U.S. News


Explaining trends in open relationships

Relationship expert and coach Susan Winter says some couples engage in open relationships to obtain sexual and emotional satisfaction.
Posted at 4:43 PM, Feb 15, 2023

You may have heard the term — two is company and three’s a crowd. Despite that, more American couples are considering open relationships, and it’s opening possibilities.  

Relationship expert and coach Susan Winter says some couples engage in open relationships to obtain sexual and emotional satisfaction they otherwise may not get in their primary relationship.  

"An open relationship is a couple that have a partnership. They are a primary and they have decided together mutually. And that's important to allow another or others into their romantic space," Winter said. "We understand that we can't get everything from one person and it's a lot to put on them to be our everything, our intellectual companion, our play companion, our financial equal and our sexual desire all the time. And people — humans like variety. So oftentimes in established, secure, trusting relationships, the couple will decide to try to experiment with being open, or they will agree to partner in a committed relationship that is secure and allow it to be open."

A 2021 YouGov poll found that about 25% of Americans would be interested in having an open relationship — with men more interested than women and varied interest by age bracket.  

"I also see more of a dynamic desire for this in Gen Z and young millennials — not so much in millennials, the older generation of millennials. They've had a tough enough time finding one person. They're like, if I get this one, I'm keeping them. But in some of the younger generations, they are much more fluid in their sexual orientation and their parameters for their sexuality," she said.  

Winter says interest is also shown by people of different sexual orientations. 

Why are more married couples living apart?

Why are more married couples living apart?

The latest U.S. Census shows roughly 3.89 million American married adults are living apart.


"I get cornered in cocktail parties in New York by discontent young marrieds — male and female, gay, straight — that take me into a side room and say, 'we all want to do open.' They're trying to take their closed relationship and make it open because seven, 10 years and a couple of kids, it's not the same," Winter said. 

A 2022 article posted by marriage counseling website Marriage.com says an open relationship can help provide emotional freedom for individuals, help meet sexual needs, and can bring you closer to your primary partner.  

But being in an open relationship can also have disadvantages — including ending in failure, or divorce.   

It can also spark emotions like anxiety, fear, and jealousy, and managing multiple partners presents its own set of challenges.  

"You think it's hard with one person? Try two or three or four. The collateral damage can be explosive. So, if you think you're not going to catch feelings, you may just catch feelings. Your partner may just catch feelings. The person you're engaging with or people may catch feelings, and it can become very complicated very quickly without an infrastructure and a roadmap to guide you safely," she said. 

Winter says every relationship is different. And each couple needs to set its own definition of what their open relationship looks like. She shares this advice with her clients: "an open relationship is a possibility if you feel both of you feel incredibly secure with your partner. If you find yourself to be an anxious attach or you feel insecure in the relationship, or you're hoping 'maybe if O just give them what they want and I go along with it, maybe then they'll get rid of all the others and just love me.' That's a no, no, no, no, no for you."

Long term success for open relationships remains to be seen as human traits come into play.

"It will be on the menu. But I still think that most human beings, when push comes to shove, find themselves biologically built to be a little territorial. And when you really love somebody and you're really hot for them, you do not want to share them," Winter said.  

It's giving new meaning to the age-old term "all is fair in love and war."