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How can I start talking to my partner about opening our relationship?

Guestpost by Miss Elizabeth on Jan 3rd

"Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships" by Tristan Taormino

I've been dating my wonderful boyfriend for six years and I love him very much. Over the last year though, I've started to change my beliefs on monogamy and have read quite a few books on polyamory (Including Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships). I really feel like it's a lifestyle I would like to pursue in some form, but including my current boyfriend. I've tried to ease into the subject with my boyfriend in the least threatening way I can think of (only relationships with other women, I've never mentioned other men), but he gets defensive and shuts the conversation down. He sees it as cheating no matter what.

I would like to at least have an open, honest discussion with him, but the discussions so far have been more stress then talk. The things I've read do have information about bringing the subject up with your partner, but they make it sound much easier then it has been for me. How do you say "I'd like to have relationships with other people " without them feeling hurt and that they aren't good enough? I also understand that even if we have a real talk about it, he may never be ok with it. So, if not, any advice on whether to end things or to ignore my feelings on the subject? -Ann

We asked our resident sexy-lady, Miss Elizabeth, to weigh in on this one. Here are her thoughts:

Starting conversations about open relationships can be hugely challenging, but it sounds like you've got the right resources in your corner. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships is an excellent book and should give you some great guidance on how to talk to your partner about the issue. My best advice would be even using the book itself as a conversation starter: "I'm reading this book, and I'd love to talk to you about it. Parts of it scare me, but parts seem really intriguing." If you can frame the discussion around your curiosity and your own concerns and fears, you might give him more of a way to feel ok about discussing his concerns and fears openly.

A few other ideas:

  • Emphasize repeatedly that your relationship with your partner is your top priority. (And make sure you really truly mean it, or else you've got much larger relationship issues to examine.)
  • Go into the conversation with no demands and no expectations.
  • Clarify that you don't need the relationship to be open, but you do want to be able to talk to him about the issue.

You may also want to talk to your partner about the concept of being "monogamish." This is a form of open relationship much tauted by sex columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller:

Seattle City Hall-59

Photo of Dan & Terry courtesy of Nate Gowdy of Seattle Gay News

In their own marriage, Savage and Miller practice being what he calls "monogamish," allowing occasional infidelities, which they are honest about. Miller was initially opposed to the idea. "You assume as a younger person that all relationships are monogamous and between two people, that love means nothing can come between you," said Miller, who met Savage at a club in 1995, when he was 23 and Savage was 30. "Dan has taught me to be more realistic about that kind of stuff.

"It was four or five years before it came up," Miller said. "It's not about having three-ways with somebody or having an open relationship. It is just sort of like, Dan has always said if you have different tastes, you have to be good, giving and game, and if you are not G.G.G. for those tastes, then you have to give your partner the out. It took me a while to get down with that." When I asked Savage how many extramarital encounters there have been, he laughed shyly. "Double digits?" I asked. He said he wasn't sure; later he and Miller counted, and he reported back that the number was nine. "And far from it being a destabilizing force in our relationship, it's been a stabilizing force. It may be why we're still together."

[Read the full New York Times article: Married, With Infidelities]

For some couples, "monogamish" is an easier concept than "open relationship," because it keeps the focus on the primary relationship.

Remember this: open relationships simply are not feasible for most people. The vast majority of us simply don't have the resources to deal with the complexities and requisite communication and non-stop emotional processing — and that's ok! That said, I've seen many couples who've deepened their monogamous relationships by simply TALKING about having an open relationship. By discussing the issues, you can explore new levels of communication and intimacy with your partner… even if you ultimately decide together that opening the relationship isn't a good fit for the two of you.

I know Offbeat Home has lots of polyamorous readers — perhaps they'd like to weigh in with their thoughts on this complex and challenging issue: any tips on the best ways to respectfully bring up the concept of an open relationship? How can you make this conversation as un-scary as possible for your partner?

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About Miss Elizabeth

Miss Elizabeth is a sex-positive academic who likes exploring the intersections between communication, emotion, and genitalia.