Is An Open Relationship Over Summer Break A Good Idea? An Expert Weighs In

Heading into the summer, you might be pretty lit about your internship, job, or travel excursions gearing up. But if you're in a monogamous "relationship" (and you and bae are going to be far apart), then the next three months might look a bit bleak. Especially in the S-E-X department. And so, this is the moment where you're contemplating, "Is an open relationship over summer break a good idea?"

Of course, you can always enjoy life's greatest pleasure: masturbation. You can even enjoy masturbation over FaceTime or some good ol' summertime sexting to heat things up. Still, it's not the same as actually having sex with someone. And to take it a step further, even if your partner meets all your sexual needs when you're together: There are always going to be other people you find attractive and perhaps even want to sleep with. Besides, summer is the season of thotty outdoor happy hours and any excuse to strip off layers of clothing.

If the idea of having sex with new people (or simply, sex to water the crops during the drought) excites you, bring it up to your partner. It might be a little nerve-wracking. But polyamory expert Dr. Heath Schechinger — who's a counseling psychologist at University of California Berkeley and co-chair of the American Psychological Association's Non-monogamy Task Force — breaks down a few things you can consider first, before transitioning to an open relationship.

Consider both your needs and your partner's/partners'

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The difference between an open relationship from a polyamorous relationship is that an open one consists of multiple partners who are just sexually involved — no romance . Whereas, in a polyamorous one, there are multiple partners who are emotionally, romantically, and sexually involved. Schechinger reminds us that there are many types of open relationship agreements, so it might take some trial and error for it to work out. (For more on those types of agreements, keep reading.) "Disagreements and missteps are normal, especially when we’re trying something new," they tell Elite Daily. "Expect that there will be unanticipated circumstances or emotions, despite your communication and planning."

But when you're approaching a tricky relationship dilemma like this one, there are a few things that can always make the process go more smoothly. "Treating your partner(s) with kindness and respect, owning your own feelings, understanding when something isn’t about you, allowing space for agreements and feelings to evolve, loving yourself well, and not being overly tied to a particular outcome are all going to set relationships up for success," Schechinger says.

So, what are some good rules to establish?

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When having the open relationship convo, part of defining what you two have in mind is setting some rules. Some solid ground to cover, Schechinger says, includes "your agreements regarding sexual and emotional boundaries, who you are and aren’t OK with each other hooking up with, how often you’d like to check in or see each other, how much you want to know about your partner’s dating life, and how you want to talk to others about your relationship."

What's OK for you? What's not OK for you? Would you feel some type of way if your partner cuddled after they had sex with their new partner? Are you allowed to post about your open relationship on social media? Can you sleep with friends? Coming up with a "Yes/No/Maybe" list — sexual acts or behaviors with your new partners that are a "yes," "no," or a "maybe" — can come in clutch. Schechinger also says that scheduling check-in times in advance can also be helpful.

Be aware of your attachment style

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Attachment theory, which was developed in the 1970s primarily by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, says there are four main attachment styles:

  • secure, where in you love being in a relationship, but won't completely mesh your life with another person.
  • anxious/preoccupied, where you use relationships as a way to "complete" yourself, and are often caught up in "emotional thirst or hunger."
  • dismissive/avoidant, where you often will withdraw into yourself to avoid getting hurt.
  • fearful/avoidant, where you're often overwhelmed with fear and often engage in a tug-of-war with partners because of it.

And they can be applied to platonic and family relationships, as well as romantic and sexual. "The same general principles that apply to assessing the health of any relationship also apply to open relationships," Schechinger says. "Learning to trust our intuition and being aware of our attachment style can be really helpful when assessing if a[n open] relationship is a good fit."

If learning about attachment styles resonates with you, consider using your knowledge about your type and your partner's type to inform your decision about choosing whether to enter an open relationship.

Consult trusted friends or poly-inclusive therapists

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If you're on the fence about it, hit up your open-minded — particularly, sex-positive — homies for advice. "It can also be helpful to check in with the people you trust to see if they think a relationship is a good fit," they say. Who knows you (and your history and your secrets and your quirks) better than your friends?

"Given the pervasive stigma regarding open relationships, you may have to sort through any potential bias the people offering relationship advice may have," Schechinger warns. "People in or exploring open relationships are at a disadvantage, because many (even therapists) tend to believe that open relationships don’t last or aren’t as healthy as monogamous relationships — despite studies that repeatedly suggests otherwise." Luckily, if you're privileged with access to therapy, there are plenty of online resources, such as a polyamory-inclusive therapist directories.

Make a game-plan for fall

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Once it's time to return to campus, anticipate that some dynamics are going to be different — no matter how much communicating you and your partner did over summer break.

And that change can be a good thing. Think of having an open relationship over summer break as an exercise in personal development. Essentially, Schechinger says, having this period of time where you and your partner grow as individuals can come in handy when you and bae have to face other changes in/over the course of your relationship.

Still, they say, "Consider setting aside some time when you reunite to get to know the new version of your partner. Celebrate the growth you’ve each experienced, and sort through the new dynamics in your relationship."

If you do decide on an open relationship for the summer and collab on ground rules, you've got it! Don't stress about the "what-ifs" or where it can go south. Instead, focus on the safety net you've created by discussing your boundaries and committing to check-ins. And good luck! This summer could certainly be a hot one to remember.