The Open Marriage Handbook: 13 Essential Rules To Keep Your Relationship Strong

So you and your partner are thinking about opening up your marriage, huh? 

Been together a while and looking to spice things up? 

Exploring an open marriage can be exciting but also nerve-wracking if you don't set some ground rules first. 

While non-monogamy may sound fun and liberating, successful open relationships require mutual trust, communication, and agreement on boundaries. 

Jumping into it without guidelines is a recipe for disaster. 

That's where these 13 open marriage rules come in handy!

What Is An Open Marriage?

An open marriage is when a married couple consensually agrees to let each other have sexual or romantic relationships with other people. 

The key word there is consensual – an open marriage is something that both spouses enthusiastically agree to, not something one spouse imposes on the other. 

couple laying close together Open Marriage Rules

The details of open marriages vary widely, but they all come down to the married couple opening up their relationship in some way, shape, or form. 

Some allow flings, while others prefer ongoing partners. 

The level of emotional involvement and communication around outside relationships also differs from marriage to marriage. 

But the core of an open marriage is spousal consent and freedom to see other people.

What Are the Pros and Cons of an Open Marriage?

Opening up a marriage has both benefits and drawbacks to consider before taking the plunge. 

An open relationship isn't right for everyone, so it's important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding if it will work for you and your spouse.

Pros:

  • More sexual variety and freedom to explore new partners
  • Relief from sexual boredom in the marriage
  • Both spouses' needs get met more fully
  • Introduces novelty and excitement
  • Spouses can pursue individual interests separately

Cons:

  • Potential for jealousy between spouses
  • Requires excellent communication and boundaries
  • Higher risk of STIs from new partners
  • Potential attachment to new partners
  • Time management away from primary spouse
  • Negative stigma still surrounds open marriages

So, as you can see, open marriages aren't for the faint of heart. 

13 Open Marriage Rules to Maintain a Healthy Relationship

Opening up a romantic relationship is complex emotional territory that requires some rules and boundaries to navigate smoothly. 

Here are 13 essential open marriage guidelines that can help married couples embark on non-monogamy in a way that feels safe and ethical and keeps the relationship strong.

1. Discuss your motivations thoroughly.

Before opening up a marriage, have an honest dialogue about what each of you hopes to get out of the experience. Are you both wanting more sexual variety and excitement? Do either of you crave an emotional connection outside the relationship? 

Discussing motivations openly and without judgment allows you to craft rules that work for both spouses. It's important to uncover any underlying issues or resentments in your relationship first before opening things up.

2. Agree on explicit boundaries and guidelines.

Sitting down and explicitly deciding on open marriage dos and don'ts is crucial. Will you have group sex together or see people separately? Are repeat encounters allowed or just one-night stands? Will you use protection with other partners? Is it okay to get emotionally intimate? 

couple having coffee in bed Open Marriage Rules

Create clear guidelines and boundaries you both enthusiastically consent to. Write the rules down so you can refer back and revise them if needed.

3. Set time commitments.

Agree on how much time you’ll devote to outside partners versus your relationship. Limit overnight stays or set days that are just for the two of you. 

Make sure your marriage still feels like the primary relationship by setting aside quality time together without distractions from new partners. Schedule regular check-ins as a couple to connect and work through any issues that arise.

4. Don't restrict sexual activities. 

It can breed resentment if one spouse restricts the sexual activities the other can explore with new partners. As long as activities are legal and don't endanger anyone's health, it's usually best to allow your spouse sexual freedom. 

If you have rules about protection, that's understandable. But dictating sexual positions, activities, or ‘saving' certain acts just for your relationship usually backfires. 

5. Practice empathy and compersion.

When your spouse finds a new partner, be happy for them! Compersion means taking joy in your partner's joy, even if it's with someone else. 

If you get jealous easily, work on empathy, confidence, and taking ownership of your feelings. Don't make your spouse feel guilty for enjoying new connections. Share their happiness to create a loving, empathetic environment.

6. Prioritize honest communication.

Frequently share updates, feelings, issues, or concerns with your spouse. Don't let things fester. Be open about interactions with new partners, but respect privacy boundaries too. 

And if someone starts feeling uneasy with the open relationship, speak up immediately so agreements can be revisited. Honest communication ensures small issues don't become marriage-ending calamities.

7. Don't veto partners without good reason.

It breeds mistrust if you veto your spouse's partners arbitrarily. But if you have legitimate concerns about a partner's character, red flags, or incompatibility with your marriage rules, tactfully discuss it. 

Explain your reasons respectfully. Ultimately, though, you have to trust your spouse's judgment in choosing partners.  

8. Set guidelines around mutual friends and exes.

Are close friends and exes off-limits? That's fairly common. If a potential partner seems too enmeshed in your lives, consider ruling them out. 

Sleeping with mutual friends or exes can get really messy really quickly. Tread carefully here, as few things destabilize an open relationship quite like partner drama infiltrating friendships.

9. Respect each other's time and space. 

Don't bombard your spouse with texts and questions when they're on dates. Don't badger them for details or spoil their anticipation. 

If sleepovers are allowed, don't call incessantly. Give them space to enjoy new connections fully, just as you would want in return. Trust is required.

10. Have an exit plan if it doesn't work out.

What if, after trying it, one partner wants to close the marriage while the other still wants non-monogamy? Discuss how to handle that ahead of time. 

Having an exit plan prevents you from feeling trapped later if someone's feelings change down the road. Renegotiation or divorce are options to consider.

11. Don't sacrifice time with your primary partner.

When exciting new partners enter the picture, it's easy to neglect your spouse unintentionally. Be conscious of maintaining date nights, quality time, great sex, and intimacy in your relationship. 

woman on top of man looking closely Open Marriage Rules

Don't take your primary partner for granted. The marriage remains the foundation; water it consistently.

12. Agree on what information to share. 

Most couples want basic info like how many dates happened and whether sex occurred. But explicit details about encounters often fuel jealousy. 

Build mutual trust while protecting privacy boundaries. Share enough to feel connected, but don't insist on a play-by-play unless you're both truly comfortable hearing it.

13. Check in regularly before, during, and after dates. 

Checking in helps you stay connected to each other's experiences. Before a date, build excitement. After, share highlights and talk about any insecurities that arose. 

Periodically, have open discussions to see how you both feel about how things are going. Is anyone struggling? Do rules need revisiting? Frequent check-ins keep you bonded.

Is An Open Marriage Healthy?

Is an open relationship actually a healthy model for a marriage? Opinions vary widely on this. Some experts argue open marriages can enhance intimacy between spouses and strengthen their bond. When executed mindfully, open marriages can satisfy needs unmet in monogamy and bring spouses closer through sharing. 

But other experts counter that despite ethical extramarital relationships rise in popularity, humans still emotionally thrive on some level of stability, security, and commitment that open marriages erode. There are also the very real risks of jealousy, broken trust, and bonded partners pulling away. 

What Percentage of Open Marriages End in Divorce?

According to recent data from Gitnux Market Data, couples in open marriages have a 38% higher chance of divorce than monogamous couples. 

This suggests open marriages are less stable than traditional marriages, likely due to the complexities of balancing multiple partners, maintaining intimacy, dealing with jealousy, and overcoming stigma. 

However, there is still limited research on open marriage divorce rates, and plenty of open marriages do succeed long-term. But the added challenges of non-monogamy do seem to take a toll on marital stability. So, couples should weigh the risks and rewards carefully before pursuing an open marriage.

Can a One-Sided Open Relationship Work?

A one-sided open relationship, where one partner can have outside relationships while the other remains monogamous, is considered extremely challenging to pull off successfully. This uneven dynamic breeds resentment, mistrust, loneliness, and a power imbalance between spouses. 

For open relationships to work, equality, empathy, and enthusiasm from both partners are crucial. A spouse feeling coerced or obligated to accept their partner's non-monogamy while remaining faithful themselves is a recipe for marital disaster. 

In most cases, uneven open marriages simply cannot withstand the strain and end in divorce.

Final Thoughts

Open marriages require a lot of trust, empathy, maturity, and communication to have a fighting chance. They aren't for everyone. But for couples who approach non-monogamy ethically and set mutually agreed-upon ground rules, open marriages can absolutely work and even strengthen bonds. Just make sure you both keep each other's needs at heart.