It is easy to assume that they both mean the same thing because they both allow non-exclusivity. However, a polyamorous relationship is defined by love and emotions whereas an open relationship is often defined by sex. Couples in a poly relationship agree to be romantically involved with other people.
They agree to share their love with others mostly because they have the ability to love more than one person at a time. It is not just about the sex, it is about love or a romantic emotional connection. This doesn’t say the same for an open relationship, where emotions may not necessarily be involved.
A polyamorous relationship is also not the same as a platonic relationship that is devoid of a sexual element. The former may involve sex while the latter typically doesn’t involve sex and is mostly built on pure, unfiltered friendship.
IS OPEN RELATIONSHIP GOOD FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
There is no clear-cut answer for this, but a couple of studies seem to believe that open relationships affect mental health and psychological well-being positively. For starters it is not a toxic relationship, neither is it an abusive relationship that gives room for violence or immense psychological damage. It is built on mutual consent and open communication.
Relationships are basically founded on the tentacles of emotional and psychological fulfillment, but negative factors like infidelity and selfish interest can easily distort the original purpose of a relationship. This is evident in a karmic relationship, where one partner is only invested in their own needs and has no care or respect for the psychological or emotional well-being of their supposed significant other. This is also true of a co-dependent relationship and other toxic relationships that defy the original purpose of a relationship.
An open relationship seeks to narrow down the possibilities of a “loving relationship going south” by aiming to minimize commitment and trust issues. You could say people in an open relationship are selfish with their emotional and psychological needs and choose to guard it jealously by not setting themselves up for emotional turmoil, which can negatively affect mental health. In fact, one study found that older people in consensual non-monogamous relationships reported better health and happiness as compared to those in monogamous relationships.
The study researchers conducted an online survey and got 502 responses from US residents aged 55 and above who practice consensually non-exclusive sexual relationships. The study findings revealed that this group of people reported higher sexual frequency, better health, more happiness, and consistent HIV testing compared to the non-monogamous sample. However, the authors noted that factors that determine robust health and happiness differ among the two groups of people.
Another study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, also found that people in open relationships experience relationship satisfaction, happiness, and psychological well-being equally as those in exclusive relationships.
The study which was carried out by researchers from the University of Guelph surveyed 200 people in exclusive relationships and more than 140 people in consensually non-monogamous relationships. Study participants were asked questions pertaining to; relationship satisfaction, thoughts of separation, and general level of happiness and communication.
Answers revealed that people in non-exclusive relationships were just as happy and satisfied with their primary partners as those in non-monogamous relationships. The study also pointed out that the most important basis for relationship satisfaction is sexual motivation and not relationship structure. On the whole, the researchers believe that our relationship structure does not indicate how happy and satisfied we are in a relationship.
HOW DOES AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP WORK
Yes, an open relationship might be considered good for mental health and psychological well-being, but this largely depends on the mindset of the individuals involved and how effective the communication lines are. One study mentioned that a healthy relationship is built on consent, comfort, and communication, which they call the triple C.
However, the study emphasized that communication is even more critical and imperative for those in open relationships as the success of the relationship wholly depends on how they are able to communicate the terms of their agreement without sentiments and misunderstandings. (They call it open for a reason).
It is not uncommon for jealousy to spring up in an open relationship, so there is the need to protect against potential jealousy and other problems like ill-perceived societal judgment. These can negatively impact mental health. Guarding against societal stigma is important because despite it’s accumulating prevalence, the world is yet to fully accept non-monogamous relationships and often consider it immoral.
Before delving into an open relationship, it behooves the intending non-monogamous couple to ascertain they are on the same page. There has to be a solid reason for choosing to be non-exclusive from both sides. Questions like “will you honestly get upset if I see other people or have sex with other people” should be asked.
It is recommended that deep feelings of emotional attachment should not be involved in an open relationship. If there is the slightest possibility of developing emotional attachment along the course of the relationship, the idea should be thrashed to avoid potential problems.
To wrap it all, an open relationship might not seem like “Relationship goals” but it does have its perks. It is also more likely to succeed when it is built on the foundations of consent, honest communication, and comfort.