There are all sorts of relationships. In fact, every interaction you have with someone is a relationship (hey Jimmy Johns guy ;)). It’s up to you and the other party to decide what kind of values and rules you want to assign to that interaction between you. You could make it simple: I give you money, you give me sandwich. Or you could make it complicated: I give you ring, you give me your entire life (in theory). The point is that there is more than one way to look at relationships and more than one definition. In this new crazy world we’re living in you can have whatever types of relationships you want, as long as the involved parties are informed and willing.

As the ideas of sexuality, gender, and marriage evolve in our society, so does the idea that relationships have to be just two heterosexual, monogamous people. Let’s look at two non-monogamous options that real people are living in and loving other people through.

Open Relationships

Open relationships are the proverbial male pig’s dream: you have a significant other, but you can play around when you aren’t with them — or at least that’s what everyone thinks. In reality, open relationships can take on many variations. What they all have in common is that all parties involved have agreed to the terms of the relationship, and the relationship involves sexual and/or emotional relationships between more than two people.

Just like any other relationship, open relationships take a ton of communication about what your partner needs and what each party is comfortable with. For example, in a couple where one party doesn’t like penetrative sex but the other does, they may agree to allow a booty call when there’s a penetrative craving, but they set boundaries: it cannot happen in their home and the other partner doesn’t want to hear about it. Or there could be a couple who is perfectly happy in their sex life and likes being together, but neither partner wants to “settle down” and be the classic monogamous couple. Both of those couples should decide to what extent they’re comfortably with their partner becoming emotionally involved. When I was in an open relationship, my partner and I were fine with hookups, but drew the line at having feelings for other people. Our commitment to each other was emotional so we agreed to keep that between only us.

Is an Open Relationship Right for You?

Only you can answer this. An open relationship can be realistic in many situations, but discussions must be had and boundaries must be drawn that both parties feel comfortable with. If one party is uncomfortable with the arrangement, the validity and longevity of the relationship is at risk and both parties risk getting hurt. Make sure you know what you want out of an open relationship and what your boundaries will be, and communicate this to your partner.

Sound like something that might work in your life? I’ve handpicked some more articles for your browsing. If you try opening your relationship, be sure to tell me how it goes.

Polyamorous Relationships

There is a lot of confusion on the difference between open relationships and poly relationships. Some people say poly relationships are a type of open relationship with an emotional element between more than two people. I understand it to be an interconnecting relationship rather than a linear one. Because these are unconventional relationship styles, we often have to make up our own language and meld it to our purposes.

Just like open relationships, polyamory takes a ton of conversation, honesty, and willingness to look at how you have been taught to see relationships differently. When you’re polyamorous, you can have a number of partners just like in open relationships, but the main difference is that there is interaction between all or some of the parties. The best way I know how to describe it is with a picture:

Poly relationships, in my opinion, are the most work-intensive relationship style. That being said, if it’s love you’re looking for, there’s lots of that to spread around in a poly relationship. In our system above, perhaps the three connected circles are in love, and the other two circles are simply sex partners. Or the triangle is sexual and and the two farther circles are in a four person love circle with the top two circles. It really can be any arrangement of agreements, but remember, ALL PARTIES ARE AWARE OF EACH OTHER. If parties are unaware of other parties, then that’s cheating.

Is Poly Right for You?

Again, only you and your partners can answer that. But I can give you some things to think about. Poly is probably not for you if you’re jealous and possessive with your partners, and that’s okay. When you’re in a poly relationship, you’re going to be sharing at least some aspect of your partner, be it sexual or emotional, with someone else or multiple other people. If you are happy to do that, then here are some good resources on polyamory for you to look through, see if they give you any further clarity on what is possible in your relationships.

Open relationships are right for some people and can open up a wonderful way of life. If you’ve found yourself miserable in monogamy, pining for some(one) more, it may be worth exploring non-monogamous relationships. Have fun and make sure you always talk about it with your partners!