By Kelly McDonnell-Arnold
Whether you’ve been in a relationship for a few months or 20 years, perhaps you’ve considered opening up your relationship — trying out an “open relationship.” Also known as consensual non-monogamy (CNM or ethical non-monogamy), it’s gaining recognition and some couples are giving it a try and making it work for them.According to a 2016 YouGov poll, 17% of adults aged 18-44 have been consensually nonmonogamous. As more people discover polyamory and learn more about consensual nonmonogamy (CNM), you may be wondering how to approach the matter in your relationship.
People might be wishing their partner would be open to the idea, but they’re afraid to bring it up out of fear of hurting or offending their partner. If you’re considering opening up your relationship and are looking for some ways to approach the conversation, this article will give you some ideas.
Preparing for the discussion
Before approaching the subject with your partner, the first step is to create a transparent idea of what an open relationship looks like for you, and what it is that you desire. Consider all the reasons why you’re thinking about opening up your relationship.
For CNM relationships to thrive, you’ll first need to get truly honest with yourself and then get honest with your partner. This includes being transparent about your wants, needs, and motivations. When exploring an open relationship, open communication is absolutely essential to creating a solid foundation for your partnership. Do some research to give you some clues as to where your boundaries are and what it will mean for you to be involved in an open relationship.
If you’re feeling turned off or even resentful by your partner, you may be at a point in your relationship to consider couples therapy. Some couples lose their relationship when they open it up, so you and your partner should be tightly bound to one another to sustain the relationship.
Discussing an open relationship with your partner
Once you’ve done some digging and research and you know what you want and the motives behind your desire, it’s time to approach the topic with your partner. You might find it intimidating or awkward to begin the conversation, so here are some ideas:
- I’d like to chat about some ways we can add some spice to our relationship.
- Can we talk about some ways we can add some variety to our relationship?
- I’d really love to discuss the possibility of opening our relationship.
You’ll want to broach the topic in a way that’s aligned with what you’re looking to create in your relationship, so get honest with yourself, so you can communicate clearly with your partner.
Be sure to tell them about how much you value and appreciate them, and be specific. This is your partner, who you care about, so keep your language respectful and be ready for initial shock and even some hurt feelings.
Important topics to cover
Starting the discussion is often the trickiest part, so once you’ve uttered the words and initiated the chat, you’ll go deeper into what you’re craving and why you want it. Think about discussing the purpose for testing out an open relationship, and ask yourself what you want to get out of it, what are you willing to give, what are you seeking, and what types of partner(s) would you like?
One important topic to cover is jealousy. Envy is often one of our clients’ trickiest challenges to navigate in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Your partner will be sharing you, and you’ll be sharing your partner, so have a heart-to-heart about how each of you will feel. While jealousy can lead to problems in an open relationship, strong communication and respecting your mutual limits can help you avoid and even alleviate those green feelings over time. Here’s a workbook we recommend to clients; The Jealousy Workbook: Exercises and Insights for Managing Open Relationships.
Find some relationship support
If you have a tight-knit community of friends with similar lifestyle choices, that’s great! For most, this isn’t the case. Look for a local sex-positive therapist who can help guide you on your journey and help you work through any issues that pop up. Keep in mind, that transitioning to an open relationship might take time — it can often be a lengthy process. If your local search results turn up nothing, seek the advice of an online therapist. We do this!
Assure your partner that you’ll take it slow and will communicate every step of the way. And if you go too fast for your partner or they go too fast for you, agree that you’ll discuss it, and then pump the brakes. You’ll uncover some intriguing revelations about one another, so be open to making course corrections along your journey.
If your partner is interested but nervous to let you go first, even if after working with a therapist, perhaps try letting them go first. By offering the opportunity for them to go first, they may be able to lessen their worries about when it’s your turn.
Open relationships are just one way to set up your relationship. It will work for some and not for others. Make it fit for you and your partner. Just like no two monogamous partnerships are the same, no two open relationships will work the same. Stay open to each other’s ideas about what nonmonogamy means for you. If you and your partners are honest with each other, and everyone is content and fulfilled, then you could go for it!
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About Author: Kelly McDonnell-Arnold MA. MBA. RSW. is a Clinical Sexologist and Psychotherapist with a Master’s degree in Forensic Sexology and a sought after expert and personality in the field of human sexuality.