from the status quo. Partners encourage non-restrictive paths of love while remaining seriously committed to their primary partner, friends and other lovers. For example, person C is committed to A and B. Person A may be a live-in companion, but person B is an outside romantic partner and best friend. It is possible to be committed to both: person A may be a companion in the household sense and has qualities that cannot be found in person B, and that the qualities of friendship or love found in person B cannot be found in person A. From time to time persons A, B and C have other lovers. Sound complex?
Some would call this greedy, inconsiderate, or wanting the best of both worlds. But according to Matik, an alternative relationship can be bliss and it can totally work. She believes that putting all our energy into one person and expecting that person to give us everything we need in a relationship is unrealistic.
In this sense open relationships seem justified. However, couldn’t friendships meet those extra needs? In cultures such as Japan, marriage is still seen by some as a practicality and friendships are relied upon for intimacy. This is changing, though, especially with the influence of western romanticism.
There are guidelines, however. Matik believes that open relationships should only be established once there is a solid foundation in your primary relationship (there can be two), and that there must be total trust and commitment within that relationship. She recommends during the first year or so to forget about considering a open relationship and work on establishing a solid foundation and mutual trust. If the trust isn’t there then the relationship won’t work. Matik lists practical guidelines such as:
Safe sex
Space boundaries – whether or not you want your partner(s) or lovers in the same place, and where to draw the line. It may be acceptable, she says, to hug both partners in a social situation but she says to remember to be considerate. Don’t throw it in front of them. The 24 rule – there’s no way you can know someone within 24 hours so it is best not to become intimate with them straight away (don’t hop into bed with them).
Honesty. However, Matik points out that this shouldn’t be confused with brutal insensitivity. Your other partner doesn’t need to hear the all the gory details of you and your lovers’ sexual escapades or that you couldn’t come to lunch because you were (ahem) busy.

Reassurance and communication
Motives – always put friendship and love first.
Privacy. It is very important to ensure the success of open relationships that your individual experiences with all lovers are private matters. Don’t go rambling about it to your other lovers or friends.
The list goes on. There’s a section on how to manage a jealousy attack, conflict strategies and advice for those that have kids. All bases are covered here.
Some argue that an open relationship is a more natural relationship path than monogamy.
Behavioral psychologist Ruth Norman says that “monogamous or polygamous behaviour is an intrinsic part of our sexuality in the same way that homosexuality or heterosexuality is. Some people are naturally inclined to polygamy in the same way that some people are naturally attracted to members of their own sex. It’s just that society in general is prejudiced towards those sexual types.”
For anyone who wishes to borrow this book, feel free to e-mail me. I would also be interested in talking to anyone who has had an open relationship, as sadly, like Wendy-O Matik has mentioned, open relationships are still in the closet for many. You can contact me completely anonymously if you wish. clelia.opie@vuwsa.org.nz