Originally published on YourTango.com
I see many people in my private practice who do not want to end the relationship they are in but are interested in having other sexual or romantic partners. As polyamory and open relationships are becoming more visible, more people are wondering, is there a way I can be honest with my partner about what I am desiring? How can I even start this conversation? What will help us to be successful if we try this?
Here are some tips from my years of working with couples while they explore if an open relationship is right for them. This first article will focus on getting clarity for yourself before you even approach your partner.
First, do not start an affair. I cannot stress this enough. It is true for many people that the first time they begin to consider open relationships are when they have met an appealing new potential partner. While a new person may allow you to realize that you can love more than one person at a time; if you are seriously considering an open relationship with your current partner the first requirement will be to treat them with respect and the relationship with integrity. Open relationships are not a free for all or permission for cheating; lies are still lies. You will not be able to effectively change the rules of your relationship to allow for more openness, and the trust that this requires, when you are healing the wounds of an affair.
Be honest with yourself about what you want from your current relationship. Are you considering new partners because you are bored or unhappy with your current relationship? Are your reasons for wanting to stay with your current partner primarily practical, i.e. it would be inconvenient to divorce or separate? Can you identify things about your current partner that you love and really value about them? Are you happy being with them for who they are? A functioning open relationship will require intense honesty, respect and ongoing communication. Do you and your partner currently have those skills and want to engage MORE with each other? Are you willing to take some time to first build the foundation of this relationship before adding other partners? If not, this brings us to our next tip.
Don’t use an open relationship as a way to break up slowly. If you are not really happy with your current partner and are desiring a way to pull away from that relationship, it will be better to be honest about this – with yourself and your partner. A struggling relationship is not likely to be fixed by opening up to other partners, nor are other partners necessarily going to ease the blow of a break up. More often it just complicates things further and makes it so you really don’t have the energy or the time to work on problems with your current partner. So before beginning a conversation with your partner about opening the relationship, ask yourself, am I really asking for this because I feel it will end the relationship so that I can be free?
Ask, are you willing to let someone else share in your sexual decision-making? While there are hundreds of ways to structure open relationships and sexual agreements with partners, if you are thinking about expanding a relationship with a current partner, that implies that you will work as partners to create rules and agreements that work for both of you. This requires negotiation, consent, and sometimes not getting to do what you want. When I meet people who tell me they want an open relationship with their partner with no rules and no partners off limits, I know we need to explore if this person wants a shared open relationship with their partner or do they want to no commitment at all. It is ok to want to make sexual decisions strictly for yourself and by yourself, but it helps to be clear about this. Otherwise what I have seen happen is an extended negotiation period in which one person continually breaks agreements, asks for more freedoms, and eventually the other person feels that there is no “relationship” at all, just free for all dating. If you want complete freedom from the boundaries and responsibilities of relationship, then that is a different conversation.
Explore the role sexuality plays in your life and your image of yourself. The more clarity you can have about your desires, fears, doubts, joys and yearnings, the more you will be able to have an intimate conversation with your partner about trying something new. Open relationships ask you to bring your sexuality out of the shadows and to talk about risky subject manner. Support yourself, know your own mind and heart as much as possible, and stay open and curious to what you are feeling. Working with a sex therapist or taking a workshop about sexuality can be a great resource.