What Is The Difference Between Polyamorous Couples And Couples In Open Relationships?

By: Robert Porter

Updated November 17, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lisa Childers, LCSW

The way that people see relationships is starting to change. Many people are beginning to find out that monogamous relationships aren't the right fit for what they want. Many of these people turn to polyamory as a way to satisfy what they're looking for inside of a relationship. If you're looking into what these relationships are all about out of curiosity, then you might be curious about whether they're the same as open-type relationships. Once you dig into the details, you'll find that poly relationships have some similarities to open-type relationships but aren't the same.

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Understanding Open and Poly Relationships

Both relationship types share some significant similarities. The first thing that you should know is that both poly relationships and open-type relationships are consensual non-monogamy. It's possible that a poly relationship can also be like an open relationship, but there are some critical distinctions between the two. Once you learn what they are, everything will make perfect sense.

Poly Relationships

Polyamory is a relationship where one or both partners wants to seek love outside of the confines of their relationship with each other. They want to have more than one partner that they will be committed to at a time. This isn't merely about seeking out sex with other people. It is about building genuine bonds with another person and maintaining multiple loving relationships at once.

Some poly relationships involve one member of the relationship-seeking out multiple partners. Others will include both parties seeking out multiple partners. It's even possible that the two partners might have intimate relationships with the same people, depending on the sexuality of the people involved. Some partners fall in love with a polyamorous individual and don't feel a need to seek out other partners themselves. It really just depends on the individual and what they want.

Open Type Relationships

An open relationship is different because it is merely acknowledging that one or both people want to seek out external sexual relationships. This means that one or both relationship members might want to date other people, and the primary motivation will be sex. Some people see open-type relationships as a way to stay sexually satisfied while still being able to invest in their main partner emotionally. Expectations can differ when it comes to open-type relationships, but you can consider them to be more sex-focused by definition.

How this type of relationship will function is really up to the individuals in the relationship to decide. Some couples are perfectly comfortable discussing their sex lives together. Other couples will prefer to have their sexual exploits outside of the relationship kept a secret. It depends on whether or not knowing what your partner is doing will upset you or make you feel jealous. This is something that the couple should discuss before initiating the new relationship being open rules.

Why Is This Appealing To Certain People?

These types of relationships are appealing to some people because they're less restrictive than monogamy. Some people feel like monogamy keeps them from being able to follow their hearts properly. If you have a tough time remaining loyal inside of a monogamous type of relationship, then something like polyamory or a relationship that is open might appeal to you. This doesn't mean that polyamorous individuals are disloyal, though.

People who enter into a non-monogamous relationship will still show their primary partner love and loyalty. It's different than most people who only have experience inside of monogamous relationships would expect. These types of relationships allow people to explore their feelings outside of just being restricted to one person. This isn't the type of relationship that will work for everyone, but neither is monogamy. It comes down to whether you want to seek love or sex with multiple partners or if one person is enough for you.

Some people feel that entering into an open relationship or a poly relationship adds excitement to their lives. You might feel like your traditional relationship is becoming stale after a certain point in time. Being able to get to know someone new can change things up. It doesn't have to diminish your love for your original partner.

You might even find that you love one person in a completely different way than you love someone else. Many people have said that being in a non-monogamous relationship has taught them a lot about themselves. If this sounds appealing to you and you have a desire to connect with multiple partners, then you might want to give it a shot. It will take honest communication with your partner to ensure that you both feel safe and loved.

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Figuring Out Your Expectations

Figuring out your expectations is a vital part of the process. You see, you can't just enter into a new type of relationship without discussing the details first. You're going to run the risk of hurting your initial partner, and you don't want them to become jealous or threatened. Let's take a look at how to open-type relationships work so that you can understand this further.

In the open types of relationships, many people will be purely seeking out others for sex. Your partner might be comfortable with the idea of you sleeping with other men or women, but they might not be pleased about you genuinely connecting with them on an emotional level. Your main partner might prefer for some things to be between you two. This could mean that your partner wants you to keep things purely sexual with others you might meet.

Even couples set certain boundaries to ensure that they're comfortable with what is going on. Your boyfriend or girlfriend might request that you avoid performing particular sex acts with other people. Either way, you want to ensure that your expectations are delivered to your partner. They should understand what you're doing and give you their consent if you genuinely want to be in an honest relationship.

Poly relationships need to lay out their expectations, too. Generally, poly relationships are going to be more open to finding true love with multiple partners. To have a successful poly relationship, it will be essential to let go of jealous preconceptions. Those in poly relationships need to feel confident that their bond with their partner is stable and that loving someone else isn't going to break that in any way.

The Downsides Of These Relationships

Many parts of these relationships are going to sound appealing. If you think monogamy is just not right for you, then you might jump at the opportunity for a relationship that is open or a poly relationship. Before you make your final decision, you should be aware that there are some downsides to these relationships. Perhaps the biggest problem is the social stigma that surrounds polyamory.

There are a large number of people and religious groups that look down on polyamory. Some even call polyamory sinful and see it as a morally reprehensible lifestyle. If you're going to go down this route, you'll need to make peace with the fact that many people will vilify you for it. It might also complicate certain things like marriage if you decided to go that route. Marrying multiple people is not legal in the United States. These relationships can even complicate things when it comes to child custody battles if you wind up breaking up with someone.

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Those in open-type relationships will want to be especially vigilant about practicing safe sex, too. Being with multiple partners does increase the risk of contracting an STD. You don't want to be responsible for transmitting the disease to your partner, so it will be crucial to practice safe sex every time. You also might want to find regular partners who are safe instead of meeting new people all the time. This can somewhat lessen your risk factors if you find people that you can trust.

The truth is that American society isn't set up to be poly-relationship friendly. Those in open-type relationships will have an easier time but will likely want to keep things a secret. Some complications can make it tough to live this lifestyle. Even so, it's something that many people find to be very worthwhile.

Couples Counseling is There For You

If you're having problems with transitioning your relationship into an open relationship or a poly relationship, then you should consider seeking out help. Online couples counseling is a great way to work through any issues that you have. These counselors will help you to address your concerns healthily. You'll be able to communicate with your partner and will also be able to learn how to work on overcoming any jealous feelings that are holding you back.

Your love for your partner can help you to transition into this new lifestyle choice. You don't have to face this situation alone either. The dedicated counselors will be ready to speak to you at any time that you need help. Just contact the online therapists, and they will be prepared to chat about anything you need help with. You can receive individual counseling, or you can choose to attend therapy sessions as a couple exclusively.


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