One-Sided Open Relationships: Can They Work?

Most open relationships or polyamorous arrangements are based on mutuality, at least in the modern and secular world.

In other words, the door is open for both or all parties. One of both lovers may date occasionally, often, or have other long-term commitments, but even if someone isn’t dating outside, they are free to do so.

What Is a One-Sided Open Relationship?

A relationship type in polyamory that we hear less about it the one-sided open relationship. This is where one partner is polyamorous or free to date and have sex with many lovers, but the other partner in the relationship is monogamous.

At first glance, this arrangement doesn’t sound fair or fun, and certainly, it isn’t what most couples want out of a relationship. Far more common is for both lovers to commit to monogamy, which is generally the social norm. Next would be where both members agree to an open-door policy, what we understand as polyamory. The terms will differ widely here, depending on the nature of the relationship or the individuals involved.

Far less frequent is one-sided polyamory. However, it exists and some couples find themselves in a place where this is the preferred arrangement.

Read: How to Find an Open Relationship

Types of One-Sided Open Relationships


Polygamy is an extremely common arrangement historically, and resembles one-sided polyamory on the surface. The wife, of course, is monogamous, but the husband has many wives, or mistresses, sometimes all living together. This is still widespread in many parts of the world. In some cases, women who stray are punished, even with death. But the man is free to have many wives or lovers.

This can be a consensual arrangement. Some cultures find the female camaraderie and help with child rearing to be worth the power imbalance and are free to marry the man of their choice to enter this arrangement. But most women are too young to consent and even when they are adults, social sanctions are so extreme that it is not legitimate consent.

Polygamy, while one sided, is not polyamorous in this context because polyamory is consensual and ethical.

Read: How to Practice Ethical Non-Monogamy

Cuckold or BDSM Arrangements

Many one-sided open relationships do have power imbalances, but both parties desire and consent to this.

Cuckolding is when a man is humiliated because his woman runs around with other men in order to be satisfied. The cuckold kink is extremely erotic to some people, who find the thought of their lover with another and the resulting humiliation more erotic than other lovers of their own.

Read: How to Meet Cuckold Couples

There are variations on this theme, not all using the term cuckold. Some submissives live to serve their lover, but their lover, the dominant, does not abide by the same rules. There are a number of ways that this power play can manifest in a relationship.

Hotwifing is a very popular taste right now, and isn’t so much about humiliation and an unsatisfied wife, but about having a trophy wife who can use a stable of bulls to be satiated. You are so secure and satisfied by her hotness that you don’t need more.

Poly-Mono Mix

There are situations when a monogamous lover falls for someone who is polyamorous by nature or vice versa. This is hardly uncommon, and generally such couples will try being either polyamorous or monogamous, sometimes to great effect, but often failing. One solution is for each person to live their nature within the same relationship.

This is tricky, yes, but it may be preferable for some to the alternatives. No one should break up just because they are mismatched—opposites attract and many unexpected scenarios have resulted in a great love story.

In this kind of situation, it isn’t so much that the monogamous person isn’t “allowed” to seek out other lovers, but they feel personally that their love is best expressed in a monogamous context. It may not be easy to open yourself to the fact that your partner takes other lovers if you don’t have the same freedom, but maybe you do have the same freedom but choose not to use it.

Yes, this can work, and it can work well, if both partners are open minded and accepting of each other and the relationship is secure. It is not the most common choice, but more common arrangements like trying monogamy for both more often end in failure. This is a great choice for some couples.

Read: How to Make a Poly-Mono Relationship Work

Mismatched Libidos

One-sided open relationships can offer a solution to couples who are happy, or otherwise invested in staying together, but where one has a much higher sex drive than the other.

I have a friend who is nearly asexual. She has very low libido—VERY low. She prefers not to have sex at all but says she has desire on rare occasions and masturbates once or twice a year.

She is seeking companionship and a family, however. When she meets Mr. Right, she knows she will share him with other lovers because she can’t offer much sex.

Read: Tips for Sharing a Limited Libido

Some couples open one door later on in a relationship in order to keep it. An older couple I care for survived his cancer, but he told her to take a lover so that he wouldn’t have to feel she was being squashed in her blossom. His generous spirit meant they could make it last.

Remembering that this unusual relationship option is available can help couples in difficult positions. This is not for everyone, but it can be an amazing and loving manifestation of circumstance, different libidos, kink, or challenging situations like illness.

To make a one-sided open relationship work may not be easy, but the beautiful thing is that such an arrangement is often an alternative to breaking up or an impasse. We are all different and have different needs and wants.

This kind of relationship can only work in full trust, consent, and open acceptance of each other, so in many circumstances, it could be a stronger relationship than more traditional ones.

Read: 5 Essentials for Open Relationships

Are you in a one-sided open relationship? Please share in the comments!

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