As far as dating truisms go, here’s one that everyone should get behind: All healthy relationships have boundaries. And while this applies to every kind of relationship, it’s particularly true in the case of open relationships and long-distance relationships, both of which require an immense amount of trust. And when you combine both of those factors, there's even more grey area and room for potential misunderstandings — which is why it's well worth making the effort to set boundaries in a long-distance open relationship. Fortunately, according to licensed clinical social worker Melanie Shapiro, there are certain strategies that can help you and your boo to have an effective conversation around your respective comfort zones.
“Boundaries are super important in a long distance relationship because there is less in-person contact, meaning you get fewer clues, body language, and physical intimacy,” says Shapiro. “Long distance open relationships can provide intimacy but the physical contact piece is something that is missing; this adds another layer of complexity which requires greater navigation in the relationship — especially when it comes to boundaries.”
Every open long-distance open relationship is unique, which means the specific boundaries you set might differ from another couple’s. What’s ultimately most important is that you and your SO tackle the key issues that are most relevant to your particular bond. For example, Shapiro says that one area you may need to set boundaries in is how many other partners you are each comfortable with your SO having — as well as whether you are both required to disclose all of the details about those additional partners to each other.
In an LDR, you aren’t seeing each other as often as other couples who live in the same place, meaning that the depth of your trust in each other is extra important. If it helps you to maintain that trust to be totally transparent about your sex lives, then you may want to be open about any escapades you have. Sure, it may feel uncomfortable at first to let bae know you made out with that cute barista you met for cocktails, but at least they won’t have to wonder if there’s something you’re hiding. The last thing you want is for one of you to end up paranoid because the other partner is withholding information about their recent hookups or dates.
You may also want to discuss what types of intimacy, both emotionally and sexually, you are both OK with. Shapiro advises asking yourself: Are you fine with each other having hookups, but not pursuing actual romantic relationships? Is it cool to hook up, but not have sex with other people? Would you both feel more comfortable if you asked for consent before going out with someone else? The more issues you can discuss boundaries on, the better. Because as you get increasingly specific in setting your boundaries, the risks decrease of someone feeling betrayed or otherwise unintentionally hurt.
But it’s not just the boundaries themselves that you need to think about. First, you have to figure out how to bring up this topic altogether. If you’re not sure how to approach the subject of boundaries with your boo, Shapiro recommends kicking things off with a simple question.
“After sharing that [you] would love to make sure you are both on the same page, ask your partner what they are comfortable with,” she tells Elite Daily. “Pose it as if you want to be respectful to them. Then you can share what boundaries you had in mind.”
According to Shapiro, one thing that might help keep the conversation as positive as possible is sharing things that you appreciate about your partner and your current long-distance open relationship. By focusing on what’s already working, you can frame your boundaries in a way that feels more like guidance on how to make sure your situation remains fulfilling for both of you, rather than criticisms or ultimatums.
"Ask about what they like and see how you can both make it better for yourself and each other,” adds Shapiro. “If you start with what’s working well and what you like then it is easy to talk about some things you may want to change or how to set boundaries.”
Certainly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to boundaries in a long-distance open relationship. Rather than focusing on what’s “normal” or “common” in these kinds of relationships, focus on what makes you and your partner feel good, and what doesn’t — in that order, too. Bringing up the topic of boundaries may feel uncomfortable, but it’s far less uncomfortable than accidentally crossing the line and upsetting each other. A long-distance open relationship comes with a number of idiosyncrasies, for sure. But as long as you and bae can be open and honest about your needs every step of the way, you’ll be prepared to handle every hurdle with compassion, and above all, respect.