By Martin Cooper | @MartCoopsCooper


Alright, before we start, there’s something I need to make absolutely clear... crystal. It’s factual and undeniable and here it is. Open relationships can and do work!

Every day, throughout planet Earth, there are hetero, homo and bisexual people in an open relationship living a very ordinary life, going to work in the morning, coming home in the evening, having dinner with their loved ones, watching telly and going to bed again. They’ve probably even managed to make it through the day without begging someone to bend them over the water cooler and roger them, or going down on the bus driver, because the people in open relationships (contrary to the popularised beliefs of many a naysayer) aren’t sex-addicted monsters.

They are just regular folk who have a different opinion on how their relationship should work as opposed to the ‘social norm’. And that’s the point we need to keep reminding ourselves of... it’s their relationship.

Remember when we were campaigning for equal marriage rights for gay, bisexual and trans people in the UK, and we kept asking people to stop judging our relationship choices? Well, this is the same thing. Except that the people who say they “absolutely don’t agree with open relationships” haven’t realised it’s the same thing yet.

And now you’re wondering, ‘who the hell is this person to wander on to the pages of this magazine and start spouting his idiotic relationship dogma’? Well, I’m a broadcaster and journalist from the northwest and I’m in a ten-year long relationship. The only relationship I, or indeed my partner, have ever been in… and (cue shocked faces) we’re open!!!

So now that we’ve established that open relationships can and do work, let me delve a little further into how and why, because like most things in life I believe it to be utterly circumstantial.

I would wager that the vast majority of people who are in open relationships never entered those relationships with openness being the intention. I agree that when you start to get serious with someone you should be doe-eyed and head over heels with them. At least that way you have established that you are interested in each other on a level deeper than the physical acts, and you have a definite compatibility.

But what can happen, for a plethora of different reasons, is that after a few years, things change. You aren’t falling over each other all the day long, you aren’t sat at your desk counting down the hours until you can be in their arms again, and you aren’t having sex twice a night, every night like you were when you first met. All that gets replaced with other things... namely arguing over whose turn it is to wash up, joint bank accounts (don’t do it!!) and trying to convince them that leaving their underpants on the bathroom floor is not regular behaviour for a grown adult.

However, there are also lots of other very important things that develop in a maturing relationship. Companionship, prioritisation, sixth sense, trust and most importantly a love like no other. It isn’t a lustful love, but one of adoration. One that actually hurts you when they are hurting or fills you with joy when they’re happy. It’s that unconditional type that you always heard your parents ramble on about and thought was nonsense. It’s real love.

So there you are, living together and working hard, sleeping and eating, relaxing into things, burping and farting and not feeling embarrassed and you realise that this person who you started out dating is now your best friend. They’re your next of kin, your ‘in case of emergency’, your housemate, your family... your world.

However, the flip side of all this is that human sexuality (and I don’t mean sexual orientation... I mean sexuality) is fluid. Our preferences, needs, desires, fantasies and fetishes are always changing. Some mornings you might wake up and crave a big, hunky man and the next day fancy a skinny twink. You might crave a big curvy lady one moment and then pass a young scally smoking a joint on a street corner and get a semi! And unfortunately, unless you’re going out with Mr Benn on speed (too obscure? Google him) you’re not going to be able to have all of that if you swear by monogamy. You’re going to, I’m afraid, have to make do!

There is an alternative. Cheat! Of course I’m joking, I don’t condone that behaviour at all, but when you are in a situation where you have been with the same partner for a long time and you start to peruse your surroundings a little more, and you come to the realisation that you have itches that need scratching and bottling them up any longer is simply not an option, what do you do?

Now the naysayers out there will say, get out of the relationship. You shouldn’t be in a relationship if you’re not willing to be faithful. Incidentally, these people are usually single with a string of failed relationships behind them who drink wine with their housemates and listen to the Adele album on repeat, wondering why they can’t find anyone. I know because I’ve met them on regular occasions*.

The point is, if you don’t want to hurt your partner by cheating on them (and it’s not as easy as saying “just don’t do it” what the mind wants the mind usually gets) and you don’t want to lose all the amazing parts of the relationship that I’ve outlined above, there is a third option. And that’s the open relationship.

How you get to that stage and begin that conversation is, I’m afraid, a tailor-made thing and there’s certainly not a map you can follow. After all, as we’ve established, everyone’s relationship is unique to them. You may go down the threesome route and see how that feels (can be brilliant/can be dreadful) or be grown ups and have the conversation.

Because, what you are not saying is ‘I don’t find you attractive any more’. What you are saying is “I have a thousand different needs, sexually, and as much as I love you I’m afraid you simply can’t ever tick every single box”.

Now – and this is important – there have to be ground rules and these must be agreed upon mutually. I know couples who always want to know who and where and when their partner is meeting someone else. Personally, that sounds like hell to me. What I don’t know doesn’t hurt me. So as long as it’s on his own time and not when he’s meant to be with me, then he can do what he likes (as long as he does it safely and not in our bed).

There is never any deeper emotion involved with these other people either. They may be friends who you feel comfortable being around and can hold a conversation with, but they will be aware of the situation from the outset. My partner and I are both on Grindr and other sites and both have ‘open relationship’ listed as our relationship status. We aren’t trying to cheat or con anyone! We just want to have a good time.

The thing is, and this is no doubt where I and the naysayers differ, I still very much see my partner and myself as two separate people choosing to share our lives together. We are not ‘other halves’ of ‘one’ person as some of those in relationships choose to present themselves. He does not ‘complete’ me, nor do I him. We are two people, both of whom are very well-rounded and independent individuals. We have a large social circle who we go out with either together or separately. He is free to do as he wishes, as am I. We always use tact and respectful conduct with each other and that serves us very well. We both know where the door is, and if we want to use it, we will. In the meantime we are both happy to keep coming home to each other.

There is no jealousy because I know he loves me and he knows I love him. I have never considered my life with anyone else, and I don’t think I ever will. I have never loved anyone the way I love him and I wouldn’t dream of spending the rest of my days with anyone else. So what if we occasionally shag someone else? Why on earth would that ever have any effect on the very solid life we have built together?

I’m not naïve. I understand entirely why people don’t understand it, but the relationship I have at the moment has been a decade in the making and undoubtedly it will continue to morph into something different year by year and to that we’ll have to be adaptable, but I will wrap up by telling you this:

If I weren’t in an open relationship with him, I wouldn’t be in a relationship with him. Your relationship is yours and your partner’s. Not your families’, friend’s, media’s, society’s or peers’. Yours. Allow yourself to do what works for you and your partner, be adaptable and be open to the fact that things will change. Evolve or dissolve. But remember – it’s yours.  

*I appreciate there are many people living in relationships where monogamy is paramount, and they’re happy. I wish them ever success. If that is the dream for you, chase it, but respect that there are other, real alternatives!


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