• Sarah M. Neal

So, You Think You Are Ready to Open Your Relationship

So, now what? There are a few questions you need to ask yourselves and things you need to consider before you and your partner try open relationship exploration. As difficult as some of these questions can be, you need to be completely honest with yourself and each other.

Photo by Richard Balog on Unsplash

You and your partner have had multiple conversations and agreed to give 'opening’ your relationship a shot. Whether an eager decision for you both or reluctant, it was a mutual agreement... at least "see if it works".

There is a great deal of buzz about Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) these days. While pinning down solid statistics is proving to be difficult, it is estimated that at least 20% of the population is either tried CNM or is involved in some form of non-monogamous relationship- consensually and that number appears to be on the rise.

Google reports an annual rise of searches pertaining to open relationships over the last decade. A study conducted by YouGov, an internet-based market research firm, reports that just about half of all millennials are open to CNM. About 42% of OKCupid’s 2.5 million monthly users said that they would be open to the idea of dating someone who was already involved in an open relationship.

So, now what? There are a few questions you need to ask yourselves and things you need to consider before you and your partner try open relationship exploration. As difficult as some of these questions can be, you need to be completely honest with yourself and each other.

Why are you opening your relationship?

This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT questions that needs to be answered by both of you with complete, raw honesty. The majority of open relationships that fail start with to “save a relationship”. If you think opening your relationship is the solution to infidelity, you may be surprised to find that it more often than not isn’t the case. Cheating on your partner is rarely about the sex. Cheating usually occurs because of much deeper issues with the individual or with the relationship. Cheating is about deception and dishonesty and can still occur in open relationships (see Cheating in Polyamory). If a cheating partner is your reason to try CNM, I would recommend first taking a deeper look at your relationship and getting to the core of the reasons for infidelity before slapping on a band aid.

What do you envision for your relationship?

Once you get to the core of the reasons for opening your relationship, you can better understand what type of consensual non-monogamy will work best for you and your partner RIGHT NOW. I stress the “right now” because this can shift as you progress along your CNM journey. There are many, like my husband and me, who start off swinging and then progress on to a more polyamorous aspect as they find they are looking for more than just casual sex.

If you are primarily looking to spice up your sex life with your partner, I strongly recommend finding your local swinger community. If you are having difficulty finding a swinging community, there are numerous websites that are designed to help (check out this article for some links).

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using CNM to spice up your sex life with your partner as long as EVERYONE is completely on board with the relationship/encounter being just that-especially those who are coming in.

For those couples who are searching for that “hot, bi-woman” who will date you both, a.k.a. “unicorn”, I suggest treading very lightly. While there are bi-women who are looking for couples to date, the idea of “adding a third” is much easier said than done. Our media floods us with “throuple” relationships where a man has his wife and their girlfriend. What they don’t show are the many pit-falls when setting out with intentions that you and your spouse will only date someone who is interested in you both. The more successful “throuples” grow out of something that started much more organically. Sometimes feelings and attractions can take time. Sometimes, this “Unicorn” will fall hard and fast for one person in the couple but doesn’t connect with the other. Sometimes that “Unicorn” will grow to connect and be attracted to the other person, but sometimes not. If that happens, does this “unicorn” and the one they connected with have to end the relationship because someone feels left out?

Is that fair?

Is it ethical?

I’m inclined to say no.

To say to your partner, “You cannot be with this other person because they don’t want to have sex with me” is not only selfish but inconsiderate and measures up to the adolescent girl drama of “You can’t be friends with them because they don’t want to be friends with me.”

If you and your partner are going to allow yourselves to open up into the realm of possibilities that come with being open to emotional connections with others, it is your moral obligation to treat the emotions of partners, potential partners and metamours with the same care as you would want your own emotions to be treated. It is that simple.

What are your boundaries/agreements for this new relationship?

For some couples, particularly those who are only in it for the sex, this means deciding that you will only play with others if you are both in the same room. Maybe it means you will play in different rooms. It could mean you will only play with others in a certain situation with certain individuals.

For those who choose to date separately, maybe it means deciding how many nights a week you are okay with your partner going out. It could mean deciding what events are important for you to attend as a couple. It could also be deciding how you will interact with others at certain events.

The agreements can include everything from what constitutes as an emergency for last-minute date cancellations to designating a particular room for play or overnight visits.

There is debate over couples making agreements concerning other relationships before the other people involved in the relationships can agree or disagree. However, I am a firm believer that it is important for the couple who is opening up their relationship to have multiple conversations around their particular comfort zone, -especially when first starting. HOWEVER. HOWEVER. HOWEVER, be very clear that all boundaries and agreements have the possibility of changing with each new experience and relationship. Be open to the idea of your relationship growing and changing.

John and I joke that we used to have a huge “rule book” when we first started dating and now we are down to one “rule” and one agreement: Don’t bring home anything you can’t wash off; and family needs above all. For us, by family we mainly mean our children and we do not use our children as an excuse to get the other of us to not go out with someone. For a while, childcare was a NEGOTIATION between the two of us, which we tried to be mindful of for ourselves and each other, but we never used them as tools of manipulation.

Many couples start out with the, “If at any time one of us says ‘stop’ we stop and go back to monogamy.” While I completely understand the desire to make this a “rule” or “agreement”, this can also cause some unseen future problems. I can say this not only from my own experience, but from witnessing it with other couples. Some couples may find that they indeed are not cut out for CNM and that is OKAY.

It is okay to decide that you are innately monogamous and want a monogamous relationship. The trouble can come when only one of you wants to go back to monogamy. I have found that when it is only one person wanting to return to monogamy, it is usually because that person’s insecurities are such that they feel that monogamy will quell them and make everything okay.

This leads into my next point.

Be prepared to have your insecurities and gremlins come out from the dark corners and get in your face.

Yes, yes. I know that there are many people out there who claim to never have any issues with compersion or jealousies. John likes to boast that from time to time- or rather he used to until his own gremlins came out of hiding.

I know that some people have a more natural propensity towards compersion and a high threshold when it comes to jealous feelings concerning romantic partners. I applaud them.

I also know, we are ALL only human.

I’m going to say that the likelihood of someone feeling some form of discomfort when it comes to their partners dating others is a good deal higher than the likelihood of someone never wrestling with jealousy gremlins in a consensually non-monogamous relationship.

In a society that pounds into our heads that romantic love is finite and that if our partners love someone else then they must not love us, feelings of jealousy and insecurities are bound to happen. Without getting too deep into all of that here, I recommend checking out these previous entries on compersion.

My point is, the discomfort is bound to happen. It is okay. You aren’t alone. What is important is how you deal with all of the discomfort. We can’t help how we feel about something, but we can always control how we react to those feelings.

There are few things that will help you face your insecurities like CNM will. You can choose to face them and use them as tools to help you grow, or you can shove them under the rug and let them fester. I recommend the former as festering insecurities are time-bombs.

People are not disposable plates or containers to be used for our purposes and then thrown out, nor are they laboratory testing animals.

If you and your partner decide that you are ready to explore the realms of meaningful, romantic relationships outside of your relationship with each other, it is vital that you understand that the people you date are human beings with feelings and emotional needs of their own. To disregard their feelings because you are wrestling with your gremlins and insecurities is no more okay than someone doing it to you.

This is where the “veto” power or the “if we don’t like it, we can go back to monogamy” can be problematic. If your primary partner is dating someone else and you are overwhelmed with your gremlins to the point you decide to use your “power” to end the relationship, you completely disregard the feelings of your partner and your metamour.

It is selfish, unethical, and cruel.

Deciding polyamory or open relationships are not for you because of the way you are wired is one thing. Deciding when neither you nor your primary partner are involved with anyone that you both GENUINELY want to go back to monogamy is one thing. Leaving a trail of broken hearts, resentment and hurt feelings because you refuse to examine and work on your insecurities is something completely different and will likely cause issues within your primary relationship.

The people with whom you and your partner engage in relationships have their own sets of feelings and emotional needs and are not disposable.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Not only should you and your partner decide what level of communication you need concerning dating and other partners before you start dating, you also need to be ready to have all the communication both of you need when it comes to dealing with insecurities. If you are wrestling with your gremlins, talk with your partner. Communicate what you are feeling at any given point in time. When we let feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and jealousy fester, they become a cancer in our relationships (any relationship). Yes, communication can get tricky and we all communicate differently. I’ve written more about communication here.

Be gentle, patient, and compassionate with yourself and your partner.

Opening up your relationship can be exciting and beautiful and terrifying and messy. What works for one person may not work for another; what works for one couple may not work for another. Mistakes are going to be made as they often are in life.

The process of opening up your relationship will teach you a great deal about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. Just as with any romantic relationship, the work is never completely done. Monogamous and non-monogamous relationships alike continually grow and change, and it is up to all parties involved to be committed to the success of the relationship in order for it to work.

Open relationships take constant work and communication. When you and your partner make mistakes, learn from them and do better.

There will be good days and rough days.

There will be beautiful days and there will be messy days.

What your relationship looks like at the beginning of the consensual non-monogamy journey may not be what it looks like further down the road. Allow the relationship to grow organically into whatever it needs to while you and your partner strive to maintain its health. I encourage you to seek out community and if you need, seek out a therapist, counselor, or coach to help you navigate through the waters of consensual non-monogamy.

Wherever your exploring may take you and your partner, treat yourselves and each other with kindness, patience, and compassion.


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