Whether you call it polyamory, an open relationship, or ethical non-monogamy, talking about it for the first time with your partner can feel overwhelming. Even when it’s something you really want to pursue.
Jack and Jill Adult turned to relationship experts to get their advice on the best way to handle the conversation.
How to Bring It Up to Your Partner
If open relationships or ethical non-monogamy aren’t topics you usually tackle over breakfast or coffee, bringing it up can feel daunting. Here’s what the experts have to say.
“There’s no perfect time or place to do it,” says Sarah Sloane, director of communications for Hashtag Open, “but make sure that you’re framing it in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling like you’re looking for an intimate replacement (“The sex isn’t great with you so maybe we should open it up” is a really negative way to say it), and that gives them plenty of time to think about it and talk about it with you before they feel that they have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
“One way a partner can bring up the topic is by simply asking the question, ‘What do you think of ethical non-monogamy?’” advises sex therapist Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones. “Often, this isn’t a topic that they have previously thought of or that they are misinformed about. So it is important to educator your partner on what ethnical non-monogamy is and why you are interested in it. I believe it is also important to assure your partner of your feelings toward them.”
“I recommend starting indirectly,” says intimacy coach Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey. “Listen to a podcast, read a book, watch something that has successful non-monogamous relationships. For the conversation: Start by reassuring your partner of your love for them, and your commitment to them. Then explain that many people enjoy relationships where they can explore intimacy with other partners (either alone or together) in an ethical way. Explain that there are many different types of relationships that are not monogamous. From once in a while sexual exploration together with a third party to committed long term relationships with multiple people and everything in between.”
Dealing with Uncertainty in Your Partner
So you’ve had the conversation about opening up your relationship, and your partner is willing to give it a go, but they’re extremely uncertain. What do you do?
“Go slow!” advises Dr. Bisbey. “Make sure you both are clear what you are proposing to do: have a threesome? Date other people together? Date other people separately? Go to a swing party? Once you are both clear, set some boundaries…If you are having trouble negotiating these things, see a coach who is experienced in working with consensual non-monogamy. Your partner may want a session or two alone to explore their own feelings.”
“With all sexual behavior, it is perfectly valid to be uncertain if you like something or not,” states Dr. Jones. “The question is if the partner is willing to experiment with ethnical non-monogamy or not. When couples come in with such an issue, I usually ask the uncertain partner what they know about ethical non-monogamy and recommend several books for them to read. Typically if the partner is willing to try ethnical non-monogamy, I recommend that they try it for a period of time, typically under a month.”
When Your Partner Isn’t Interested in an Open Relationship
Just because we really want something doesn’t mean our partners want it, too. So what do you do when the answer is, “No.”?
“It’s worth exploring why, and whether they may be amenable to one person engaging while the other person doesn’t,” states Sloane. “Some couples find that they are quite happy with one person dating outside of the relationship consensually, and the other person being essentially monogamous. Sometimes the “why” can lead us to more understanding and intimacy, as we address those issues. But in the end, as part of a couple, it’s important that each person be able to advocate for the kind of relationship that feels secure, loving, and empowering. If one person isn’t ready (or interested) in ethical non-monogamy, it’s not worth trying to force the issue, as that can be damaging to the relationship.”
Dr. Bisbey offers multiple tips on what to do next if your partner isn’t interested.
“Negotiate with your partner to agree on what you can do outside of your relationship. This becomes a poly/mono relationship and takes lots of excellent communication and a clear set of rules.
“Decide to stay monogamous with your partner, and explore indirectly using fantasy and solo sex.
“Decide that being monogamous is not for you and end the relationship and then go explore the kind of non-monogamy that works for you.
“Having affairs (unethical non-monogamy) is not on this list because the betrayal is extremely difficult to get past and so this often destroys the relationship.”
“Success in opening up an already existing relationship relies on lots of excellent communication [and] a willingness to go very slow,” says Dr. Bisbey. “Both parties have to be willing to compromise. Both parties have to be flexible too…once you start doing things, you may need to re-visit the rules and agreements. Sometimes a person finds they cannot manage their feelings of jealousy, for example. This is something that can be worked on solo or with a coach. This takes time and patience.”
Dr. Bisbey continues, “Finally, lying (even white lies) is the kiss of death if you are trying to open up your relationship. In this case, asking permission is far better than asking for forgiveness. It is the lying and betrayal that partners often cannot get past.”
Open relationships aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay, but if it’s important to you, talk to your partner about it.
Have you ever thought about being an open relationship or talked about it with your partner? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments!