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Open relationships can be ‘healthy’ for some couples: study

Can an open relationship be as satisfying as monogamy?
WATCH: Can an open relationship be as satisfying as monogamy?

Thinking about opening up your relationship? It might have a positive effect on your happiness, according to a new study.

New research found “no evidence” that consensual non-monogamy (CNM) negatively impacts life satisfaction or relationship quality for romantic partners.

Instead, the study, recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found evidence that opening up a relationship can be a healthy, viable option for some couples.

“We found no differences in relationship quality or well-being before versus after people opened up,” Samantha Joel, an assistant professor in Western University’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

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“There were also no differences found when we compared people who did versus those who did not open up their relationship over the course of the study.”

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Joel, along with researchers at York University in Toronto and the University of Utah, tracked 233 individuals who were planning to engage in consensual monogamy, but had not yet done so.

The researchers followed them for over two months and compared participants’ relational, sexual and personal well-being to when they were monogamous versus after they opened up their relationships.

They also compared non-monogamous couples to the couples who decided to remain monogamous throughout the study.

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“Those who engaged in CNM experienced significant increases in sexual satisfaction, particularly if they did so with the explicit goal of addressing sexual incompatibilities within their relationships,” researchers wrote.

Joel said that CNM relationships and those who engage in them are often “stigmatized.”

“Monogamous relationships are generally assumed to be of higher quality than non-monogamous ones, even among CNM individuals,” she said.

For some couples, open relationships are the most practical option. For others, the idea of non-monogamy is unappealing.

But non-monogamy needs to be normalized, “just like monogamy has been,” Ottawa-based matchmaker with Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, Ceilidhe Wynn, previously told Global News.

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“When monogamous people start to realize that open marriages and polyamorous relationships are often just the same as monogamous ones — just with more people — acceptance can happen,” she said.

“We’re told that monogamy is the ‘right’ way to do relationships and anything outside of that is seen as ‘cheating.’ But relationships and love aren’t so black and white.”

For an open relationship to work, Tammy Nelson, a sex and relationship expert, said both parties need to be on the same page. She previously told Global News this means establishing the rules, negotiations and what counts as “open.”

“Sometimes your vision of an open relationship might be different than your partner’s,” she said.

“The real takeaway regarding open marriage is that it means you need open communication.”

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Respect, openness and honesty are important parts of all relationships — monogamous or otherwise, experts said. Wynn said couples should treat open marriages just like “regular” ones.

“You make open marriages last the same way you make monogamous marriages last: through communication, love, and mutual respect,” she said.

“Maybe participants in an open marriage have to be more intentional about their communication but these are the bases of all relationships, romantic or otherwise.”

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— With files from Global News’ Arti Patel

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca