Of course, the 1968 movement already propagated “Free Love” and implemented it partly in the form of communal structures, sometimes more and sometimes slightly less successfully. The thought of loving more than one person and being able to live together harmoniously and equally in a community, raising children and being there for one another is admittedly more than tempting. Or is it actually? In theory this sounds super logical. In reality however, it often may sound rather utopian. Of course, not everyone wants to live with several people under one roof. But you don’t have to. Alternative relationship concepts primarily have one thing in common: no exclusive sexual rights and a high degree of openness and communication as a basic requirement. After all, there are (often) more than two parties involved. Monogamy no longer seems to fit into current affairs. In 2012 ZEIT’s headline was “Monogamy: The Big Lie” and this year “Monogamy: The Big Illusion?”
But why is it so difficult for – some of – us to absolve ourselves from the mono mainstream and to continue to live out our sexual interests with others within a relationship, or better still: to love more than just one person at once? Love is changeable, inexhaustible and omnipresent. You can’t squeeze them into a grid, because then you would rob them of their abundance. There are so many ways in which you can love: amicably, maternaly, romantically, platonically … We are actually not jealous of our friends when they meet other people and have fun. It’s not just sex that is fun and connects people – deep conversations, understanding, shared experiences and recognition too.
At the end of the day, it’s always the same questions that arises in the context of an “open relationship” which causes uncertainty and confusion for most people:
Does “living openly” automatically mean “being poly”?
No. An open relationship primarily means that third parties serve as affairs or just as a form of sexual variety or adventure. On the other hand, to live polyamorous means having a kind of loving relationship with several people at once. An open relationship does not necessarily imply this romantic attachement.
Polyamory distinguishes itself from other non-monogamous lifestyles by the following characteristics: 1. Poly is not “cheating”; 2. Poly is not patriarchal polygyny; 3. Poly is not swinging; 4. Poly means loving more than one person romantically.
Do you just not really love each other and want to keep everything open?
In my opinion, the question is completely obsolete, especially since fewer framework conditions or restrictions (exclusive sexual rights) imply a high degree of trust and thus more tolerance and fewer criterion for exclusion. Everyone loves in their own way. It’s a wonderful gift when two people find each other and love in the same way. In my opinion, loving also means “letting go” and trusting that he / she will come back : growing together instead of each separately on their own side.
In addition: There is always something absolute about having to define something and isn’t life actually about living in the moment? So for me it is clear that I want to live my relationship as vividly as I do life. After all, things always turn out differently than how people think they will… right ?
Don’t you run the risk of losing focus in a relationship if you don’t focus exclusively on one sexual partner?
In an open relationship, in which both parties have decided against an exclusive sexual right, the hours away from home are primarily about variety, because it is known to be a pleasure. Speaking against the general tenor, one is not looking for something better, but simply for someone else.
But why? After all, your own partner doesn’t put up any barriers and tolerates temporary trips to other people’s beds. Of course, there is the exception that proves the rule, because as soon as needs within the relationship are no longer met and dates could henceforth pose a threat, cards must be laid on the table – just as in a monogamous relationship. In most cases, cheating can only be prevented by openness and honesty, or at least explained in retrospect.
In addition, I find it naive to believe that a person alone has to or should “provide for” all of their own needs. Isn’t that a lot of pressure to put on your partner? Aren’t those a lot of expectations that could be difficult to meet? Disappointment is inevitable ! In everyday life we often long for more freedom, variety, self-realization, etc…Then why not in love too?
Is there no such thing as jealousy in open relationship concepts? And if so: how do you deal with it?
Oh, but there can also be jealousy in polyamorous and open relationships ! The question should therefore be how to deal with it. In alternative relationship concepts, the focus of the discussion is not on the what, but the how. So it’s not about sleeping / becoming intimate with someone else, but how it all happened. How did I communicate the whole thing? How did I protect my partner from unpleasant feelings and take their feelings of loss or fear away?
So the answer is definitely : yes, there can be jealousy in these scenarios! But since jealousy is not a nice feeling and can be debilitating, it’s a conscious decision if you choose to deal with it. Feelings change: they drive you crazy, they calm down, they come back; they eventually disappear or, in the course of time, turn into a barely noticeable pinch, which only reminds one of the initial agony. Of course, you also experience unpleasant times full of self-doubt and fear of loss, and of course there are also phases in which your partner’s night trips might really bother you.
“If we took the place of other people, the jealousy and hatred that we so often feel towards them would disappear; and if we put others in our place, pride and imagination would decrease a lot ”(Goethe)
But in the end nothing in life is free, and such a learned or acquired behavior (capitalist ownership) does not disappear overnight. But as soon as you finally realize that your partner will be sitting in front of you smiling again the next day and that everything will go back to the way it was, the negative emotions towards the whole situation will also subside. And at some point you can even be happy for your partner when he/she comes home or to the next meeting in a good mood with freshly polished self-confidence or simply after a funny, steamy and happy night. Compassion really is a nice word.
Are there still rules, limits, guidelines …?
Each couple must decide for themself, because every person has different limits. What causes one slightly uncomfortable pinch in the stomach for one person can be a total emotional fiasco for the other. The important thing is: talk to each other! There are different ways to have an open relationship. Some couples only date when traveling or when either of them is alone. Others, on the other hand, make the promise to always let them know in advance if there is a date coming up. Still others do not want to know anything and only make their loved one promise to contact them as soon as it may become a threat. Some couples also told me that they consciously avoid continuous affairs and only see their external bed companion once. Some consider a veto right to be necessary, others may use it as a pressure point. In the end, the following applies: Equal rights for everyone! As long as both communicate their boundaries openly and really respect them, there are no limits to the variety of framework conditions and possibilities.
But what if someone falls in love or the sex with the affair is better?
Okay, first of all: Even in a monogamous relationship, you are not protected from the fact that your partner may at some point feel attracted to someone else and – in the worst case – let you down in this way. This is where trust counts the most. Trust is good – control is fucked up. Unless a relationship is based on trust, it is doomed to fail. And even if the worst were to happen, never stop talking.
It is different in polyamorous relationships, especially since a romantic second or even third relationship does not pose a threat here – on the contrary! There are poly families that consist of more than 2 actors and that work extremely well. It doesn’t matter whether you live together under one roof or are scattered across the city. The important thing is: everyone involved must agree, be informed and happy with the situation. The real problem in this case is not love, because love is unlimited and becomes more powerful and abundant when you share it. Time on the other hand is a limited commodity and none of us has more than 24 hours available throughout the day. So the question should rather be: How can I manage multiple relationships, in addition to everyday work and leisure? I’d say that this is more of an organizational problem…
How much openness is good for a relationship or the partner?
Every couple has to decide that for themself too. “As little as we can, as much as necessary.” This is the opinion of some – “What he / she does not know, makes him / her not as mad or angry”, is the opinion of others. But also the model “Full transparency and honesty, regardless of temporary emotional losses.” What is already clear: more clarity entails less psychological fiascos … and those are known to be the worst. Try it, put an end to it – if needs be.
What are the essential things I use to create such an enormous basis of trust?
Mindfulness is the keyword: openness towards yourself and your partner. However, it is not so easy for everyone to talk openly and freely about their negative emotions (jealousy), fears and insecurities. Of course, it is important in return to show the partner again and again that he / she is still number 1 despite the possible temporary pleasure with third parties. Whether this is conveyed in the form of gestures, gifts or by what is said is up to each couple. The main thing is recognition and appreciation.
Do polys or people in open relationships generally just need more sex and therefore don’t want to commit exclusively?
Those moments in which the opportunity arises to pursue one’s own lust may exist; in the best case without considering – or having to – the possible losses. As does a relationship, life consists of phases. Just because something is allowed doesn’t mean that it happens all the time or that it is particularly good. At some point it just becomes normal. Apart from the fact that the assumption makes little sense, especially since you could have a lot of sex with the same person if all you want is to have more of just sex. Provided that the partner’s libido is similarly strong – of course!
And what of the desire to have children and start a family?
At this point I can only refer to blended families, which also represent a counter-model to the conventional “mother-father-child” relationship. Here – at least in some cases -, several adults can influence the upbringing of the child. And let’s be honest: if a child can’t have enough of something, it’s caregivers. If they can also live in harmony, it may be the perfect basic requirement for a sheltered childhood.
But isn’t this way of life actually “anti-evolutionary-biological” and offensive to our basic instincts?
If sex were only for procreation, it would be more like an act of duty than a pleasurable satisfaction. But why is there so much sexual violence then? Why do so many people suffer from sexual disorders that affect their entire behavior, including everyday life? Why are there regular reports of rape and sexual abuse in the news, whether against boys, girls or adults? Why is the porn industry bigger and more profitable than any other industry on the planet? Why are there so many cases of abuse in the (Catholic) Church when celibacy is supposedly God-given and human? Why are there more and more single households and higher divorce rates than ever before?
Serial Monogamy: Get a Divorce and Start Over. This option is the seemingly “honest” option recommended by most experts, including many couples therapists. […] Serial monogamy is a sympathetic reaction to the contradiction between what society dictates and what biology demands. […] Even if the flight into serial monogamy is described as the decent decision, it has led to the current epidemic of destroyed families and single parents. ”(More on this: Jétha / Ryan: Sex. The true story, Klett- Cotta 2016.)
Mankind is estimated to be 150,000 – 300,000 years old and has only been civilized for around 12,000 years – more or less. Biology and primal instincts influence us much more than some of us would like to admit. Monogamy is not originally programmed into our genes. That’s just how it is! You can tell how strong an instinct is by how difficult it is to suppress it. It is therefore questionable which behavior in love or which relationship framework is really “anti-evolutionary-biological”.
What is the most striking difference between a monogamous and a non-monogamous relationship?
An open relationship does NOT put sex in the foreground, especially since it is not a destructive or dangerous force. The focus of these alternative relationship concepts is the emotional connection between the two partners. Just love.
Nadine works as a model and freelance writer and in her texts she shares personal experiences on the topics of alternative relationship concepts, bisexuality and mindfulness. You can find more from Nadine on her blog.