Talking to Your Partner About Opening Up Your Relationship

I have asked for some version of non-monogamy in every relationship I’ve ever had.

In two out of three instances, I was looking for a chance to date other people because I was deeply unhappy with the relationship I was in, but too afraid to end things and risk being alone. It’s no surprise, then, that both of those partners said no.

When I brought it up for a third time, it was in a completely different context. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were maybe six months into our relationship, and our very best friend was polyamorous, so non-monogamy wasn’t a foreign concept for either of us.

“Hey babe, you know how we’re both queer?”

He nodded.

“Do you think you’d ever be interested in opening up our relationship, at least in part so we could experience same sex dating and sex?”

He mulled it over for a second. “Yeah, we could probably do that at some point. I’d want us both to feel really secure in this relationship first, though.”

I agreed, and we went on with our night.

Over the next four years we talked about it every now and then. At some point it became less a matter of ‘if’ than ‘when’. We talked about the differences between open relationships and polyamory, and what we thought would work for us. Then, about six months into our engagement, I brought it up again. I had met someone on the internet that I enjoyed talking to and flirting with (something that was already okay in our monogamous relationship).

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t an easy conversation. When my partner and I realized just how much I liked this new person, we both cried.

What did this mean? Did this change everything? Were we really willing to risk our entire relationship for some new-to-me internet booty?

The truth is, if we felt like our relationship was actually at risk, I don’t think we would have agreed to open it. Non-monogamy cannot fix a hurting or broken relationship.

We started by purchasing Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. We took turns reading each chapter aloud to each other, pausing at the end to discuss what we liked and didn’t like about each section and how we thought we could incorporate that into our Relationship Agreement.

We shared articles we found with each other. We talked through our questions with our polyamorous BFF. I preemptively ordered The Jealousy Workbook, because I knew I would need it. And then we started drafting a list of rules and boundaries that made sense to us, with a summary of our intentions at the top:

We promise to enter into this phase of our relationship as two fully consenting adults who are willing to do the labor (emotional, physical, or otherwise) required to make a healthy and thriving non-monogamous relationship work. We promise to be honest with ourselves and each other, even when it’s hard.

We will do our best to reassure our primary partner and make them feel loved, desired, and secure as often as we possibly can. Every decision we make, every outside relationship we enter into, will be done thoughtfully and with care and concern for our primary relationship.

Most importantly, we love each other immensely, and are excited to embark on this new chapter together.

A little formal perhaps (we were also in the process of writing our wedding vows at the same time), but writing it all out helped us to feel like we were on the same page and, with that security blanket in place, we pressed on.

Okay but like, how do I talk to my partner about non-monogamy?

First, you may want to go into the conversation with your partner having thought about what it is exactly that you want — with the full understanding that that can change, and that your partner may want something totally different. Are you just looking to establish some friends-with-benefits type situations, or are you hoping to build partnerships similar to the one you have now?

Second, and this is important, you need to let go of any notion that your partner will happily agree to this and also stay monogamous with you. I cannot tell you how common it is to wish for this, but it’s just not realistic. If you are asking your partner to do the work of being okay with you fucking, dating, and/or loving other people, you must also be willing to do that work — even though it’s hard.

Third, be really honest with yourself and interrogate why you want an open relationship. When I asked for non-monogamy with previous partners I was legitimately into the idea, but also desperately looking for a way to escape relationships that were no longer fulfilling for me. If you’re genuinely a monogamous person who is just scared of leaving your current partner, non-monogamy will likely feel like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Once you’re ready to talk to your partner, you should approach them in whatever way works for both of you when you need to discuss Serious Things. Make sure to offer any reassurance they need throughout the conversation that you love them, care for them, and still want to be with them. Do not attempt to manipulate them, or “sell them” on the idea of non-monogamy if they’re not into it. But do send them links to articles or other resources that resonated with you, and ask them to read them and think about it. Give them time to come to their own conclusions about what they want.

I know I was lucky to have a partner who was willing to do the work of opening up with me. Sometimes no matter how badly we want something, our partner is not willing — or able — to meet us on that bridge. You have to decide for yourself if that’s a deal breaker for you.

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4 Comments

  1. Great post. One question: Where you said you and your spouse drew up a list of rules that made sense to the two of you, and you set forth an intention for how your and your spouse will nurture your own relationship during this change.

    Could you say more about whether & how you intend to honor and nurture your other relationships, or respect the feelings, needs, priorities and goals of your other partners? Does your intention involve hierarchy — and if so, what should prospective other partners understand about this?

    1. Good question! I plan to go into some of this in other posts but the long story short is that we practice hierarchical polyamory but with deep, deep respect and care for the relationships that we maintain outside of our primary partnership. We are transparent with everyone we date about our existing boundaries, and often change (or eliminate) boundaries to accommodate the new people in our lives. One of my favorite resources is More Than Two’s Secondary Bill of Rights, which I turn to often both as someone who is a secondary to someone else in a hierarchical-poly relationship, and when I am considering the feelings, needs, and priorities of my own secondary partners (and my metamours).

      I checked out your site and you obviously are incredibly knowledgeable on the topic of non-monogamy. Do you have any suggestions for ways to do this differently?

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