Are you starting an open relationship and wondering about rules? Explore common open relationship rules, how to set them up, and what to do if they’re broken.
Every relationship is different, whether open or closed, polyamorous or monogamous. But every relationship has boundaries, expectations, and rules.
What Are the Rules in an Open Relationship?
Some open relationship rules will be implied and some may be communicated before agreeing to enter into the relationship or take it to the next level.
When the rules are implied, it is more difficult to know whether both (or all) parties are understanding the same boundaries and expectations. We may be agreeing to rules we aren’t aware of, or rules created by society or our partner, not rules we believe in or wanted.
If the relationship is not open, the nature of monogamy makes certain expectations clear. That is not the case in an open relationship, so it’s a good idea for couples, throuples, and polycules to hash things out together and come to an agreement or understanding of the relationship rules.
Open relationship rules are not always the same for each person. While following the same rules may be the way the majority of couples or polycules operate, it is not always the case.
In a BDSM power exchange relationship, for example, a Dom may have rules for their submissive that are different. In a relationship where one person has a limited libido, there may be unique arrangements. Occasionally, couples have different rules for different genders.
There are other reasons for varying open relationship rules, but for the most part, the main open relationship rules will apply to everyone in the relationship.
Setting Rules for Open Relationships
Open relationship rules require strategy or planning, communication, honesty, trust, empathy, negotiation, conflict resolution, and respect.
Open relationship rules also require occasionally checking in and revisiting the boundaries and the impact on each lover.
Setting rules is not just about what to do and what not to do, but also about discussing how various emotions will be handled. Healthy relationships involve sharing fears and insecurities and supporting each other to overcome those when embarking on keeping an open door.
It’s also important to share why certain rules may be important, or what rules are most meaningful to whom, and why.
7 Common Open Relationship Rules
1. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
A common open relationship rule is simple—there aren’t any, and discretion is expected.
Couples who want to use their own judgement and don’t want to be overly involved in each other’s extracurricular romantic life may choose this model for relationship rules.
You do what you want, but you keep it to yourself and don’t let it get in the way of your relationship.
2. Tell Me Everything
A different model of open relationship rules is no secrets. If it’s not something you can tell your partner about, it’s against the rules. And everything that happens, you have to be willing to share.
3. No Exes Involved
A very common open relationship rule is that no one gets to date exes. Because many open relationships are about keeping the emotional commitment in the primary partnership, and the open door is for sex and casual relationships, this protects partners from the emotional danger of past entanglements.
4. No Falling in Love
This is hard to keep, because we don’t always control that feeling, but it outlines the intent to not get emotionally involved with open door connections.
Lots of polyamorous lovers are open to multiple love relationships, whether there is a primary partnership or it’s non-hierarchical. But many open relationship rules aim to prevent forming intense emotional bonds—not just falling in love, but getting too emotionally involved in another’s family drama, or too much responsibility to that lover.
5. Safe Sex Only
Probably a universal open relationship rule is about safe sex. This is even more important for fluid-bonded couples. Your rules will outline what exactly safe sex means to you and what is expected.
6. Specific Sexual Boundaries
A very common kind of open relationship rule is about what kind of sex with other lovers is permissible within the relationship.
Many couples keep a particular sex act between themselves and don’t share that act with other lovers. Some don’t go “all the way.” Some determine that they can date a gender but not other genders. For example, the open relationship might be to honor a wife’s bisexuality, so she can sleep with women but not with another man outside her husband.
A kinky couple might have BDSM rituals that are only between them. Conversely, if one partner doesn’t share a kink, the kink might be the only kind of sex the other partner pursues outside the relationship. There are many kinds of relationships and many different needs, and determiniing the sexual boundaries is a huge part of the open relationship rules.
7. Respect and Prioritize Your Partner
Many open relationship rules are about respecting your primary partner’s schedule, desires, and needs. Holidays or weekends might be important to honor at home, or dates may need to take place when one partner is working late, not during the rare times you have together.
Long-Distance Open Relationship Rules
Sometimes an open relationship is the only way a long-distance relationship can survive, because otherwise both parties will be lonely or not able to enjoy regular sexual intimacy. This kind of relationship will have unique open relationship rules designed to protect the longevity of the relationship under the circumstances.
The long-distance open relationship rules require the same honesty, respect, and trust as any, but will be designed with the reality of the distance in mind.
What To Do When Rules Are Broken
Planning what to do when open relationship rules are broken should be part of the planning. Some broken rules have more emotional weight than others. For example, if a bisexual woman can date other women but not men, sleeping with another man is infidelity. This is a bigger breach of trust than if she had inadvertently booked a date on a holiday.
Communication is always important, and so is an honest check-in. How to handle the broken rules should be decided with love and empathy and sensitivity to each other’s needs and feelings.
If the relationship is newly open, understand that it can take some stops and starts and some practice accepting the openness and overcoming jealousies and insecurity. If the relationship is valued and secure and not abusive, don’t jump to throwing it away over an infraction—the people you date next will also be human beings with shortcomings and weaknesses.
Are you in an open relationship? Please share your experience and tips in the comments!