Transitioning From an Open to Closed Relationship

This is a guest post by Stefan.

Maybe it’s because anniversaries are a time for reflection, or maybe it’s because in the summer I’m often out jogging or on my bike and just thinking too much, but lately I’ve been pondering my relationship and its future.

I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years, long enough that the word “boyfriend” seems out of place. We’re very happy. Not the kind of tingly, butterflies-in-my-stomach intensity it had in the first year, but something content and stable and beautiful.

This is my first and only serious, long term relationship; I’ve only ever even kissed one other guy. We’re monogamous mainly because I insisted on it. My partner, however, has much more experience, and was in another four year relationship before. It was an open relationship, and let’s just say he took advantage of that openness.

I feel like if there was some measure for “relationship experience” (or maybe just sexual experience) he would have a really high score and I would look like a 15 year old. And while I know he’s fine with our monogamy and loves me deeply, I can’t really say it’s his natural state like it is for me.

When I imagine our future, the one source of doubt is wondering whether he’ll one day get…bored.

That maybe five, ten, fifteen years down the road that part of him that was once totally fine with an open relationship will return and become restless. I feel like this one aspect of his past is the one part of him that I just can’t quite figure out.

I tell myself that our love is clearly different than his last relationship. That there is a reason we’re monogamous, beyond my insistence.

Obviously the fidelity problem isn’t unique to gay couples, but I feel like a lot of us are more likely to face the transition from more open relationships to more closed ones.

If you’re like my boyfriend, were you able to make that transition? And if you or your partner ever faced a seven year itch or similar test in a relationship, were you able to work through it and stay faithful or not?

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22 Responses to Transitioning From an Open to Closed Relationship

  1. Sam, I am on your side with this issue. Having just exited an 8 year relationship with a guy who insisted on an open relationship, I know first hand the struggles an open relationship can cause. My ex was very up front at the start that our relationship needed to be open, even though I was very reluctant. Secretly it drove me crazy in the beginning. However I agreed to the open arrangement, and honestly can say it took me a very long time to be comfortable with the idea. Deep down I thought it was very selfish on his part, and chalked part of it up to him having considerably more sexual experience than I did. Honestly, even though I accepted his request and eventually became numb about it, I believe that it was one of the reasons (among others) that we grew apart. Moving forward, I don’t think an open relationship is right for me. I am more of a commited monagamous type person.

    • It’s amazing. EVERY single person I’ve talked to that’s been in an open relationship only did so because they were convinced by their partner. I’ve never heard of a couple mutually agreeing to be in an open relationship.

      • Well you just found one :-). I’m in an open relationship with my boyfriend since two and a half year, and it worked like that since the beginning. It is my first open relationship, and I found myself quite at ease with that. I think I’ve been lucky to meet a partner with a similar sensibility on the topic, it’s obviously an important point which can cause lots of stress in the couple. An interesting reading I found recently (also) on this topic is “the ethical slut”, I warmly recommend it.

  2. I enjoyed reading this article because I’m a big extrovert, I’m the kind of guy who would try anything at least once.
    Though while sex can be fun the thing that I would never do is an open relationship, and this coming from a guy whose gone to many bondage clubs.
    I honestly don’t see the difference between being single and having an open relationship, It’s just guys who want to mess around and not get in trouble for it. You can’t always have it all.
    At what point do you put your big boy pants on and say, this is the man I love, the only man for me and without him life would not be the same?
    Or are you in the wrong relationship?

    • I would have to agree. I encourage sexual exploration, but open relationships seem to fizzle out – pretty much like anything else you’re not committed to.

  3. I’ve only known of one open relationship among my friends to have worked, but who knows how many secretly engage in them. For them after 20 years it was an age/health issue for one of the men. He couldn’t give his partner what he needed physically, but the emotional and mental connection was still strong. It seems to work for them as long as everything is kept completely honest between them and the other parties. I think it is very dependent on the relationship’s foundation and both people’s comfort levels.

    Personally having been in a situation with an open relationship, I don’t think I would ever do one again. However, you never know what time and life may through your way and what changes they may cause.

  4. Sam, I agree with what you stated and the above comments about this issue. At one time I would have agreed to be in an open relationship to be with the “right guy”, now I know that would have been a big mistake, I simply cannot accomodate an open relationship nor would I want to. Its nice being a little older and knowing myself better. None of those who I know personally have had a succesful open relationship in these cases it was because the relationship was open and one of the partners was not suited for it. Its amazing how sometimes we allow ourselves to be talked into things we don’t really want to “find love”.

  5. Your concerns are certainly understandable but if you know he loves you deeply then I wouldn’t waste your time worrying about it.

    He may be worrying that one day you’ll wake up thinking that you missed something by not having had more relationships.

    On the positive side if, years down the line, you find that your relationship has grown dull, you and he can have an open discussion about possibly opening up the relationship occasionally.

    I never would have been open to that sort of thing in the past but have heard and read more about it. If it looked like the only way to save an ailing relationship, I’d be willing to give it a try.

    • Trevor–Thanks! I think you’re right about wasting time worrying. And I hadn’t really thought that he might have concerns about me too. I guess worrying about the future is a luxury you get when things are very good in the present, so I should just roll with it :)

    • If the need arises to introduce an open relationship then the current one is already over, it shows distance has already grown and only resentment and jealousy will come from it followed by further distance and eventually the relationship coming to an end. I’ve never met a couple who have been in a long term open relationship.

  6. I have been with my boyfriend for over 4 years now and have had similar thoughts before. When we met he was very open about his past which included a very lengthy list of sexual exploits. While he was never in an open relationship he is definitely an admitted fan of sex. I was not at all as experienced (by a long shot) and I shared the same feelings you described for a good while. 

    Those feelings have been few and far between the last few years. Mainly because our life and love has grown over time. I trust the way I feel about him and the way he feels about me. You mentioned he is fine with monogamy. Why not trust him at his word? Fear is a part of being human but is not something that you should concentrate on. Try concentrating on the love you feel for each other. Worrying about what the future will bring too much can not lead to a positive present. 

    I do feel it is important to mention, not to worry you further, that sex is something people in general will desire for most of their life. Natural urges are always there but the cool part of being human is we are not slaves to these urges. We can choose to act on them or not. Me and my bf made a choice together to stay monogamous as a symbol of our devotion to each other. Different people choose monogamy or open relationships for different reasons, all valid. The point is that a choice is made by both of you and for the same reason. 

    It is very important to be open and honest about your worries and fears with your partner. As long as he remains committed to your monogamous relationship then put your trust in that and enjoy the ride that is life. 

  7. I have never been in an open relationship and never will. No one will ever convince me that being with other people while you are in a relationship is right or healthy. Personally, I would always wonder if someone was better at sex than me, better looking than me, if he pleased my partner more etc. Worse yet, I would always wonder if the next guy he was with would be the one he would leave me for.

    At one point I believed that these were just my own insecurities and lack of trust in my partner. However, neither case is true. I am a pretty independent faithful person. I am not insecure or a person that cannot convey trust. I am not alone in believing that in a committed relationship throwing one or multiple people in the mix will even end in a positive result.

    ‘The grass is always greener’ scenario is real. I find it often in my own life in different situations. We all do. Maybe it would be unintentional, but if you are with someone and even the smallest thought of ‘It’s not like that with my partner’ can creep in. Those small thought accumulate and eventually dissatisfaction sets in.

    While some open relationship may last for a while, ultimately the majority of them are doomed. I believe that if you need to seek even just physical satisfaction outside any relationship, then something is not wholly right. If you look at your partner and can’t see that person as your ‘forever love’ and someone you WANT to forsake all others for, then you are doomed from the beginning.

    Monogamy is not a prison sentence, it is a desire for stability, love, caring, longevity and trust. For me to settle for less, is me compromising my fundamental beliefs. It is also me settling for less.

  8. This post reminded me of a conversation I had with a (heterosexual) friend of mine about open marriages and polyamory. At the time, he and his wife had been together 8 or 9 years. He said that he would never participate in an open marriage because “it keeps you from having to do the work of continuing to fall in love with your partner.” Basically, that love–and falling in love–is a active and continual process, one that takes attention and effort after the initial novelty. In his opinion, the spark and energy that comes from new sexual partners diverts attention away from the work of maintaining love. While the relationship may initially be able to feed vicariously off that energy, it can’t be sustained over time.

  9. After reading all the comments, I wanted to add my two cents. It seems from these comments that being in an open relationship ranges from being just barely acceptable, even though sub-optimal, to being simply just immature, unsensitive and – I daresay – “immoral”.
    I perfectly understand the point of view of Stefan, who seems not to be comfortable at all with the perspective of an open relationship. That’s completely ok, each partner should be careful and respectful of the other partner’s sensibility, and Stefan has all the rights to ask for monogamy in the relationship and obtain it (and, from what he says, I think he’s going to have it: from the description I’ve got the idea he’s in a sane relationship, and I’m inclined to think his doubts do not come out of distrust for his partner rather out of fear for losing something so beautiful, so, really, with all my heart, go on Stefan, and trust the bonding you’ve created these years with your partner!).

    But, on the other hand, I don’t really see why someone should consider a person in an open relationship egoistic, doomed to failure or uninterested in the partner. I’m living in an open relationship since two and a half year, things are working very well, I’m going to move in with my partner later this year and we’re making plans for the future about where to live and how to arrange our work lives. The way we handle our *sex* life has little to do with the really important things in a relationship, which is the emotional and psychological bonding between us. Sex is great between the two of us, but I like to think it was just the kindle which ignited the really important thing, that is how our human souls connect to each other (sorry for the hippie-like moment, but I think you’ve got the gist).

    Please, really, we risk ending up in the same error many heterosexual couples do while categorizing the gay couples: they do things different from me, so they must be doing it wrong. It’s just judgemental, and it hurts to hear your relationship defined as doomed, inferior and you and your partner as unsensitive, incapable of loving and, well, something akin to animal. We’ve all been there, when called names from homophobes. I expect we can be better than that.

    • Thanks Mattia. It’s good to hear from someone in a healthy open relationship. Many times it’s one partner convincing the other to be open.

    • Dear Mattia,
      having seen numerous open gay relationships in Germany and reading your post I must admit that you, guys, seem to fool yourself. You first state that “sex life has little to do with the really important things in a relationship”. In most relationships sex is one of the major ways to deepen, explore and experience intimacy. Not an occasional bang, but INTIMACY. That’s moments where partners talk about their insecurities with their own body parts, weight, spots, hair, bruises etc. Sometimes these talks end up in really great, intimate sex. Your second statement “it was just the kindle which ignited the really important thing” is actually a counter statement to “sex life has little to do with the really important things in a relationship”. Sex has indeed the power to ignite! That is SO TRUE. Well, Mattia, imagine yourself three more years down the road, you had a huge fight with your boyfriend at home, a really big and lasting argument, and he seems unbearable. It might only take a hot and understanding colleague who completely shares your point of view to ignite just another “really important thing”. You are not Gods, people! You have emotions you barely have control over and knowing that you still take even more risks to ignite all sorts of things at the cost of your present relationship. Wow! That sounds like a devoted and loving couple. … Let me know what you think.

      • As for your first point, about sex: yes, sex is surely a great occasion for intimacy, and sure it’s this way also in an open relationship. And it can start something deeper, if the person you do it with is the right one. But what you are really offering and receiving from your partner is trust, care, love, like-mindedness, not sex. I didn’t really want to depreciate the value of sex as a communication channel and occasion to perform such a communication (as well as, you know, just something very good and satisfactory in and by itself ^_^), but it’s the same as comparing the beauty of words to the importance of the contents you can express with them: they are overly important, but what they transfer is more important. The sex is not the point, what it allows to start and grow is important, that’s what I meant to say. So truth is that we greatly agree on this point, I was just unable to express my point in the correct way.

        Then, about the situation you prospect: yes, I can perfectly imagine it. It’s already happened in my past relationships and also in the current one (although, I have to admit, really infrequently) to have some very heated discussion. And, no, I can’t imagine that it will bring to another “really important thing”. I can be furious with my partner, but still I love him nonetheless. That’s what makes it quite impossible for me to fall in love for somebody else (well, I know people who say they can feel emotionally involved by more than one person at the same time, but that’s not the case for me). Were it to come the day when I am not in love anymore – well, than having sex or not with another man won’t change a thing about the destiny of our relationship, I suspect.

        Perhaps I’m over-confident in stating what I stated, but after more than ten years that I’m living my sexual and sentimental life I suppose I start to know myself in this respect. And, in any case, it’s surely something that changes from person to person: I don’t see it unlikely that one’s sentiments are not strong enough to handle certain situations. But on the other hand, _not_ having the possibility of sex with other partners brings on many relationships also a big stress and problems (I think we are all quite realistic about the amount of cheating, both in the gay and heterosexual world), which also can (and do) cause the end of them. I should then say, you are not Gods, people, you have natural sexual instincts you barely have control over, and knowing that you still take even more risks to ignite all sorts of tensions at the cost of your present relationship? Well, again no, because what I think is that there’s no right or wrong way to handle your own sexual life. Everybody has a different way to approach sex and a different sensibility, and has to find the way that works the best for him/her. If we expect to know what’s emotionally good for the sexual life of another person *in general*, we’re no better than the catholic church, when it declares that homosexual acts are _intrinsically_ disordered. There are surely “homosexual acts” which are “disordered” as much as others which are completely not, as there are healthy closed relationships, healthy open relationships, troubled closed relationships, and troubled open relationships.

    • Hi Mattia,
      first of all – thank you for the response. I really appreciate your opinion on this subject. You are right, it’s all a matter of sensibility. There are men whose lives evolve more around their human instincts and there are men whose lives evolve more around their feelings. Full stop. I just have issues with open relationships and have been trying to grasp this idea emotionally for years. As a gay man I’m really trying to understand my community. Not just to say “I don’t give a fuck about their lives”, but to understand with my heart what being gay is all about. And I don’t succeed on this one. Some of my friends in such relationships would tell me how it works for them and although I accept their views as a fact and of course tolerate them, I simply can’t comprehend this idea – i.e. the switching between meaningful sex with THE partner and the less meaningful sex with a next hottie WHITHOUT jealousy, hurt or insecurities creeping in within the first years of a true relationship – emotionally. And the truth is – I shouldn’t try to understand it emotionally. My brain saying “It’s their business” will suffice.

      I would just really love to talk to an old couple in their 70-ies who’ve had an active open relationship with each other for the last 10 years or so and see how THEY handle it. ‘Cause the open relationships of some of my friends and fellows didn’t look convincing. Even if they didn’t say anything, I sometimes saw the hurt, the anger and the fury about their partner’s “Friday catch” in their eyes. One of them told me he cried for 20 min and went on with his life after his 7-year-long relationship stopped. … It is indeed a matter of sensibility.

      By the way, I know a well-known way around this particular instinct that works without even touching another person, at least for a couple of years. :) Ways around emotions are far more complicated, but this only from my perspective.
      Thank you once again.
      Arty

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