There are some relationships in which we tell our partners everything and feel very content and close, and there are some in which we feel envious of others’ intimacy (even though as partners we tell each other everything). Often, it’s because one partner isn’t capable of satisfying the other’s emotional needs, and this exchange happens over and over, back and forth in the relationship. This frequently leads to an unplanned emotionally open relationship, in which one or both partners are sharing emotional intimacies with other people in a manner that would be hurtful.
One possible solution? Planned emotionally open relationships. Emotional infidelity almost always precedes sexual infidelity due to the nature of interaction. People who may want to explore a planned emotionally open relationship might have greater emotional needs, or have a partner who is currently busier (either at work or with small children) than s/he was earlier in the relationship. Examples of emotionally open relationships are alluded to in the media, although we never really discuss them as such; the law enforcement officer who relies on his/her partner as an outlet for his/her sardonic humor, the woman who uses her volunteer work to sublimate her excessive need to give. These common concepts are examples of boundaries.
Our own boundaries are how we keep a good relationship with ourselves. I accept this, I’d like more of that, I’m not going to allow as much of this, etc. When you first meet someone, your personal boundaries may be very strong, and this could be what s/he is attracted to. There are very few of us who would argue that we feel good about being hypocritical, but as you begin to build a relationship with someone that you like you are more likely to make trade-offs. I’ll bend this boundary, I’ll let go of the idea that this makes me uncomfortable because I like this aspect of this person so much. Engaging in an emotionally-open relationship with your partner may be an opportunity to revisit some of the boundaries that you personally had set earlier in your life, or that you both had in place at the beginning of your relationship.
The difference between an emotionally open relationship and a friendship is a stronger boundary between it and a primary relationship. The decision to keep some emotional exchanges private is what makes this difference, and in order to remove anxiety, the third person has to be at a minimum told (or perhaps brought in on the decision-making process) about the emotionally open relationship. To be responsible for a portion of your feelings or thoughts is something that person might not be expecting; the man on the street (so to speak) is likely of the belief that your partner is primarily responsible for your feelings if s/he is from an individualistic culture. People from collectivistic cultures may be more open to this concept in general, as the appraisal of partners is done more by the family on the basis of practical matters (financial match, match between the two families, and so forth).
2 Signs You’re Ready for an Open Relationship
- Both partners see the need to reduce the emotional interaction between them.
Perhaps you are both each other’s “everything,” and it has become unpleasant, excessively comfortable. Rather than being like the thrilling beginning to a relationship during which everything is intoxicating, it is dependent, but neither partner is getting identified needs met by the other. This may be due to the relaxation of your own boundaries, as discussed before. By no means does every relationship on earth have to be one in which sex is valued or even one in which both partners are sensual. Both of these qualities may be inherited or a result of our culture from when we were very young, or they may be more of a product of our relationship, or our adult lives and our choices. But, if at the beginning and/or if in prior relationships you were more sexual or sensual, and you had intended to maintain that aspect of yourself, you may now find this breaking down of personal boundaries objectionable. You or your partner might find this excessive comfort offensive.
It is normal for one or both of you to feel nervous about setting limits about what you won’t talk about with the other and effectively saying “goodbye” to parts of the other person.
- You’re willing to discuss whether you will seek out people or interact with third parties of convenience (i.e. coworkers, current friends, neighbors, etc.), and what you will do if your desire to communicate with those people further increases.
It’s a big deal to stand up for your need to vent at the end of the day, your unpleasant feelings about various situations in modern society, or your sense that your partner can’t really discuss something important at the same cognitive or emotional level that another person can. When you do, you may find that you feel so good, you want more. Recognize that this may just be relief at finally sharing something. Remember what is pleasant about your life with your partner; for example, the ability to share this information with another person and have this exchange.
How can I start this discussion?
By not expecting your first discussion on this subject to be completely honest or open. If you’ve watched movies about polyamory or non-monogamy, do not compare your “performance” during the conversation to someone who has been practicing physical polyamory for years. Write down a few things you definitely want to get out: you’re tired of listening to your partner complain about how the two of you are not married, you’re equally tired of feeling it’s because you haven’t done or said something, and you also hear yourself talking about things you no longer want to (such as your feelings about her long hours away from the relationship).
Remember your partner won’t be perfect either, and expecting that will only lead to anger and sadness.