I went out to lunch yesterday with a friend to discuss open relationships. He's apparently met a new lady friend, and they're sort of considering one. Thus, information gathering must be done. Along with talking to some other mutual friends of ours who are open, he also wanted to talk to me and now-hubby about our relationship. How we make it work, what type of rules we have together, if we have any general input on open relationships, etc.
Here are my top 3 general inputs:
1. Know what you want first. I can tell you about Matt Bullen, or the Pervocracy, or the recent episode of 20/20 with the poly family near Boston. I can lend you copies of The Ethical Slut or Opening Up. I also have some books about relationships in general: about the psychology, history, and neuroscience behind all the different types of options. In the end, what matters the most is that you are willing to try an open relationship. And willing to possibly fail at it. There are differences between starting open (as now-hubby and I did), becoming open after a period of monogamy, or going to monogamy from open. What matters most is you. (At this point in the conversation, I said something along the lines of, "you can't expect multiple partners to meet your needs the same way you can't expect a single partner to meet your needs. Meet your own needs for yourself." To which now-hubby responded, "Thank you, Brian Kinney.")
2. Communicate. This is an important one for relationships in general, not just for those that are open. Having clear communication about wants, desires, and limits is important regardless of what type of relationship you're considering. It cycles back to Input 1. If you don't know yourself; what type of things you are looking for in a relationship, what your turn-ons and turn-offs are, etc. it's probably a bad idea to get involved in a relationship. I'm not saying that things don't sometimes necessitate compromise, or that you can't sometimes "bend" on things for a person you care a lot about. What I am saying is it's helpful to have a sort of guide map of yourself sketched out first. (For myself, I discovered an enjoyment of old black and white movies from being with now-hubby, something I didn't think I would have liked previously. I still hate most ska music. Those are fairly benign examples, but it serves the point.)
Also, communicate on your rules. Are there specific physical actions that your partner might do with another person that would make you uncomfortable? Please avoid the whole, "keep it physical, don't get emotions involved" rule - that's fine if the boundaries of your open relationship are going to only include completely random one-time-only hook-ups. But it's completely impossible (and possibly some sort of crime) to try and control somebody else's emotions. We're talking more along the lines of, "I am okay with you performing oral on other people, but I am not comfortable with you performing or receiving anal from anybody but me." Something else to think about: What type of information do you want to know about your partner's extracurricular excursions? Do you want a play-by-play description when they get home (as I do?) or are you okay with just knowing they got somewhere safely, had a good time, and give you notice when they're coming home (as now-hubby likes?)
3. You will still be a human being. A lot of misinformation gets thrown around in general society about open relationships. One of the more aggravating expectations is that by becoming open, one will somehow transcend jealousy completely. It will no longer be an emotional factor. False. There is a word in the poly world called "compersion," but it's not a replacement for jealousy. It's just a different way of dealing with it. After enough times of dealing with it in that way, it starts to become second nature, so you have a lot of poly people around saying stupid things about how they just don't get jealous. It hasn't been completely eradicated as a feeling, you just get better at dealing with it.