Open relationships can be fulfilling. But they’re often used as a last-ditch effort to save a failing relationship, an effort that works only in the short-term. For open relationships to work, you need to go into them as part of the relationship from the start or as an addition to an already-strong relationship.
Many people don’t understand how open relationships work (or what is an open relationship), and they can be quite complicated. Open relationships happen when you and your partner have an understanding that you both can have sex with other people — that there’s no need to hide this behavior from your spouse (in the case of an open marriage) or your partner. In fact, if you do hide this information from your partner, you’re not in an open relationship. That’s just cheating.
For open relationships to work, both of you need to put in a lot of effort. Specifying open relationship rules about behaviors and what to do with all the range of feelings you both will have should be done upfront.
Here are 13 open relationship rules and why it’s a good idea to have them:
1. DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
This is the most important of the open relationship rules. As we stated above, open relationships are not a cure for when you’re having trouble in the relationship. You should try to fix your relationship before inviting others to your bedroom. And, above all, you both have to want to do this, or it will never work. People typically get into open relationships when they realize that all their sexual needs can’t be met by just one person but that they wish to remain partners with their spouse or their primary partner. If both partners feel this way, then there is no need to hide what you’re doing.
2. DON’T DIVE RIGHT IN
Test a date before you have sex. This helps you know whether you can go through with an open relationship. If you do, you also need to be honest and upfront with your potential sex partner before you dive right in. Tell them that you are already in a relationship that you do not plan to leave.
Let them know that you find them hot and that you wish to have sex with them but that this will never turn into a romantic relationship. That person deserves to know your rules so they can decide whether they want to do this.
3. AVOID BRINGING IN FRIENDS AND COWORKERS
An open relationship is complicated enough without further confusing things by bringing friends and coworkers into the mix. With friends, you risk losing the friendship by turning the relationship into a sexual one. And with coworkers, you risk losing your job, particularly if you’re in a profession where you are expected to be a role model (such as a teacher) or if you work in a conservative environment. The same is true when finding a third person for a threesome. More on threesomes here.
4. ALWAYS USE CONDOMS
Since you’re having sex outside your relationship, you must assume your sex partner is also having sex with others. This makes it mandatory for you to always practice safe sex. Do so by insisting that your partner wears a condom. If you don’t typically use condoms, check out this guide.
5. GET FREQUENT STI PANELS
Even if you use a condom every time, because you’re having sex with multiple partners,  typically annually, for sexually transmitted infections. It’s possible for you to contract one and have no symptoms. You would want to treat an STI as soon as possible, and you would not want to pass one onto your primary partner, or have him pass one onto you, which is the reason he needs to be tested regularly as well.
6. THIS IS FOR SEX ONLY
The most successful open relationships involve having casual and non-emotional sex with someone else. Having sex with others is purely for physical release. Your emotional relationship is reserved for your main squeeze. Note that this can be easier said than done. Many people can’t have just sex without becoming emotionally involved, so you might need to change sex partners quite a bit. The goal is not to leave your primary relationship but to supplement it.
7. SPENDING THE NIGHT?
You need to discuss ahead of time whether spending the night is acceptable or not. You might make a blanket open relationship rule that neither of you will ever do that. Or, if you wish to be flexible on this, make it an open relationship rule that if you spend the night, you always tell your primary partner.
8. YOUR PRIMARY TAKES PRIORITY
Having sex with others should merely supplement your primary relationship. When you start putting other people ahead of your primary, you’re jeopardizing that relationship. If you’ve made plans with your primary, don’t cancel them because an opportunity with a sex partner comes up. Your primary relationship always needs to come before all outside relationships for this to work.
9. DON’T SHARE DETAILS OF YOUR DATES (SEX)
Knowing that your partner is having sex with other people is one thing, but hearing all the details can be quite another. One open relationship rule that people find is a good one is not to talk about every detail of the date, especially about the sex. The exception to this open relationship rule is if your partner asks you a specific question.
Because this is an open relationship, you should be able to speak openly and not hide anything you do. If he asks, he wants to know, which is different from forcing the details on a partner who would rather not know them.
10. CHECK IN WITH YOUR PARTNER
The rules you’ve made with your partner might change after the open relationship goes from theory to reality. Check in with your partner to see whether he’s still cool with the whole thing and whether the rules you’ve set up are working out or not. If one of you, after trying the open relationship, isn’t happy, you need to stop the arrangement.
It’s a good idea for you both to check in regularly. You also want to make sure that a romantic relationship is not brewing that you don’t know about. That would be a threat to the primary relationship.
11. DON’T TRY TO STOP JEALOUSY
Jealousy is bound to happen. If it does, it’s best if you don’t deny it’s happening. That could just lead to problems. Instead, determine why you’re jealous and have a talk with your partner about it.
12. DON’T BRING A LOVER HOME
Not bringing a lover home is one of the biggest open relationship rules. Usually, people go with this open relationship rule, especially to not sleep in the bed you share with your primary with someone else. But you can also make a rule on the circumstances where this might be okay. For example, your open relationship might involve that you both need to be there.
13. DECIDE WHO YOU CAN TELL
You might wish to tell people that you’re in an open relationship. That way, if your best friend spots you on a date with someone else, she won’t freak out and spend agonizing hours contemplating whether to say something. This rule works best when you and your partner decide whom you’ll tell ahead of time. For example, he might mention this to your parents, and you might not want them to know.
But don’t feel as if you have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. What you and your partner choose to do is nobody else’s business, unless you wish to tell them.
Open marriages and open relationships are not for everyone. If you choose to have one, pick the open relationship rules that work for you just like you would choose monogamous relationship rules. Modify the rules so you and your partner are happy. Not every rule will apply, but having rules for an open relationship means you can breathe easier when meeting and engaging with new partners. And above all, if this is what you and your partner have chosen to do, have fun with it.