Tyler and I have an open relationship. But what does that mean, exactly? The first thing that comes to mind when I say that is probably in the sexual sense. But that’s not nearly all that “open” means to us.
In general we have boundaries past what most would consider normal or consider being comfortable with. And honestly, regardless of how we define “open” at any given moment, its a word we’ve been able to use to describe our relationship from day one.
To us, open means being willing to embrace and support the others’ needs even if it’s something that we cannot provide ourselves. So, yeah, sex may be included. (If Ty has the urge to hook up with a tall brunette with big boobs, I can assure you that’s not something I’d be able to provide him myself.) But it goes WAAAAAAAAAY past that.
For – a seemingly trivial, but actually not – example: I’m not one to look forward to getting drunk and partying. Tyler on the other hand seems to have this need to relive his college days and host a crazy party a couple times a year. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I am utterly annoyed when I have to deal with it. But, I go with it. Because an “epic” night every so often is something that he truly loves. So he has them. I hardly see him on those nights. He’s spends hours off being himself and having a blast. Instead of arguing over his actions on these evenings or his simple need to have them, I just go with it. I don’t give him a hard time for being himself. And I know he loves me for this. This principle works in most other areas of our relationship as well.
We try not to put too many rules in place up front. That just doesn’t work for us. When he hosts these events I can ask him to have all of the people out of the house 1:00 AM so I can go to bed and he will always tell me okay. I know he wants to do that for me. But then he’ll lose track of time and it won’t happen (leaving me unhappy), or he’ll spend so much time focusing on the clock that he doesn’t actually enjoy himself (leaving him unhappy). We’ve found it works better to simply learn where the boundaries lie once we’ve crossed them. And then pull back. The party ends when the party ends, and if it’s too much for me we won’t let it go that late next time. It’s a pretty simple equation, actually.
In any relationship, problems arise when expectations are not met. As such we do our best not to place too many arbitrary expectations on on another. It teaches me that my boundaries are sometimes not where I thought they were. Most of the times I learn that I am more comfortable with certain situations than I expected. Like in the end I don’t really care what time the party ends. I just want to be able to go sleep when I’m tired. So I do.
Open also means being transparent. This is tough. It requires a shit-ton of honest communication. Which starts with being honest with ourselves. And that can be the most difficult part.
Over the years both Tyler and I have improved this skill. He’s taught me to feel my feelings and not to be ashamed of them, thus allowing me to communicate better. I’ve taught him that he actually has feelings and how to put them into words, thus allowing him to communicate better. We have reached a point where we can discuss our needs openly, mostly without judging ourselves or each other. (I seem to be the one that judges more. And it’s judging myself, not him, that’s the problem. But that’s nothing that can’t be worked on with a little more therapy, right?)
Because we are able to embrace and support each others’ needs and be honest about our own, we have a super solid relationship. We also have an incredible amount of trust in each other. And you know what, because we both have “permission” from the other person to have “needs” met elsewhere if necessary, the things we thought we needed oftentimes become less important. I think having this permission also prompts us to try a little bit harder for each other. It’s interesting really. The fewer rules we place on each other the closer we become.
And please, let me be clear. I’m not proselytizing here. I don’t suggest that everyone in this world remove boundaries they have set for their relationships. Oftentimes, boundaries exist for good reason! But I think that we all benefit from being honest and open with our partners. And I think that starts by understanding that no one human being will ever be able to be everything to another.