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Couples With These 3 Qualities Are Better Equipped For Nonmonogamy

Kelly Gonsalves
November 1, 2019
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Image by Addictive Creatives / Stocksy
November 1, 2019

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 study1 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).

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.

Kelly Gonsalves author page.
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

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