Long Distance Open Relationships – Can They Work?

So…you’re in a great open relationship. You and your primary partner have great sex, get along, have fun, talk, support each other, and are on the same page in life. And all of a sudden…someone has to move. Far away. What to do? Or, perhaps you’re away and you meet a great person. Do you pursue contact even if you don’t visit that city regularly? Is it worth it, when the relationship’s just…open? What’s the benefit of the concept of a relationship that is long-distance if I am talking about an open relationship (unless it’s polyamory?)

It’s three questions, really. It’s the long-distance component, the open relationship component, and the interaction of the two. To address the long-distance issue, which has been mainly studied on monogamous couples, most relationships which are long-distance even for years end within a short period (months) when the couples move close to each other. However, couples engaged in a long-distance relationship have the tendency to value their time. They emotionally connect more and spend less time arguing or discussing petty issues. They do report that the number one problem is no way to compensate for missing physical touch or sex.

While one can’t fix the missing physical aspect and assuming that you have answered the question of whether an open relationship, generally, is a good idea for you, the issue of whether an open relationship is different long distance arises. The idea of an open relationship may be more common or comfortable when we talk about long-distance (i.e., let’s keep an open mind if I meet someone if you meet someone). For those who have had the good fortune to experience going away for secondary education, it brings to mind graduating from high school and moving to college, leaving a boyfriend or girlfriend, and wanting to experience what it is like to date someone from another place. This alone can bring a new twist to an open relationship as an adult- the concept of bringing in a partner with traits and a background (and possibly a nationality) that both you and your primary partner do not have. It can open a brand new world to both of you, and possibly (depending on the rules that you set) a new place to visit. Likewise, your new tertiary partner may find a new lifetime (or at least, long-term) passion through you and your primary partner.

The risk with solely focusing on long-distance partnerships for partners outside of your primary relationship is that it may foster any desire to avoid following set rules and/or boundaries. You might want to consider more regular check-ins with your partner about the rules, or how you both could prevent that phenomenon. Further, if the two of you have children, it may cause feelings of unspoken shame or worry when you have discussed the open nature of your relationship, but a tertiary partner is rarely seen.

The major difference between a monogamous long-distance relationship and an open long-distance relationship, for now, seems to be that there is less pressure on people in open long-distance relationships to relocate closer to each other.

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