More people are becoming aware of non-monogamous relationships every year. There are new documentaries and programs about open relationships and new characters in movies and on TV who have multiple partners.
Most of the time, people assume that an open relationship will involve everyone in that relationship having or pursuing multiple partners. But what happens if one person prefers to remain monogamous?
Is it possible for a one sided open marriage to work? What is important for you to know if you or your partner is interested in a one sided open relationship?
In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about one sided open relationships, including their types, reasons for having them, challenges you might face, how to tell if a one-sided open relationship is right for you, and where to start.
(This article is a guest post by Sarah Martin of DignifiedHedonist.com)
What is a One Sided Open Relationship?
A one sided open relationship is a relationship between two people where one person has multiple romantic or sexual partners and the other person does not. One sided open relationships can also be referred to as mono-poly relationships, if the person with multiple partners identifies as polyamorous.
One sided open relationships can be consensual or non-consensual.
A non-consensual one sided open relationship is where one person is seeing multiple partners and the other person hasn’t agreed to an open relationship. In fact, they may not even know their partner is seeing other people. This type of relationship is not ethical and exposes the monogamous partner to physical and emotional risks.
A consensual one sided open relationship is where both partners have agreed that one of them will be seeing other people. For a one sided open relationship to be consensual, both partners need to be informed and reach an agreement freely without pressure.
This guide focuses on consensual one sided open relationships and marriages only. If you suspect your partner is seeing other people without your consent, that is a betrayal of trust. If you’re seeing other people and your partner doesn’t know about it, this guide is not going to help you.
Types of One Sided Open Relationships
#1 Mono/Poly Open relationship
A mono/poly open relationship is where one person identifies as monogamous while the other person identifies as polyamorous. This mix of relationship orientations is navigated through negotiation and agreement.
Generally, in a mono/poly relationship, the monogamous partner knows their metamours (their partner’s other partners) and may or may not spend time with them socially. In a mono/poly relationship, the polyamorous partner’s other relationships can involve emotional or sexual intimacy.
Both partners in a mono/poly relationship may participate in meetups and communities with a focus on polyamory, as polyamorous relating plays a role in their dynamic as a couple, even when only one partner is polyamorous.
#2 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell relationship
A one sided open relationship can take the form of a don’t ask, don’t tell relationship. In don’t ask, don’t tell, the monogamous person knows that their partner is seeing other people and has agreed they will not ask about the other partners. In return, the monogamous person expects not to be told any information about these other relationships.
Don’t ask, don’t tell relationships exist on a spectrum – sometimes, the monogamous person wants to know when their partner has started dating someone else or certain specific details, whereas other times they do not want to discuss the other relationships at all.
#3 Cuckold or Cuckquean relationship
In a consensual cuckold or cuckquean relationship, the person who does not have other partners is turned on by the idea or experience of their partner having sex with other people. In such a relationship, the person who does not have other partners is referred to as a cuckold if they identify as a man or a cuckquean if they identify as a woman.
Usually, the person who does have other partners has primarily sexual relationships or friendships with those partners. Sometimes, the cuckold or cuckquean watches their partner have sex with others, but this is not a requirement for this type of relationship.
#4 Play Partner Relationship
Some one sided open relationships exist to allow one person to engage in specific sexual or sensual activities that the other person does not want to engage in. The people they participate in these activities with are known as play partners.
Play Partner relationships can focus on BDSM, kink, and fetish, as well as more sensual activities like cuddle and massage. A person’s play partners tend to pursue these relationships in order to enjoy these specific activities, and that may be the entirety of the relationship, though Play Partners can also be close friends or emotionally intimate partners.
#5 Work-Related relationship
In couples where one partner is a sex worker and the other is not, there can be a one sided open relationship that is open for work purposes only. In this kind of relationship, both partners are monogamous with each other outside of the people that the sex worker sees as clients. This can include sex workers who work with clients in person, as well as sex workers who see clients remotely, including cam work or fan supported media like Only Fans.
Reasons for One Sided Open Relationships
Every relationship is unique, and one sided open relationships are no different. Each person brings their own desires for partnership to the relationship and negotiates an agreement that works for them. That said, there are a number of common reasons why couples create consensual one sided open relationships.
#1 Sexual Orientation
One sided open relationships are very common where one person is asexual and the other is not. An asexual person doesn’t experience sexual desire. Agreeing on a one sided open relationship can allow the couple to meet everyone’s needs and desires without having to end the relationship.
#2 Different Levels of Desire
Many couples experience different levels of desire where one person wants sex more frequently than the other person. For some couples, a one sided open relationship helps meet the higher desire partner’s want for more frequent sex while also removing pressure from the lower desire partner. When mutually agreed and done with care, one sided open relationships that address a desire imbalance can be a huge relief for both parties.
Sometimes a person in a monogamous relationship discovers they identify as polyamorous. In some cases, when they share this realization their partner accepts the change and wants to continue the relationship.
Other times, a monogamous person might meet a non-monogamous person and know from the beginning that they have other partners and accept this.
In both cases, the one sided open relationship is formed because it just makes sense to everyone involved. Acceptance is an increasingly common reason for one sided open relationships as non-monogamy becomes more widely accepted in society.
#4 Specific Needs
Some couples pursue one sided open relationships because one person has an interest or desire that they want to explore and the other person doesn’t want to participate but is supportive of their partner’s exploration.
#5 Illness or Disability
One sided open marriages are sometimes negotiated when one person becomes ill or has a disability that prevents them from being able to participate in sex and where they support their partner having sex with others.
All relationships face challenges over time, and one sided open relationships are no different. In addition to the usual ups and downs, one sided open relationships come with their own unique difficulties.
Jealousy is a normal emotional experience in most non-monogamous relationships. When you consciously enter into an open relationship of any kind, you must accept that jealousy comes with the territory and commit to working with it.
Exploring jealousy and what it means for you, while uncomfortable, can be a powerful pathway to personal growth. Processing emotions is almost always easier when you have the support of a therapist. If non-monogamy is new for you, working with a therapist is one of the best investments you can make for your joy and pleasure.
Good experiences of non-monogamy can be boiled down to one simple thing: the communication skills of everyone involved. Just because it’s simple, though, doesn’t make it easy.
When you decide to create a one sided open relationship with your partner, you must be prepared to invest time and energy improving your communication skills. You will be having more challenging conversations than you’re used to about topics that most people struggle to talk about.
You both need to be able to authentically express your needs, desires, and feelings in an empowered way. It takes time to build these communication muscles!
Sexuality and relationships don’t exist in a bubble. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of stigma about non-monogamy generally, and one sided open relationships specifically. You will need to consider whether or not you disclose your relationship status to your friends, family, and colleagues.
Stigma is a challenge faced by all sexual minorities. Connecting with non-monogamous and sex positive communities is one way to receive support.
Empathy is a skill. Most people have an average ability to empathize: to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. To have a thriving one sided open relationship where everyone feels cared for and seen, you have got to up your empathy!
A lot of people go wrong when they get started with non-monogamy because they forget that other people outside of the couple relationship are people.
One common example is when a couple in a one sided open relationship agrees to the monogamous partner having “veto power” – the ability to say no to a specific partner choice and force the relationship to end at any time.
A veto completely disregards the feelings of the partner from outside of the couple, unless they have explicitly agreed to it, too.
Another common example is when the non-monogamous partner gets caught up in the excitement of a new relationship and begins to give less time and attention to the monogamous partner. To care well for the feelings of everyone involved, all parties to a one sided open relationship must commit to exercising empathy.
#5 Interpersonal Conflict
Even if you and your partner have done a fantastic job negotiating a one sided open relationship, no one likes everyone. It’s challenging when you don’t like someone your partner starts dating. It can be tempting to try and shut down your partner’s other relationships when you don’t personally like the people they have chosen. This almost always backfires.
Non-monogamy is an exercise in distinguishing what you can control – your own behaviours – from what you cannot control – your partner’s behaviors. When conflict arises, it can be helpful to enlist a therapist, counsellor, or coach to facilitate conversations.
#6 Sexuality Education
Unfortunately, most people did not receive comprehensive sexuality education in school. If you’re considering a one sided open relationship, you need to increase your knowledge about safer sex.
When one of you in the couple has multiple sex partners at the same time, you need to make agreements about:
- What kind of barrier protection is used
- How regularly you will get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- What you will do to prevent unwanted pregnancy
- What will happen if an unwanted pregnancy occurs
- How you will communicate if something happens – if a condom breaks or if someone receives an STI diagnosis, for example.
To be able to make these decisions from an informed place, you need to know about common STIs, how they are transmitted, what kinds of tests accurately detect STIs, and how effective different kinds of barrier protection are.
Dating is challenging for almost everyone. Dating when you are in a one sided open relationship is doubly so, especially when you’re new to non-monogamy.
Just because your monogamous partner is on board with you seeing other people doesn’t make meeting those other people easy! Plus, you need to be able to communicate with new potential partners about your relationship agreements. You need to be open and upfront about your status as a non-monogamous person. For some people, non-monogamy is a deal breaker. This can be frustrating and painful to encounter.
What this means is that you need to adjust your approach to dating, especially if your past relationships have all been exclusive to one other person. You need to adopt an approach of direct communication, which can feel daunting if you’re used to being more subtle.
You don’t have to do this alone – you can work with a competent, sex positive dating coach that specializes in helping non-monogamous people navigate the dating landscape. Thankfully, in the 21st century, there are options for help and support!
Is a One Sided Open Relationship for You?
Entering a one sided open relationship is a decision that will impact on many areas of your life. It is important to spend time considering if this path is really for you before you speak with your partner or start meeting new people.
Here are 4 questions that will help you decide:
#1 What happens if your partner says no?
You need to be prepared for a number of possible outcomes that can stem from choosing to open your relationship, including what happens if your partner says no. Your partner may not want to open the relationship.
For a non-monogamous relationship to be ethical, you need to have the consent of everyone involved. This means that making your partner agree isn’t an option.
Think in advance about what it would mean for you if your partner says no. Would that mean needing to end your relationship? Would that mean you would decide against pursuing non-monogamy?
#2 Are you ready to commit to the personal growth required to have a non-monogamous relationship?
A successful one sided open relationship requires a willingness to learn and grow as a person. You will need to invest time and energy in building practical skills and confronting difficult emotions.
On your journey, you will unearth your own deeply held, unconscious values, attitudes, and beliefs. You may not like what you discover. This process is uncomfortable at times for everyone.
What’s more, you’re unlikely to receive kudos from your friends and family for going through this transformative process because of the stigma of non-monogamy. It can feel frustrating to not have your efforts recognized and applauded by others. Spend time thinking about if this is something you are ready and willing to take on..
#3 What do you hope to experience by opening your relationship?
You need clarity about what you want from non-monogamy so that you are able to communicate clearly with your current partner and any future partners you may have.
You cannot rely on other people to tell you what you want – there isn’t a social script to follow for creating non-monogamous relationships. For many people, it can be difficult to articulate desire in the absence of a model to follow.
Spend some time getting in touch with your desires. What do you look forward to experiencing with a partner? What kind of relationships are you available for right now? Are you looking for sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, or both with new partners?
#4 How will you stay connected to your monogamous partner?
Often the greatest challenge to a one sided open relationship occurs when you begin to date someone new and it goes well. Remembering to prioritize your existing partner becomes challenging when you are head over heels for someone new unless you are deliberate and intentional about it.
What has the honeymoon period of relationships been like for you in the past? What behaviors do you engage in during a new, hot relationship – do you text them all day long? Daydream about them? Get very little sleep? What else?
Now, considering these behaviors, how do you imagine they could impact your monogamous partner? Would you need to forego any of these behaviors and, if so, would you be willing to? If you are willing to, what will you need to do to prioritize regular time that you will dedicate fully to your current partner?
Where to Start
If you have decided that a one-sided open relationship could be for you, it can be confusing to know where to begin. That’s normal! It’s not like there is a class offered on non-monogamy in high school.
The best thing to do is to take it slow and steady. You can follow these 5 steps to get started:
#1 Talk to Your Partner
It is always better to begin the conversation about non-monogamy or opening up a relationship out of a place of genuine desire for this form of relating, when you don’t have a specific person that you’re interested in pursuing outside of your relationship.
As soon as you become clear that you would like to pursue non-monogamy, arrange a time with your partner to sit down and talk about it, when you won’t be interrupted.
Your partner may say yes. They may say no. Or, your partner may be unsure, needing more time to think about it, more information, or other support. Consider working with a couples therapist who is supportive of non-monogamous relationships to help you navigate this negotiation.
Remember, you’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about this potential change to your relationship, but this may be the first time your partner has even considered it. It is normal for them to need time to process. When you have this conversation, you’re opening an ongoing dialogue, not having a one and done chat.
#2 Get Educated
Many people have a desire for open relationships that is abstract, without knowing the practicalities of managing multiple relationships. The end result is that you risk hurting your future partners through careless mistakes and lack of skill if you don’t spend some time learning about non-monogamy first.
The top skills you need for thriving multiple relationships are:
- Time management
There are several excellent books, YouTube channels, podcasts, and other resources that offer perspective and guidance on non-monogamy.
Invest time on an ongoing basis to expand your knowledge and continually build your relationship skills.
#3 Find Support
As much as we like to believe we’re self-sufficient, everyone needs the support of a community in life. If your current community does not include any non-monogamous people, it’s time to expand your network!
Find a non-monogamous or polyamorous support group. There may be meetup groups local to you and, if not, virtual support groups are available.
Additionally, seek professional support for your own individual well being. If you’ve never worked with a therapist before, now is the perfect time to start!
#4 Refresh Your Dating Profile
Once you’re ready to put yourself out there, you need to create a dating profile or refresh your old one. While it is possible to meet people offline, online dating will be the best bet for the majority of people looking for non-monogamous relationships.
Create a dating profile that attracts people who are an excellent match. The clearer your profile is, the easier it will be to find the people you are looking for.
Be brave and share directly about what you want and what you are looking for. Be upfront about non-monogamy and how it works for you. Allow your personality into what you write. Select photographs that are current and flattering – have a friend take a couple of good pictures of you and get rid of the bathroom mirror selfies!
#5 Start Meeting People
Once you’ve connected with some people online, the next step is to meet up!
You can meet up in person or virtually – video first dates became popular in 2020 as a way to check whether there was enough mutual interest before meeting up in person. Either way, know what kinds of meetings you are up for, and then ask!
You’re embarking on a path that many people never go down. Even if it’s not easy at times, one sided open relationships done with compassion and care for everyone involved can be a good way to take your relationship to the next level.
Sarah Martin is a Dating Coach who helps high desire people create the relationships of their dreams, from connected and joyful hookups through to passionate and loving marriages. You can learn more on her website Dignified Hedonist.