When I was single, any time I saw a couple on a dating app, I would roll my eyes and swipe left. Honestly, I assumed they were only in an “open relationship” because they wanted an excuse to cheat. But the more and more I heard about how open relationships actually legitimately work for people, the more my judgment melted away and my curiosity sparked.
For me personally, I couldn’t handle an open relationship (I’m an only child…). But when I interviewed couples who have an open relationship, I was shocked to learn that most of them say the secrets to making their relationships work isn’t much different from what makes a solid monogamous—or really any relationship—thrive.
SPOILER ALERT: It’s much deeper than just “trust” and “communication.”
So whether you’re considering an open relationship or just looking for ways to strengthen your closed relationship, here’s what 14 people had to say about how they make their open relationships work.
Confront Your Insecurities Head On
“In an open relationship, in order to succeed, you will have to confront your insecurities. You will have to navigate them first, by yourself, and then again with your partner. Open relationships require you to do a ton of work on yourself that would otherwise lie dormant in closed relationships—specifically in the realms of jealousy, insecurity, and communication.” -GR
Love Yourself…A Lot
“You have to *really* like yourself. You have to know you may not be the hottest person your partner puts their dick in, but that it won’t matter because you know you’re the shit. Sex isn’t everything—it’s actually a very small part of a relationship and an even smaller part when you add another person mathematically. Also, you can never have a threesome if you both aren’t into it. Although this seems obvious, I know plenty of women that think a threesome will ‘fix’ the relationship.” -Kelsey
Institute Practices, Not Rules
“Our biggest key to success is not having any rules. We only have best practices. Our three best practices (not rules) are, one, to always use safe sex practices (re: condoms), two, own our own feelings so we don’t expect anyone else to fix them, and three, don’t be a jerk.”
Tell Your Partner Everything
“It’s true that communication and trust is key obviously, but to be more specific: It’s been proven that jealousy is most rampant in monogamous ‘Don’t ask/don’t tell’ relationships. This is because when you tell someone everything, there is no more mystery—and fantasy is always way worse than the reality. Basically, it’s important to keep it playful. Don’t start being secretive and distant.” -Audria
Don’t Force It
“Be accepting. If one partner isn’t okay with something, do not push and try to make it happen. Do not turn to an open relationship if your relationship is having issues or if your partner is the only one who wants it.” -Laura
Keep Your Expectations in Check
“Ask for what you want without fear of retaliation. Be clear with your expectations with both your new and existing partner. There is a line between being physically involved with someone, and getting emotionally involved too. Know where that line is, and what the consequences there would be for crossing it. Also remember: This lifestyle might not be a sustainable forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.” -Mateo
Be Totally Open
“You have to be completely open and honest while being with each other. Talking to one partner about the other is absolutely crucial for it to work. If one partner believes that secrets are being kept, then the trust is gone—especially if the communication isn’t there or there is the possibility of deception, lies, or misleading.” -Robert
Get Raw With Your Emotions
“Get real about how you manage your emotional reactivity. Nearly everyone who navigates open relationships for the first time experiences some intense emotional responses (jealousy, insecurity, anger). If you don’t have great skills in that already, hire a professional to build some effective strategies before your emotions get the best of you or your relationship.” -Gina
“If one person wants a lot more leeway than the other, then there must be baby steps to get to the desired goal. This way, one person can have the time they need to get comfortable. During that time, the person who wants more leeway needs to follow the rules that are currently in place and be patient. They have to prove they are trustworthy by literally being given chances to follow the rules as they are. As it’s seen that the rules are respected and followed, naturally the person insisting on the rules will start to relax and give more freedom.” -Audria
Do It For The Right Reasons
“Watch out for people who are using non-monogamy as a license to cheat. Imagine all the things that would be red flags in a normal, monogamous relationship (like, possessiveness, jealousy, emotional walls, etc.). Those same things from a person who claims to be ethically non-monogamous would be much bigger deal breakers. In order for non-monogamy to work, you need a person who is self-aware and a communication rock star. With my partner, we adapted the thinking that we need to earn each other’s love and time, we aren’t entitled to it. That’s a principle I think all relationships should have, really.”
Share Your Phone Conversations
“The number one tip is to keep conversations open for everyone to see. My partner and I do this by sharing access to the dating sites we use, as well as using a shared couple’s email address specifically for setting up dates. This keeps the communication transparent and fun. The conversations leading up to meetups are sometimes hotter than the actual encounter.” -Jim
Stick With The Game Plan
“There has to be rules and a number of serious conversations about the topic, or else it’s going to be a disaster. Some example Qs: How many other partners are you okay with each other having? How many times per week is acceptable? Can they see the same person on a recurring basis or only new people? How much information do you want to hear about these other experiences? Will it be a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ setup? When should you focus solely on each other? Basically, there are so many important areas to cover. It’s important to figure out why each partner wants an open relationship and how you guys can compromise rules to make both parties happy. Make sure to communicate everything you’re not okay with to your partner. Even if it seems silly, tell them to avoid the betrayal and hurt you might feel down the line.” -Laura
Scheduling Is Key
“The most important thing to me in my open relationship is planned time with my hubby. We have actual dates with each other too. And scheduled sex! This is to guarantee we’re still making time for each other.” -Heidi
Your Main Partner Must Stay Your Priority
“In order to stay connected to your main partner, they should be your best friend! And also, they have to be your priority.” -Audria
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.