Author: Lady Tell Me More
My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly 20 years, so when asked how we get along so well, that's probably the best explanation. We're not even really super-open folks... we "swerve" around more than swing and we really don't make a huge effort to be wild "open" people. But since we've both been asked so many times in so many ways how we make it work so well, here's what I've got... but by no means do I consider myself any sort of an expert on this, I don't study this subject, and I'd really love more input, ideas, etc. There aren't many guides on how to have an open relationship and most of the ones I've found are scripted "swinger" sorts of things that really focus on sex and not on relationships, and don't quite match the magic that we have found ourselves by just "letting things happen." Also, take any sort of "advice" on this subject with a HUGE grain of salt, everyone has a different experience and by no means should you ever make major life decisions based on anyone's advice but your own. For your consideration, however, I'm posting this... its what has worked so far for us and I consider my experience useful because I'm about as insecure and straight as they come... which probably represents a good percentage of women considering the open relationship strategy.
To me, an Open Relationship is as follows: you always have your "steady" who knows you better than the whole world, but you can "play" around with other people who understand how this works, and it actually makes your relationship happier and more fulfilling. I believe there is an "Open Gene" just like there is a Gay Gene. Really, I do! You may or may not have the "Open-ness Gene" in your personal chemistry or in your current relationship. I am discussing generally hetero relationships only for simplicity, but the same general principles should more or less add up for gay relationships too... there's just too many "his/her/he/she" instances for me to make sense.
I think the "Open gene" is a little different for women and men: in women, the gene actually makes them mentally more like a dude... it requires them to be more empathic towards their sig. other, and ultimately enables them to detach the ego from sex and things leading to sex, thickens their soft skin against insecure feelings of betrayal or rejection, and focuses them instead on pursuing their own fantasies and self-love. (Mind you, this idea is coming from an otherwise totally insecure high-maintenance Princess, so that I have concluded this is kind of freakishly awesome, and the only reason I'm capable of this is my strong empathic nature: because I am really good at "feeling others' pain/pleasure", it enables me to actually get turned on when my boy is having it off with someone else. Outside of this area, I am probably one of the most insecure, unstable, totally girly people I know).
The reason the gene manifests differently for women is that we have some extra layers programmed over it... we generally have learned more insecurities and body image problems, and most of us aren't sexually confident or aggressive enough to overcome that, even when its for our own pleasure. Sometimes, these issues block our ability to empathize with our lover. If a girl discovers her guy scoring with the Swedish bikini team and it makes her horny and oddly proud, then she's open. If it makes her feel ugly and rejected, she's either not open or she has HUGE insecurities getting in the way.
In men, who generally know more directly what they want, the gene manifests itself more simply. A guy with the fully developed open gene delights in his lady taking charge of her fantasies and pursuing happiness, rather than considering her his "claimed territory." If a guy sees his lady gasping in ecstasy with someone else and his first thought is an erection and not a fistfight, then he's open. If it makes him start that fight and yet he still wants to chase after other gals, then his real agenda is claiming as many females as possible and he's not really open either. He's just a caveman on the prowl, trying to claim as many females as possible and dominate the gene pool. In essence, he is lacking that important empathy that makes this work.
Yikes, that was harsh. OK, this is hard to explain! Let try another way: If you are often simply and genuinely empathically happy when your partner finds sexual joy, no matter what the circumstance, regardless if you are involved or receiving equal joy at the time, then you _definitely_ have the gene. If you are not empathizing with your lover's pleasure, and instead you find yourself tangling sex up with all sorts of hangups, (i.e. constantly comparing yourself to people your partner wants, holding him or her responsible for all your sexual happiness, or otherwise interpreting his or her desires as affronts to your self or your own attractiveness), then you may just not have that gene. Hopefully, if you're having problems being open, you just might need to free it up -- you may need to do some deep dives to fix up your self-esteem and figure out what really turns you on.
When either party starts consistently, repeatedly setting/enforcing a particular boundary on the other, this means (IMHO) that the empathy is weak in the relationship, and the "open" gene might we weaker in one than the other. If you're low on empathy and/or the gene, upping your "open-ness" easily degenerates into a sort of "tit-for-tat" negotiation, which seems like a horrible thing to do and impossible to resolve. All too commonly, one of the two people just plain doesn't have this gene and and thus it just won't work no matter how you try. I know plenty of couples where either the woman is not allowed to really "play", but the man is constantly breaking "the rules," or the woman wants to be open but keeps getting all tied up in romantic issues and insecurities, rivalries, and bargaining. What's really happening is they aren't turned on by each other's exploits, there's too much "me" (respectively) in the way.
I guess that's why I'm putting my thoughts to paper here... I've seen a lot of open relationships not working and so I'm passing on the few things I know for sure that have worked. I know a lucky handful of open couples who are truly happy, open, free, confident, and incredibly sexy. They are not "creepy" or riddled with drama, they have no inhibitions, and they have discovered magic that really works for them. Some of them can even maintain long-term semi-romantic relationships outside of theirs, go on dates with other people, and so forth... some of them host play parties and teach what they know to others... and still others are simply dead-sexy, hot people who just can't keep their hands off all the other equally hot people they know (LOL... I think that's me and my boy). Whatever their game, all these amazing people we know generally agree with the concept of the "empathic open gene"... heck, they taught it to us!
Here are the best things I can come up with for a checklist of sorts.
1) Try your best to check with each other to make sure things are OK before you do "major stuff"
Even if its just a quick "hey, I wanna ___; OK with you?", take the time to do this! I've seen so many couples where one person (usually, the guy) fails to do this clearly, and so the girl doesn't see what's coming and she feels betrayed later. I know lots of couples who claim the "goddess rule" — that the woman has to "call all the shots"... not for me, but for them, that's the trick (see #6). If you can't accomplish this "check" for practical reasons (you're not at the same party, you can't find each other, he's passed out) at least ask yourself, "will this plan in some way be hot to my sig. other when I tell them later?" ... its just a sanity check. Be especially careful to do this check when mutual friends are involved. Conversely, agree to never take offense when your sig. other asks for the wrong thing. You can't expect all your turn-ons to match. See #4.
2) Avoid having lots of groundrules, or extremely firm ones.
This means you're afraid, or you don't trust each other, or one has more empathy or Open Gene than the other. Things can turn nasty when there are rules to be broken, and every situation is unique; tune into what feels right and to each other, and then bring in rules when needed. You'll see, sometimes rules just don't apply! (Our only groundrules are here, or have to do with obvious hygiene stuff). Some people have a lot of groundrules and they think it makes them better at this. I have yet to agree, they fight more and fuck it up more than we do. :)
3) Instead of lots of rules, have a "trump card" that closes something off, no discussion needed.
Ours is a little simplistic but it super works, we call it the "code word" rule: every once in a while, there's a situation or person that one of us just "doesn't like in that way" and there's no need to explain it, end of discussion, end of situation/relationship. It means "Hey that guy/girl/scene just totally weirds me out, please don't go there because it will bug me forever", but we just use the code word (ours is "Cookie Dough"), which is much simpler and easy to understand even when you're three sheets to the wind. Sometimes its just a vibe, and other times its something totally serious, like the person/scene has major drama, a bad history in your social cluster, contagious diseases, they're just plain gross and your partner has "beer goggles" on, or something about it/them makes you just plain more uncomfortable than you can handle. Call "Cookie Dough" (whatever word you make up)! You're taking care of the relationship and your sig. other when you do!
4) Accept that you're going to mess it up, know you can fix it.
You know you'll "get it wrong" and break the rules and even hurt each other's feelings and even so, agree verbally with each other that these failures don't count against you or your relationship (or anyone involved). After all, if you play with fire and you will get a couple burns! On that note, we have each messed up a little a few times (nothing major, but ya know, OOPS!), and here's the really amazing part: we just accept, love and respect each other even more afterwards (kind of like childbirth). You'll carry some scars, but its worth it to be free and know each other even more authentically, and besides, all scars fade. Sometimes,. all you have to say is, "That's not how I wanted things to go but things got crazy, I'm sorry." See #9.
5) Know what you like, and tell your sig other.
Recognize why you want something (just for your own growth as an open person), before, during and after. Kitty wants what Kitty wants. A basic physical urge is probably the very best reason you can have: your body tells you loud and clear when there is something great you won't find in any other situation, just the way a good mouser cat knows exactly when to pounce. If your sig. other can empathize with and celebrate your successful hunt, then you're doing it right. This is the "open" part of being in an open relationship. If they're not happy, you're not open. Excepting, of course, when Rule #3 above trumps this.
6) Guys: be who you are, but be sure she is on par, especially for #5.
If your sig other still hasn't found "IT," be patient, encouraging, and seek input from others who have more experience. Try your very best to let the one with the weaker empathy and Open Gene "go first", so she can find out what is hot to her... its like practicing to fly. Women in particular have trouble nailing down #5. We're heavily deprogrammed for sex and sometimes empathy. This requires some maintenance and training. Secondly, remember that because of all our hang-ups, the very best thing you can do to help her out is make sure she feels totally and completely loved every step of the way. Encourage her, worship her, and butter up her ego every chance you get. You'll earn it back in spades with a hot, healthy, sexually ravenous woman as your "partner in crime"!
7) Reinforce the idea that you always have each other to "come home" to, nothing jeopardizes that.
As you evolve, reinforce to each other that none of your adventures will put the relationship on the line or devalue your sig. other in any way: this is especially important if you decide you can each go after things you want separately sometimes ... see #5. This is the "relationship" part of being in an open relationship: its there and its solid. Hold it up!
8) Stick with people who know what they're doing with this. Open relationships are most dangerous to the couple, not to its visitors.
Avoid n00bs, drama, and folks who don't um, "get it" ... they might want real lasting relationships, megafights, true & everlasting love, kids, marriage, etc. 'Never ends well. We've been very blessed to have gotten into all of this with people who know way more than we do and without that, I'd have nothing to say here. That said, I've seen a lot of open relationships founder by bringing in the uninitiated.
9) Laugh and expect little.
Things might get awkward, or grand plans may fizzle. Have a comedy routine lined up just in case. Don't try to get laid all the time, that is where the empathy for each other's turnons can actually run dry. Its just sex, it will happen when it wants to. Plan to laugh and be laughed at when you fuck it up, its better than crying. See #4.
10) Never ever ever EVER bring in issues from #4 when you're having a fight.
What goes in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Don't fight with your penis/vagina, it doesn't have an ego... detach the two please, thanks.