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Sex with Dr. Jess


April 12, 2017

What the Research Says About Open Relationships

Are you curious about open relationships? This morning on Global TV’s The Morning Show, I discuss new reserach on consensual non-monogamy in resreach ad practice with the lovely Carolyn Mackenzie. Check out the video and full notes (we always run out of time!) below.









What did the study find?

  • The study, conducted by the University of Michigan, involved 2100 people; they examined satisfaction, commitment, trust, jealousy and passionate love, which is the intense love feeling often described in new relationships.
  • Researchers found no difference between monogamous couples and consensually non-monogamous (CNM) couples with regard to satisfaction and passionate love.
  • CNM couples revealed lower levels of jealousy and higher levels of trust than monogamous couples.
  • Overall, the researchers conclude that CNM and monogamous relationships offer similar benefits.
  • To date, research that addresses CNM has been significantly biased with researchers using loaded terms like “cheating” and “offended party” despite underlying consent by all parties.

Why might CNM relationships be so successful and high in trust?

  • CNM relationships may involve more voluminous communication (discussing needs, boundaries, fears, insecurities in depth); monogamous relationships may rely more on scripted shorthand (which involve cultural prescriptions and less personal choice).
  • Self-expansion theory suggests that openings for personal growth may lead to happier relationships.
  • People in CNM relationships may have expanded social support networks; this positively correlated with relationship satisfaction.
  • Infidelity — the researchers suggest that the risk of infidelity may reduced in CNM relationships due to communication and sexual openness.
  • Emphasis on personal fulfilment over selflessness may also improve relationship outcomes
  • Exploration versus restriction can create happier relationships.

Does this mean that if your relationship is struggling you should try opening it up? (Could an open relationship be the prescription for a failing marriage?)

No. CNM doesn’t work for everyone. Just like monogamy doesn’t work for everyone. The problem with monogamy is that we tend to stumble into it as a default. We don’t consider all of our options and we make assumptions about what monogamy entails; research reveals that definitions vary considerably from person to person.

There is no universal standard for cultivating a happy relationship — you need to talk to your partner about needs, desires, boundaries and fears and people in CNM relationships tend to have more of these important conversations, as you can’t afford to make assumptions when you’re veering outside of the norm.

What can monogamous couples learn from consensually non-monogamous relationships?

  • Your partner cannot fulfill all of your needs. Practical, emotional, financial, sexual and spiritual needs are extensive, so you can’t rely on one person alone to meet each need. Turn to friends, family and other sources of support instead of relying on one person for everything.
  • Spend time apart and leave space for individual growth.
  • Talk before, during and after problems arise. Be clear about your needs, insecurities and desires. Your partner cannot read your mind.