One-Sided Open Relationship: What to Expect, Mistakes & 34 Steps to Explore It

One-sided open relationship gives one partner freedom while the other stays exclusive. Here’s everything you need to know.

one-sided open relationship

Ever find yourself crushing on someone while still in a relationship, but your partner is as committed to you as a dog to a juicy bone? You’re not alone, and this tango has a name: a one-sided open relationship.

Unlike a fully open or polyamorous relationship, where all parties are free to explore connections with others, a one-sided open relationship allows just one partner that liberty.

Confused, intrigued, or downright shocked?

Understanding the One-Sided Open Relationship

Wondering who came up with the notion of a one-sided open relationship? It’s not as contemporary as you might think. Let’s trace its origins, explore its psychological dimensions, and even dabble in some numbers.

Before we dive deep, let’s answer the million-dollar question: who even started this idea? Believe it or not, variations of one-sided open relationships have been around since, well, humans have.

Mate guarding, an evolutionary psychology concept, suggests that in early societies, one partner *often the male* would have multiple mates while the other stayed loyal.

So, in essence, one-sided open relationships aren’t as “modern” as you might think.

Now, what exactly is a one-sided open relationship? Simple: It’s when one partner can explore connections outside the relationship, while the other sticks to monogamy.

But why do people even opt for this? To answer that, let’s invite attachment theory to the party.

Depending on your attachment style—secure, anxious, or avoidant—you may find this arrangement either liberating or confining. *See? Psychology can be cooler than you thought* [Read: Attachment styles theory: Types and signs & ways you attach to others]

Alright, number-crunchers, it’s your time to shine! According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, about 4% to 5% of people in relationships in the United States report being in some form of an open relationship.

However, the stats on specifically one-sided open relationships are a bit more elusive. Still, given the rising trend in ethical non-monogamy, it’s safe to say that one-sided open relationships are becoming a notable slice of that pie.

Reasons People Opt for One-Sided Open Relationships

If you’re scratching your head wondering, “What’s the point?” you’re not alone. While the concept of a one-sided open relationship can be baffling to some, there are several reasons people decide to take this path. Here, we’ll delve into the motivations behind such a choice.

1. Seeking Variety

For some, a one-sided open relationship is like an endless buffet while staying committed to your favorite dish.

Variety can provide new experiences and excitement, fulfilling a psychological craving for novelty without sacrificing the comfort and security of the primary relationship. [Read: How to fantasize and talk about someone else while having sex with your partner]

2. Curiosity and Self-Discovery

Imagine you’ve always been a “one-genre” kind of music fan, but you’re curious about others. The one-sided open relationship can serve as a sandbox for self-exploration.

It allows one partner to discover different aspects of their personality and sexuality without dismantling the core relationship.

3. Addressing Mismatched Libidos

One partner’s low libido and the other’s high libido can create tension in a relationship.

A one-sided open relationship can sometimes be the solution, allowing the higher-libido partner to seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere while maintaining the emotional connection at home. [Read: Safe and natural ways to increase your libido]

4. Circumstantial Needs

Sometimes life throws curveballs like long-distance phases, extensive travel, or differing work schedules.

A one-sided open relationship can offer a practical solution by fulfilling the companionship or sexual needs that can’t be met due to these circumstances. [Read: Time management techniques for couples]

5. Emotional Balance

Contrary to what rom-coms tell us, one person can’t meet all our emotional needs.

A one-sided open relationship can create an emotional balance where each person gets what they need, be it more emotional support, intellectual stimulation, or simply different types of attention and care.

What to Expect in a One-Sided Open Relationship

If you’re considering stepping foot into the landscape of a one-sided open relationship, it’s essential to know what terrain you’re about to navigate.

From emotional rollercoasters to communication challenges, here are some crucial checkpoints to be aware of.

1. Emotional Complexity

Expect an emotional kaleidoscope. The person enjoying the freedom to date outside the relationship might experience exhilaration, while the monogamous partner could grapple with feelings like jealousy or inadequacy.

It’s crucial to communicate these emotions openly to avoid misunderstandings and hurt. [Read: Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: How to read & decode your emotional wheel]

2. Communication Quirks

In a one-sided open relationship, you’ll need to develop an Olympic-level communication skillset.

Whether it’s laying down ground rules or airing out insecurities, transparent and frequent communication is the bedrock of making this relationship dynamic work.

3. Time Management

This isn’t just about penciling in dates on a calendar, it’s about managing emotional energy as well. The partner in the one-sided open relationship who is dating multiple people needs to balance their time and emotional investment effectively to ensure their primary relationship doesn’t suffer.

4. Social Perceptions

Prepare for a mixed bag of societal reactions. While some friends may cheer you on for being “progressive,” others might criticize your relationship choice.

Maintaining a sense of inner conviction about your one-sided open relationship is key in facing external judgments. [Read: Polyamory: How it works and is it something worth trying?]

5. External Support

Don’t underestimate the power of a supportive community or counsel.

Whether it’s friends who understand or a relationship therapist familiar with the dynamics of a one-sided open relationship, external input can offer fresh perspectives and coping strategies.

6. Financial Implications

Let’s talk dollars and cents. Maintaining multiple relationships can have financial repercussions, from the costs of dates to travel.

Transparency about expenses is key to avoid financial strain on the primary relationship.

7. Ethical Considerations

Both partners should be on the same ethical page. Is it ethical non-monogamy that you’re practicing, or is it more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” setup?

Understanding and agreeing on the ethics of your one-sided open relationship will lay a strong foundation for navigating its complexities. [Read: Non-monogamy and how to know if you and your partner are ready for one]

8. Expect the Unexpected

Last but not least, be ready for surprises. People change, feelings evolve, and what initially seemed like a fantastic arrangement might need tweaking.

Being adaptable is crucial as you both grow within the parameters of your one-sided open relationship.

How to Explore a One-Sided Open Relationship Without Losing Your Heart *or Mind*

So, you’ve decided to explore the labyrinth that is a one-sided open relationship. Before you embark on this adventure, there are some fundamental yet often overlooked guidelines that can make your journey far less treacherous.

1. Communication is Key

Transactional analysis isn’t just a term for your psych 101 class, it’s a real deal in relationships. This involves understanding the ‘Parent,’ ‘Adult,’ and ‘Child’ ego states we all possess.

In a one-sided open relationship, ensure your ‘Adult’ is talking to your partner’s ‘Adult,’ especially when laying down rules and discussing feelings. No room for childish misunderstandings here! [Read: 42 secrets to communicate better in a relationship & ways to fix a lack of it]

2. Boundaries and Limitations

You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: boundaries are crucial. Emotional boundaries, to be precise.

Knowing where you end and your partner begins is paramount in any relationship, but especially so in a one-sided open relationship.

This will help avoid emotional enmeshment and keep both of you grounded in your own selves while exploring other connections. [Read: Boundaries in a relationship: 43 healthy dating rules you MUST set early on]

3. Safety First

Sure, we’re talking about emotional safety, but let’s not forget good ol’ physical safety. Both partners need to be transparent about their health status, especially if one is seeing other people.

Regular check-ups, safe sexual practices, and keeping emergency contacts handy can go a long way in avoiding heartbreak, and well, any other kind of break. [Read: 29 safe sex secrets & nasty dangers of unprotected sex most don’t know!]

4. Consensual Non-Monogamy Agreement

While not an official document, both parties should be in clear agreement about the terms of this one-sided open relationship.

Whether it’s a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” *as we said earlier* policy or full disclosure about external dalliances, ensure that you’re both on the same page to avoid heartache down the line. [Read: Open relationship: 38 rules, questions & advice to talk about it as a couple]

5. Emotional Check-ins

Finally, make room for periodic emotional audits. The relationship landscape is not static; it’s as dynamic as the stock market but without the Wall Street jargon.

Regular emotional check-ins allow you to gauge the health of your one-sided open relationship and make timely adjustments.

6. Digital Etiquette

In the age of social media, it’s crucial to set some online boundaries. What’s shared and what stays private can be a sticking point.

Are photos with other partners allowed on Instagram? Can you tag each other in tweets about your date nights? Knowing your digital do’s and don’ts can save you from many an awkward situation.

7. The “Veto Power”

Some couples introduce the idea of a “veto,” where either party can call off an external relationship if it begins to threaten the primary one.

Having this safety net can provide a sense of security, although it should be used judiciously to maintain trust.

8. Self-Care Routines

When one person is out exploring, the one who stays behind might feel a bit left out. This is a good time for some self-care.

Whether it’s a night out with friends or a pampering spa day, ensure you have a self-care routine to keep your spirits high and your emotional balance in check. [Read: Triad relationship: 33 honest questions, facts and benefits]

9. Exit Strategy

Hate to be a downer, but it’s always good to have an exit strategy in a one-sided open relationship. If things aren’t working out, what’s the plan? An amicable separation? Couple’s therapy?

Knowing the steps to take can remove some of the anxiety associated with potential relationship issues.

10. Social Circle Dynamics

Let’s not forget about the friend group! Are you telling them about your unique relationship dynamic, or is this on a need-to-know basis?

And if you’re open about it, prepare for varied reactions and questions. It might even change the dynamics within your social circle, so a heads-up can be helpful.

How a One-Sided Open Relationship Can Be Your Cup of Sunshine

Yes, as confusing as it may sound, you read that right! A one-sided open relationship isn’t just a Pandora’s box of complexities, it can also be a treasure trove of benefits. Let’s take a look.

1. Autonomy and Independence

Remember self-determination theory? Well, it shines brightly here. A one-sided open relationship can fuel your need for autonomy like a Red Bull for your soul.

You maintain your individuality while also enjoying the comforts of a primary relationship. It’s like living alone but with backup. [Read: Spirited steps to be independent in a relationship & love better]

2. Fulfilling Diverse Needs

Ever try to fit a square peg in a round hole? Sometimes our needs don’t perfectly align with our partner’s capabilities.

Enter Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but let’s spice it up. In a one-sided open relationship, one can seek to fulfill different levels of needs—be it physiological or emotional—with different partners.

Imagine getting both your comfort food and gourmet dinner without leaving the same restaurant.

3. Reduced Relationship Strain

Let’s sprinkle some “relationship homeostasis” into the mix. Think of it like an ecosystem’s equilibrium but for your love life.

A one-sided open relationship can sometimes reduce the strain on the primary partnership by outsourcing certain needs.

So, instead of stressing your relationship to be your end-all-be-all, you distribute the load.

4. Social Expansion

Being in a one-sided open relationship can sometimes feel like having a VIP pass to various social circles.

Whether it’s networking or simply making new friends, the social benefits are worth a mention. Just remember to respect each circle’s boundaries.

5. Keeps the Spark Alive

It might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder—or at least keeps it from getting bored.

The fresh experiences one partner gains could bring some unexpected zing back into the primary relationship.

You can think of it as importing some exotic spices into your home kitchen, making everyday dishes taste brand new.

What to Watch Out For in a One-Sided Open Relationship

Let’s be real, there are pitfalls here that could turn your love story into a cautionary tale. Here are some things to consider.

1. Jealousy and Insecurity

Truth be told, jealousy is almost a given in a one-sided open relationship. It’s like the unwelcome guest at your dinner party that nobody invited but still shows up. If the word ‘FOMO’ sends shivers down your spine, brace yourself.

Thanks to social comparison theory, watching your partner cozy up with someone else can make you reevaluate your life choices faster than a TikTok video can go viral.

And let’s be clear: if you’ve already crowned yourself the ‘King or Queen of Jealousy,’ this relationship model might just be your royal mess.

Jealousy isn’t just a green-eyed monster, it’s more like an emotional siren that doesn’t just call sailors to their doom, but could also send your relationship crashing into the rocky shores of ‘We-Need-to-Talk’ Island. [Read: Jealousy in a relationship: How to accept, deal & overcome it in love]

2. Emotional Strain

Ever heard of the “negativity effect?” It’s the idea that bad experiences affect us more profoundly than good ones.

In a one-sided open relationship, the emotional toll of feeling secondary can overshadow any of the freedom or autonomy you might gain.

One negative comment or awkward encounter could potentially set off an emotional domino effect.

3. Potential for Exploitation

Power dynamics play a significant role here. If one partner has more emotional or financial leverage, it could tilt the scales of the one-sided open relationship into exploitative territory.

It might not be a Lifetime movie, but it’s definitely not a fairy tale either.

4. Time Management Woes

Having multiple relationships or connections requires some serious calendar juggling. The person engaging in external relations can find themselves swamped, leading to neglect of the primary relationship. Basically, too many dates, too little time!

5. Trust Erosion

The more complex a relationship structure, the more room there is for misunderstandings and betrayal, intentional or not.

In a one-sided open relationship, trust can erode faster than a sandcastle at high tide if you’re not careful. [Read: How to build trust in a relationship & learn to be loyal and loving]

6. Social Stigma

As mentioned above, not everyone’s going to roll out the red carpet for your unconventional love story. From raised eyebrows to outright disapproval, you’ll need a thick skin to navigate the gamut of reactions from your social circle and family.

But hold up, don’t let the side-eyes get you down. At the end of the day, the stars of this rom-com are—you guessed it—you and your partner.

What truly matters is your mutual understanding and agreement in your one-sided open relationship. It’s your love, your rules. So let the haters hate, while you focus on what makes your relationship tick. [Read: 20 non-negotiables in a relationship you must never ever compromise on]

It’s Complicated!

Now, you might be asking yourself, “So what’s the verdict?” Well, in the immortal words of every relationship expert ever, “It’s complicated.”

Here’s the deal: be as open-minded as a philosopher at a thought buffet, but also, tread carefully—this can be risky business.

A one-sided open relationship is like skydiving. It’s exhilarating but not without its hazards. Make sure your parachute is well-packed, if you catch my drift. [Read: Love triangle and why it’s sexy, fun, complicated and heartbreaking all at once]

You know how people say, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”? Well, in a one-sided open relationship, it’s actually about both.

Your destination is your happiness, and the journey is how you navigate this unique relationship dynamic to get there.

[Read: 45 big relationship red flags most couples completely ignore early on]

So if you find yourself considering a one-sided open relationship, go ahead and explore, but keep a love compass handy. You never know when you might need to find your way back to emotional safety!

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...