A Portland Couples Counselor Discusses Open Relationships

August 26, 2015 by

Notoriously liberal and progressive, Portland has seen a rise in a more unconventional type of relationship over recent years—the open relationship.

In our city and across the country, a growing number of couples are reconsidering the terms of their commitment and considering open relationships or even open marriages. Open relationships are sometimes referred to as polyamory, or “multiple loves.”

There are many different types of polyamorous relationships, but all typically involve a committed couple that agrees to allow each other to see other people, whether sexually or romantically. Couples in open relationship often commit to following a certain set of pre-established rules, such as being completely open about external sexual encounters or setting a limit to the number of times either partner can sexually engage with an outsider.

While the freedom and newness of an open relationship may appeal to some, there are some important considerations couples should take into account before deciding to try out polyamory. I’ve explored some important considerations below.

The issue of jealousy. As human beings, we are naturally inclined to become jealous of a partner who is involved with someone else. Biologically, we are predisposed to resist a partner having another relationship. Many partners who are certain that they are secure enough in their relationship to accept their partner’s external engagements are surprised when they are hit by feelings of jealousy, anger, sorrow, and inadequacy.

Limitations on what you can give. In an open relationship, individuals often struggle to meet two competing sets of needs—the needs of their partner, and the needs of another with whom they are romantically involved. As much as we would like to be able to give all of our loved ones the best of ourselves, we are limited as humans in what we can give. In constantly trying to fill the romantic, sexual, and emotional needs of two or more people, we can end up leaving everyone dissatisfied.

The trouble with rules. One of the biggest dangers in open relationships is the harm that can occur if one member breaks one of the pre-determined “rules.” Too often in open relationships, couples end up forming stronger romantic attachments than intended, hiding a relationship from their partner, or getting carried away with what was supposed to be a brief sexual engagement. The problem with trying to stick to rules is that humans may struggle with restrictions if they want something strongly enough, and can transform rules into weapons to hurt their partner when they are angry.

The appeal of the freedom in an open relationship cannot be denied, but the risks should not be ignored, either. If you are considering opening your relationship to other people, you should talk to a Portland couples’ counselor before making any major decisions. A counselor can help you determine whether seeking an open relationship is the right step, and work with you to uncover deeper issues that may be triggering feelings of restlessness or dissatisfaction in your current relationship.