Have you found yourself asking, "What is an open relationship" or "Are we in a open relationship?" If so, hopefully it isn't because you agreed to such a relationship without understanding what it really means.

If you and your partner want to have a successful relationship (open or not), it's absolutely critical to have clarity on your expectations of each other. This is rarely more important than when committing to a non-traditional arrangement.

Okay...back to the question. What is an open relationship? The complicated thing is that the term has different meanings to different people, so take a look at some of these categories and come to a finite agreement with your partner on some open relationship rules.

Completely Unbounded

For some people, an open relationship means absolutely no boundaries. It means that neither partner is committed to anything with the other. Like a single person, both partners are free to do whatever without disclosing it to the person they're in a open relationship with. There are no real expectations or open relationship rules in this situation. You may see each other regularly or not, have intimacy or not, date other people or not. One might even argue that this type of arrangement is not a relationship at all; however, it is what works for some people who desire companionship and/or intimacy without any obligations.

Unbounded but Disclosed

Some people seek the freedom of these relationship; however, they draw the line at secrecy. For example, in a open relationship with disclosure as the only boundary, both partners know about each others' additional relationships. The only expectation is to always keep communication lines open and to keep one another in the loop.

This type of open relationship means no time, effort, dating or romance requirements. The person you share this arrangement with may have another person as his or her primary partner, leaving little room for further restrictions. Even if you are the primary partner in an open relationship like this, you may get far less attention than someone else.

Bounded and Ranked

So, what is an open relationship with rank? In most cases, a ranked open relationship means that there is an agreed upon expectation of who comes first, second, third and so on. A typical example of this scenario is when a wife knows that her husband has an extramarital relationship, but she demands to be his number 1. The mistress accepts her #2 position and any other extramarital affairs fall somewhere else on the scale of importance. In a open relationship like this, plans with the girlfriend or boyfriend may be cancelled if the spouse's needs conflict. If it's a holiday, the non-primary partner may be put on hold until the next day. Disclosure may or may not be included in these relationships. For example, if the boyfriend knows about a woman's husband but the husband doesn't know about the boyfriend.

One Sided Open

If you're faithful to a partner who wants to be in a open relationship, you have a typical example of a one sided open relationship. In these scenarios, only one partner is free to do what he or she pleases without expectations or consequences.

For example, an older man may agree that his much younger girlfriend can date other people until she is ready to settle down and get married. A relationship like this may or may not include full disclosure. In some cases, the faithful partner accepts that there will be outside relationships but doesn't want to discuss it at all.


One of the more controversial types of open relationships is the swinger lifestyle. In a open relationship that includes couples dating others, there is often a focus on "togetherness" in the affairs.

In some cases, the couple dates other couples; however, there are many cases where the couple adds a single third party to the relationship. The primary relationship comes first, but both partners are open to fully disclosed outside relationships. When this is strictly sexual, a third (or fourth or fifth or whatever) person may simply be included on occasion.

Swinging exists in a variety of other forms as well. In some cases, there may be a multitude of people committed to openly sharing each other while forsaking all outside parties.

Open Committed

The most important reason to ask your partner "What is a open relationship to you," is that for some people the term simply means keeping communication lines open.

It doesn't have anything to do with having outside relationships or openly accepting affairs. It just means to speak openly with each other about the evolution of the relationship. Sometimes, this type of open relationship means that there are no lifetime promises of commitment; rather two people agree to go with the flow and see what happens.

The most important thing to remember when asking your partner, "What is a open relationship?" is that specifics are vital. You need to clearly define the open relationship rules and ask questions until you achieve 100% clarity.

Open relationships are not for everyone, but neither is anything else in the world. Make sure to weigh the decision against your personal value system before agreeing to it; and make arrangements to revisit the subject regularly in case it's not working.

Just remember, don't wait too late to reach out for help if fixing your relationship is more than you and your partner can handle. Visit http://relationshipsaga.com for more information

Author's Bio: 

Nea is the author of the relationship advice site, Relationship Saga. She offers amazing tips to stop divorce, save your relationship, and make love last.