Slang dictionary

open relationship

What does open relationship mean?

An open relationship is one where an established couple has mutually agreed to share a non-monogamous lifestyle. This includes either or both parties having other sexual and/or romantic partners. This type of relationship is carried out with the consent and knowledge of all parties involved. Otherwise, it is considered infidelity.

Where does open relationship come from?

open relationship
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The terms open marriage and open relationship were first used in the sense of its current meaning in the 1972 book Open Marriage by George and Nena O’Neill.

As a term, open relationship has previously existed in English for a long time, though the sense was quite different. The original sense of open relationship was any type of relationship that had open communication and few secrets. For example, a child could have an open relationship with their mom, where there is constant honest communication between them. Since the book’s release the term open relationship has been associated with a new meaning related to non-monogamous relationships. After the book was published, the term gained popularity in publications, message boards, and many people’s private lives.

Examples of open relationship

“tbh being in a completely open relationship has so many perks and I just love being able to be myself”
McKensie Vaske @KensieVaske Twitter (April 18, 2017)
“In the context of our adventurous lifestyle, being in an open relationship felt natural.”
Lorrae Bradbury, “I’m in an open relationship with two men. Here’s what it’s like.” Thrillist (December 16, 2016)
“Feelings of apprehension, jealousy, and even sometimes anger, are all normal emotions that everyone experiences at some point in open relationships.”
Valerie Fischel, “8 Questions People Ask Me When They Find Out I’m In An Open Relationship,” SELF (August 17, 2016)

Who uses open relationship?

Polyamory and open relationship are related terms and are used synonymously by some people. For others, the difference between an open relationship and polyamory is that open relationships allow for solely sexual relations (such as friends with benefits) or more casual additional partners outside an established, primary relationship. In this framework, polyamory is distinct because it encourages committed romantic relationships to form with more than one person as well.

Alternatively, some people view open as a descriptor for their non-monogamous relationships, including polyamorous ones. These people have a meaningful distinction between open polyamorous relationships (available for more partners) and closed polyamorous relationships (not looking for more partners, but still involved in a polyamorous configuration). Along this line of thought, couples may not be considered polyamorous but still have an open relationship that includes new partners with whom they have non-romantic sexual relationships.

Others view open relationship as somewhat of an umbrella term that acts as a catchall for non-monogamous relationship styles like polyamory and swinging.

Whichever way it’s used, an open relationship is always non-monogamous and its definition depends on the rules devised by whoever is involved in that particular relationship.

As a relationship status, both OkCupid and Facebook offer open relationship as an option for a user’s profile.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of open relationship like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of open relationship that will help our users expand their word mastery.