Couples With These 3 Qualities Are Better Equipped For Nonmonogamy

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex writer and editor. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

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Open relationships are becoming increasingly popular, and with good reason: They allow people to connect with each other in ways that make sense for their real needs and lifestyles, removing monogamous expectations that don't work for everybody and allowing for more ways of relating to each other. Even for those who are monogamous to the bone, the rising popularity of consensual nonmonogamy encourages all of us to think about what constitutes a satisfying relationship and then consciously create it from the ground up.

Of course, that doesn't mean open relationships are right for everyone. A new study published in the Journal of Sex Research, in fact, suggests some couples might be more cut out for it than others are. After surveying 1,658 people in relationships, researchers found about 32% of them identified as being in nonmonogamous relationships. Of these nonmonogamous relationships, some were much more functional, healthy, and stable than others. These were the three qualities that set apart couples handling nonmonogamy well and those that weren't: 

  1. Mutual consent: Both partners agreed to being nonmonogamous, meaning they'd mutually decided they were both OK with each other sleeping with other people. 
  2. Ongoing communication: The partners talked openly and often about their sexual activity with others. That allowed for lots of respect and consideration for each other while pursuing sex elsewhere, and no secrets that could leave one person feeling betrayed or left out.
  3. Comfort: Beyond just consenting to it, both people want nonmonogamy. "If one partner felt coerced into agreeing to a nonmonogamous structure (potentially desiring monogamy but wanting to accommodate their partner's desires for nonmonogamy) or simply felt less comfortable with a nontraditional relationship structure even after agreeing to it, then ongoing [sex with other people] could very likely lead to hurt feelings and jealousy," the researchers explain in the paper on their findings.

The catch, of course, is that these three qualities are needed in all relationships⁠—whether nonmonogamous or not.

A monogamous relationship doesn't work if both people don't consent to being exclusive (consent), if they can't talk to each other about their sexual needs (communication), and if both parties aren't super into monogamy (comfort).

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And yes, couples in open relationships are just as happy.

When the researchers compared monogamous couples and nonmonogamous couples who had all three traits, they were equally functioning and healthy. The members of both types of couples felt like their needs were being met, had low levels of both loneliness and psychological distress, and felt satisfied with the relationship. (In comparison, nonmonogamous couples with low levels of some or all three of the above traits were much less healthy, happy, and stable.)

The consensually nonmonogamous couples that did have all three traits were some of the longer relationships among all the couples being studied. The researchers believe this fact suggests that consensual nonmonogamy might even strengthen relationships, "offsetting the natural decay in quality" usually observed in traditional relationships. "Although the partners in these relationships have low interest in monogamy, are highly embracing of casual sex, [and] are actively seeking new sexual partners…they are doing this in a manner that maintains the quality and integrity of their primary relationships," the researchers write.

So if you're considering opening up your relationship, you now know exactly what qualities you'll need to make it work: mutual consent, ongoing communication, and comfort. Here's how to start up a conversation as a couple when you're ready.

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