Traditionally, many relationships had a fairly linear trajectory: Two people met, shared a few dates, perhaps lived together and then got married. The ultimate goal was typically “you, me and baby makes three,” often with little variation. But want to know one of my top healthy relationship tips for couples? Kick expectations to the curb!
That’s not to say that following the above trajectory is wrong by any means! Everyone should live life in a way that makes them mentally and emotionally comfortable. However, with people becoming increasingly open-minded these days, it’s worth exploring the fact that nothing in human evolution suggests people naturally have to mate for life.
That said, being in a non-monogamous relationship does require a degree of open-mindedness many ordinary humans lack. Communication needs to be on-point and upfront, and both partners must feel comfortable honestly expressing their needs and fears, especially in regards to health. Here are eight healthy relationship tips for couples who prefer to remove the fidelity requirement from “till death do us part.”
1. Be Upfront from the Get-Go
In advertising lingo, a bait-and-switch scheme refers to reeling the customer in with an offer seemingly too good to be true, only to reveal the real (and much different) terms and conditions once they get you in the door. How did you feel the last time you got rooked by such a scheme? Chances are, not too good.
It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female or trans, nor does it matter if you’re straight or on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. If you prefer an open relationship, you NEED to be upfront about what you seek when you first meet a potential mate — not a month or two down the road.
Even if a potential partner isn’t down with the idea of an open relationship, they’ll appreciate your honesty, which can form the basis of a beautiful friendship (or even friendship with benefits). Proceeding under false pretenses, though? Don’t act surprised when you get a rep for being a player.
2. Get Tested Together
It doesn’t matter who you are or what activities you prefer, the more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Always use protection whether you’re with your partner or another person. Get tested together, especially if your new beau is open-minded but new to non-monogamy. Holding their hand throughout the process can assuage their fears.
3. And Get Tested Regularly
If you’re in an open relationship, getting tested once means little. Most experts advise getting tested for STDs at least every six months if you’re active with a number of partners. Remember, HIV isn’t the only STD you can contract — syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes all plague both women and men, so take care to get a pap smear (if female) and a pelvic exam (male and female) as well as a blood draw.
4. Set Ground Rules
Many, but not all, open relationships operate on a number of ground rules. Such rules vary from allowing any activity outside of traditional penetrative intercourse to informing partners before engaging in acts with others, etc.
If you’re new to an open relationship, set ground rules for what you’re open to doing and what is off limits. For example, you may enjoy three-way play without necessarily wanting dual penetration. If you’re not willing to go there, make this known before playtime starts.
5. Schedule Weekly Check-Ins
Even sexually libertine relationships require regular communication to stay healthy. Set a once-per-week check-in date (maybe over lunch or coffee) with your beau to discuss your emotions — in fact, this makes the top ten list of healthy relationship tips for couples of any arrangement.
It’s much easier to tackle tough topics, such as jealousy or mistrust of a certain individual, at a neutral time and place rather than letting resentment fester and then blowing up at them out of frustration.
6. Learn Healthy Coping Skills
If your partner has been upfront and honest, but you still experience jealousy and hurt feelings regularly, it’s your responsibility to take ownership of how you feel by seeking outside help to figure out how you want to proceed. Find a trusted therapist or another confidante open-minded about non-monogamy to confide your emotions. They can help you decide how to make staying healthy, or when splitting up may benefit your psychological well being.
7. And Set Healthy Boundaries
Consenting to an open relationship doesn’t mean consenting to any sexual act, anytime, anywhere, regardless of how you feel. When accepting an open relationship, ask yourself if you’re doing so because you’re afraid to tell your partner no, or whether you truly want to give the lifestyle a go.
Remember, you have the right to say no at any time, even if you’re already engaged in sexual activity. You’re also allowed to change your mind about how you feel about an open relationship as long as you accept the fact this may mean your partner may choose to leave.
8. Tackle Tough Conversations Quickly
Letting resentment build can ruin any relationship, not just open ones. If something makes you uncomfortable, say so at the first neutral moment when you can be alone with your partner. Even if you’ve grown weary of the relationship altogether, don’t string someone else along — if your feelings toward your partner have changed, let them know right away. It may be hard, but it’s like ripping off a bandage or getting into an icy pool — sooner begun is sooner done.
Healthy Relationship Tips for Couples of All Types
Our relationships are as unique as our fingerprints, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about one. You may find that non-monogamy is, in fact, not for you. And that’s okay! By maintaining open lines of communication and following the other healthy relationship tips for couples, above, you can find a partner to enjoy a rich and rewarding partnership with no matter how many other people you choose (or do not choose) to let enter your bliss.