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Closing an Open Relationship

What do you do when your open relationship becomes too, well, open? Is there a graceful way to close it? The 4-Way panel of relationship non-experts discuss exclusivity in modern relationships.
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Dear 4-Way,
My boyfriend and I have had an open relationship for a little over two years. We are free to have safe, physically intimate relationships with other people, but have always said that our emotional relationship would be exclusive. This worked for both of us for a while because we love the fun of the first kiss, the first touch, etc, which you can’t get when you only have one partner.

But my feelings about our relationship have changed. I feel jealous now when he’s with other women. I know that I need to talk to him about it, but I’m afraid—this arrangement is what he wants (and what I used to want) and it’s why our relationship has lasted as long as it has. I don’t want to lose him. Lately I’ve been thinking that since I’ve sucked it up for this long, I can keep doing it if it means keeping him. What do you guys think?—SN, Tacoma, Washington

The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
Open relationships intrigue me, because I know I would never be capable of having one. Why, you ask? Because I’m that woman; if you sleep with me, I want your penis all to myself. I’m not a sharer. I’m the only one who gets to admire it, touch it, rub it, ride it, make a puppet for it, or do anything else with it. The end.

But my possessiveness has scientific grounding. When you have an orgasm (and also, interestingly enough, when you have a baby), your body is flooded with oxytocin, a hormone which according to one source “induces feelings of love and altruism, warmth, calm, bonding, tenderness, and togetherness.” Oxytocin has been called “the cuddle hormone.” It helps you bond with someone. (Clearly this isn’t always the case since there are plenty of people who still pull the old love ’em and leave ’em routine.) One study also suggest that higher levels of oxytocin are associated with the reciprocation of trust. And I suspect that this is where the heart of your problem lies.

If he’s sleeping with other women, how can you be sure that he won’t develop that same sort of emotional commitment with them that he’s built with you? You may have been okay with him sharing his body with others, but you’re no longer okay with the possibility of him sharing his heart with others. You want to be the only one who’s special, but you’re now questioning if that’s possible in your current arrangement.

So talk to him. If he still wants to be with other women, say goodbye. I know you love him, but now that you’re ready to be with only one person, you deserve to be with someone who only wants to be with you. There should be no “sucking it up” unless, of course, that sucking is one of those fun firsts you can have with someone new.

The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
The dating advice grim reaper is nice and warmed up, and I’m coming out swinging on this one. The grim reaper has gotten a bad reputation, but I’m simply here to help you get to the next place you’re supposed to go … and that’s out of your open relationship.

Here’s the thing with open relationships. The “open” is referring to the can of worms that you get into with this sort of arrangement.  I say “arrangement” because I feel that’s a more accurate word for what you have with this guy. There really isn’t much of a “relationship” in an open relationship. Part of what makes a relationship special is that two people know they could still sleep with other people but choose not to out of respect. They are choosing to be only with one another sexually, emotionally, and mentally. That sort of commitment and fidelity breeds trust and a deeper intimacy than multiple one night stands. Trust and support are two of the big draws of being in a relationship. Otherwise, you’re just steady sex partners, eternal booty calls.

That said, regardless of what your current relationship situation is, it’s not uncommon for at least one of the people to want a change in the status—to go from just dating to exclusive, to go from exclusive to breaking up, to go from girlfriend to wife.  Since you now want to have an exclusive relationship with this guy, you must tell him that. Denying what you want just to keep somebody around is not good or healthy and just causes you to waste valuable time.  If this open relationship was his idea, I doubt that he’ll go for it, but you never know—maybe he’s willing to give exclusivity a try. There’s only one way to find out and be true to yourself. Tell him what you want.  The upside to this open relationship is that the door is open for you to leave and find someone who wants to be with you … and only you.

The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
Your situation fascinates me. It always has. I’ve had friends confess to having an open relationship, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why they feel the need to be in a relationship at all if they’re not getting what they want from their main squeeze.  But I think what you need to really consider here is not the current situation as much as the whole relationship. Are you getting what you want out of this relationship still? Is he? Are you just going through the motions out of habit? Are you killing time with each other until someone else comes along that fits your needs more? Whatever the answer, don’t be afraid to talk about it! If you fail with your communication, this issue will probably never escalate. Not talking about it won’t make it go away.

Remember, you have to be willing to give up other people if you ask him to do the same. I don’t know if that will be easy for either of you since you’ll have to break habits.  The bottom line is you get one life to be happy. Just because something has worked for you in the past doesn’t mean it will work for you for life. That’s why people move on.

The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
Be careful what you wish for; you may just get it. Here’s the thing about relationships: the wishes, desires, interests, fantasies, and the practical day-to-day stuff that makes up life can change. When you start a relationship, it’s because you’ve found common ground. There’s something that the two of you can really vibe on together. And like all couples, there comes a time when the initial interest that drew you together switches for one of you. So what happens next? It depends.

You mention that the only reason your relationship has lasted is because of this shared idea about open relationships. If that’s all you have holding you together, you guys are done. It’s time for you to notice what other common ground you do share. What does your emotional relationship look like? How do you know that connection is there?  What concerns me most is that you would be willing to “suck it up” and not share your true desires with him just so you can stay together. Would you want him to do that with you? That’s not the sign of a healthy, glowing relationship.  Don’t suck it up, spit it out. Tell the man how you feel. But first, be aware of why you want this relationship to continue. What else is there holding you two together? If it’s only your open door policy, then shut the door, open a window, and make a new start.

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