The 4 Do’s and 3 Don'ts of a Successful Open Marriage, According to a Non-Monogamist

Plus, the benefits of opening up in the first place

open marriage rules uni
Viktoriia Miroshnikova/getty images

From books like More: A Memoir of an Open Marriage and TV programs like Couple to Throuple to reports—like this one from Tinder—that show that Gen Z daters are increasingly open to or seeking non monogamous relationships, it’s beginning to seem like everyone is opening their marriage except you. But what, exactly, does that entail? And what, are, like, the rules of doing it? We chatted with Ally Iseman, a, non-monogamy educator and practitioner, for the scoop. Here, four Do’s and three serious Don’ts for anyone contemplating opening things up.

Meet the Expert

Ally Iseman is the founder of Passport 2 Pleasure, an online destination that offers comprehensive resources for folks interested in non-monogamy through online courses, workbooks, structured community, and private guidance along with access to sex-positive events and eco-luxury retreats for curious couples and individuals. After spending the first 30+ years of her life as a serial monogamist, Iseman has spent the past eight years immersing herself in the Lifestyle community and non-monogamous relationships. She’s a speaker, non-monogamy educator and practitioner and organizer in the sex-positive community in Los Angeles, a certified Consent Fairy and one of the hosts of what has become known as “LA’s most intimate play party” (according to LA Magazine).

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DO: Establish Your ‘Why’

If you’re thinking about opening your marriage, Iseman says it’s imperative to ask yourself questions like: Why do you want to open up? Why does your partner? What are you hoping for? What are you afraid of? “Getting clear on your own and each other's big ‘why’ for embarking on this journey is a huge part of establishing a secure foundation from which to explore,” Iseman explains. Your ‘why’ could be that you’re bisexual and want to explore sex with a wider range of genders (with your partner’s support, of course). Or maybe you and your partner have vastly different libidos and want to honor both of your needs. Iseman says that if this is the case (and it might be; sex drive isn’t a constant), opening up can “[offer] the opportunity for everyone to have their needs met in a healthy, mutually beneficial way, while enabling the relationship to remain intact and even strengthened.”

DON’T: Think This Will Fix Anything

“Opening a marriage, or any relationship, is not a tool to ‘fix’ anything, any more than having children is,” she stresses. Your foundation needs to already be strong. “Trying to use this as a tool to save a marriage is a mistake. Do the work within the relationship and yourselves first before inviting anyone else in.”

DO: Have Weekly Meetings Where You Discuss the Specifics of Your Agreement

We’re constantly growing and changing in and out of our relationships, which means regularly taking stock of where you stand is crucial. Just because your arrangement is working for the first six months doesn’t mean it will be working six more months down the line. Iseman tells us, “Before you get started, schedule check-ins at recurring times (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) to keep tabs on how each of you is doing and enable you to get ahead of any potential pitfalls before they become insurmountable challenges.” This is a time to talk about the specifics of what an open marriage looks like for you. “At the beginning, it can be helpful to [identify] some things (pet names, locations like your bed/bedroom or certain activities) that are kept for just you and your partner to experience together,” Iseman says. You can also review how much time you’re willing to allow the other one for such extracurricular activities.  “Scheduling and time management is an important thing to touch on in these reviews. The sooner you can jump on things that aren't working and adjust them, the better.”

DON’T: Expect Your Partner to Be a Mind Reader

Let’s say a friend sees your husband on a date at one of your favorite restaurants. You’ve agreed that public dates are OK, but something feels off about him taking a date there. While it might seem obvious to you that that restaurant is off limits, don’t assume that the choice was made maliciously. No matter how strong your foundation is and how deeply your partner knows you, they aren’t psychic; don’t expect them to know your unspoken boundaries. “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” Iseman says. “You are responsible for speaking for your boundaries and self-governing if they are crossed.”

DON’T: Go with the Flow

It might sound counterintuitive, but Iseman maintains that going “going with the flow” can be detrimental for open marriages. Instead, she says that establishing clear boundaries is what gives you the most freedom. This isn’t the time to play fast and loose—being too casual or chill is a surefire path to misunderstanding and resentment. 

DO: Connect with Fellow Non-Monogamy Enthusiasts

Embarking on a non-monogamous relationship can be tricky if you don’t have anyone around you who’s been there, done that, whether that means people in your social circle who are in open relationships or couple's therapists who specializes in these types of relationships. Iseman says that sometimes, well-meaning friends and family will hear about a hiccup or other friction in your open marriage and advise you to close your relationship. However, she maintains that that friction can actually be a useful opportunity for growth. “Make sure you have sources of wisdom and support in your network who are experienced and knowledgeable, even if you have to initially hire the support you need, since the health and safety of your relationship is the top priority and worth investing in.”

DO: Decide How Much You Want—or Don’t Want—to Know

How much do you want to know about your partner's experiences? How much do you want them to know about yours? Are you comfortable being seen in public with someone else? Do you need a cover story? These are all questions Iseman says it’s important to figure out (at those weekly meetings!) to ensure, once again, that you and your spouse are on the same page.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...