When in an open relationship, the agreement between you and your primary partner might simply be that you can have other sexual partners. This might be because both parties are interested in greater sexual variety. Whatever the reason, what is clear is that the new partners who are involved are not extra romantic partners. Which is to say, these other partners are not people you are committed to. Rather, they are simply in your life for sexual variety.
So you go on with this and you start to have sex with other people. All is going well. The new variety in your sexual life is pleasing both you and your primary partner. In fact, it has even improved your direct sexual life with your primary partner.
Maybe one day you are out at a bar or at the gym and you see someone you’d like to hook-up with. You chat them up and you end up going on a date. Say you end up having sex with them and now they’re a new frequent sexual partner. Slowly but surely though, you notice something more is happening. You are developing romantic feelings for this new person. You’ve now broken the code that you have made with your primary partner. What should you do in this situation? You’re probably feeling very conflicted and confused. It isn’t obvious what you should do.
Firstly, it must be said that there isn’t one answer to that question, as there are many ways one can go about resolving this. The attempt here will be to enumerate such resolutions.
Firstly, don’t make any hasty moves. You’re now in the domain of infidelity and false steps will only make things worse. Which is to say, you must step back from what you are doing in this situation and evaluate what exactly is going on. Continued action without any thought will inevitably lead you to make moves that you will end up regretting. Next, you should probably admit to your primary partner what is going on. If they are left in the dark about it, only bad things will arise as a result, like mistrust and infidelity. What happens will be largely dictated by the compromise made by your conversation with your primary partner about it. One option might be to open up the relationship to other romantic partners. This would be an easy fix. However, not everyone will be open to this idea. In fact, it is quite possible that your primary partner’s reaction to this idea would be even more anger and mistrust. And on the occasion that this is not an option you will likely be given a compromise: either your primary partner or the person who you are getting romantically involved with. This, of course, will be a very difficult decision to make.
Now, the decision you end up making under such a compromise is totally on you and how you are feeling. One thing, however, is clear: do not follow your gut. Rather, follow the facts. Maybe this happened for a reason. Is there something missing in your relationship with your primary partner which you are trying to get out of this secondary partner? Would you rather try to resolve things with your primary partner or move on to someone new? Again, this is totally up to you, but if your primary partner is willing to work things out and is demonstrating that whatever gap is in the relationship, they will put in an effort to fill, it would be ethical to let go of the secondary partner you are developing feelings for. In this instance, it is very important for you to be dealing with reality. Let your reason guide you through this process, not your heated emotions. Otherwise, you may just end up making the wrong decision out of the heat of the moment.
Maybe things have gotten so bad with your primary partner that you simply needed romantic solace elsewhere. Or, your primary partner might be so broken up about your developing feelings for someone else that they might decide to break up with you. In this case, it might be best actually to break up with your primary partner and tell your secondary partner who you have feelings for that you need time and space. The last thing you want to do is leave a relationship due to, essentially, infidelity, only to go on to a new relationship and treat your new primary partner like a rebound. This would be going from one unethical relationship practice to another, and you do not want to start a vicious cycle of acting toxically in relationships. It was one thing to emotionally cheat with someone, but to then go on to treat the person you cheated on with as an emotional crutch is unfair. If this potential new primary partner is truly worth it, they will understand your need for time and space. In a situation like this, you need to learn more about yourself in order to move on to new relationships, otherwise, you run the risk of repeating your previous mistakes in such new relationships.
Given all of this, you need to essentially trust your own intuitions. Generally speaking, your intuitions must also be guided by deliberate thought regarding the facts of the matter. In a complex situation like this, the moment you begin questioning your intuitions and the facts is the moment you run into the perpetual cycle of not knowing what to do. Simply ask yourself what you need to do, why you need to do it, and do it. One thing that might be helpful is to talk to a friend or a therapist and tell them what you intend on doing. Holding yourself accountable to others might make it easier for you to actually go out and act on your intuitions. Your best option, moreover, is to not overthink it. Simply inform yourself about everything that has happened --do not delude yourself or give in to denial-- and follow whatever intuitions follow.