How Does a Non-Monogamous Open Relationship Work

polyamorous trio

Open relationships are not a new concept. They have been practiced for decades and grew in popularity in the 1970’s.

However, people are much more open about their relationship status now than they were in the past. In fact some celebrity couples even discuss their open marriages publicly without shame or fear of reprisal.

But, what exactly is an open relationship and how does it work?

Type of Polyamorous Relationships

The formal name of an open relationship is a polyamorous relationship or more simply polyamory. Polyamory means having intimate relationships synchronously with more than one partner unlike monogamy where you have an intimate relationship with only one partner at a time.

Polyamory is a very broad term though. There are different types of relationships that all fall under the “open” umbrella.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common kinds of non-monogamy practices.

True Polyamory

This is an open relationship in its truest sense. All parties involved are transparent about the fact they are involved intimately with others. And, they do not in any way try to restrict the love lives of those they are with.

couple at dusk

This doesn’t mean though that both parties of a pair must be actively intimate with others. One person may have multiple people they date and sleep with while the other does not feel the need to do so. But, the latter individual is aware of and okay with the fact that the former is non-monogamous.

Many monogamous relationships actually begin as polyamory until two people feel such a tight bond they decide to focus all their attention toward each other and end their other relationships.


This is a newer term that has grown into popularity over the last decade. It refers to a couple that is mostly monogamous. But, they do allow for some extracurricular adult play.

Any couple under the monogamish umbrella tends to operate under very strict terms. They are first and foremost dedicated to one another and making their relationship is the prime focus. They also set boundaries on what can occur when spending time with others.

For example, a couple may allow one another to kiss others but do nothing else. Or, they may allow oral sex but not vaginal or anal sex with other partners. Every couple will have their own set of rules, but they all share the similarity that anything outside of the relationship is both transparent and much more limited than what occurs within the relationship.

You can think of monogamish as monogamy plus.


Swinging, or living the alternative lifestyle, is not entirely different from the idea of a monogamish relationship. Couples in a committed relationship agree to a certain amount of adult fun outside of that relationship.

group date

Probably the core difference is that swingers tend to pursue their additional sexual activities together. They may attend special swinger clubs or participate in online forums. Or, they may join parties or cruises that attract other swingers.

That doesn’t mean they do everything together in the same room. But, they tend to be much more engaged with when and where their partner is having fun than someone in a monogamish lifestyle would.

It’s not uncommon for swingers to set up similar boundaries though, such as oral only fun or never fool around with someone else more than once.


Many people assume polygamy would be considered an open relationship. But, that really isn’t true.

Most polygamy is male-centric meaning the male of the group can have multiple wives. You will see this often in religions that allow polygamy. It’s much rarer to see a situation where a woman is allowed to have multiple husbands.

Due to the fact that most polygamous arrangements are one-sided, they aren’t true open relationships. Though a group marriage in which both parties are free to marry others would technically fall under the open relationship umbrella.


It should go without saying, but cheating on a partner does not make that relationship an open one. Open relationships are an agreement between those involved. Cheating is not an agreement.

Those in an open relationship, no matter if it’s completely polyamorous or more akin to swinging, do not deceive one another. There is no room for betrayal in non-monogamous relationships built on love and respect.

Wrap It

To answer the key question, how do open relationships work, the answer is rather simple. They work however the parties involved want them to and they are consensual.

There is no set rule on what you can or cannot do. The most important factors are setting boundaries with your partner or partners and trusting one another to always respect those boundaries.