An open relationship is one in which one or both individuals agree to be romantically involved with people outside of the relationship.

A lot of times when people in relationships have feelings of longing, discontent, and loneliness, they often end their relationship. However, it could be that they just want an open relationship instead. Sometimes when needs from a primary relationship do not entirely fulfil a partner, they might look for a secondary relationship to meet those feelings elsewhere. It’s not that they don’t want the primary relationship, it’s simply because it might not be enough for them, and they need secondary attachments.

Recognising what kind of relationship you want

It’s always best to identify what sort of relationship you’re looking for before you meet anyone. When what you and your partner are looking for does not overlap, you may want to be swayed by your partner in an attempt to keep the relationship together. Often people agree to the other person’s wishes before realising it’s not what they want.

How to ask for what you want

We find it more difficult to ask for what we want if we think it will cause a rift or breakdown in a friendship or relationship. However, relationships aren’t workable if people want different things. It’s always best to be open about your needs and to have an honest conversation with your partner about what you’re experiencing and how you can work together to move forward.

Having these conversations might not be easy. Disagreements don’t have to end up in a screaming match, but it takes effort on both sides. If you’re tempted to shout, ask yourself what this strong feeling is and how you can address it without landing it on someone else. Conversely, if you’re on the receiving end, ask them what is happening as calmly as you can.

“Keep in mind that the relationship style you think you want may not actually be good for you. For example, you might think a noncommittal relationship is what you want because you find it hard to trust people, when actually you will need to work on trust issues in general and find someone you trust to have a committed relationship with.”

Emma Cullinan, BACP therapist

When to see a therapist  

It’s a good time to seek therapy when you have feelings of something being missing. And when you feel that you’re adapting yourself in ways that are not true to who you are to keep a relationship going.

Also, it’s good to seek a therapist early and not once you’ve had an affair. This is because by this point the primary relationship is so threatened and damaged that it will be much harder to maintain.