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

Guest post by Miss Elizabeth
“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-59In 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?

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

  1. You have NO idea how happy it made me to see a post referencing Dan Savage!!! <3

    I love the advice, though Ann's last comment worries me a little ("to ignore my feelings on the subject") — you absolutely shouldn't *ignore* your feelings. Ignored feelings don't just go away, and you'll hurt your partner a LOT more the longer you put off honest conversation (even if you are just trying to spare his feelings). Face the fact that odds are, no matter how delicately you approach the issue, he probably will feel hurt, just has you will probably be hurt by his response. By going through it, though, you'll have your answer — whether you guys can find middle ground or not. If not, you have to decide if the relationship is worth the sacrifice. But either way, you won't be *ignoring* your feelings — you'll be making an active choice based on what best meets both your needs.

    Best of luck!!!!

    • Hey Krista, OP here! So many responses (work was CRAZY last week so I didn’t get the chance to come on here) I just wanted to clarify what I meant about ignoring my feelings, I don’t think my wording conveyed exactly what I wanted to say. If he and I actually have an honest conversation and he is totally against it (which I would of course accept) and I wanted to stay with him, would I have moments of longing for a lifestyle I can’t have with him? I was hoping someone out there that identifies as poly, but chooses to be monogamous for their partner would share their experiences with that feeling.
      You gave some very true advice too and thank you so much :). You’re very right, it will be a choice, not ignoring!

      • Not really identifying as a poly living as monogamous (was actually more the opposite for a few years, whether due to actual feelings overall between the two or being unable to get what I needed from specific situations), but, I can’t remember if it was here or not, I remember seeing recently that for every single thing in life where you have to decide on one road and turn away from another, it’s completely normal to have ‘what if’ moments about the path not taken, and it doesn’t have to mean that your life as it is is unhappy or worse off.

        At the same time, you might find that you actually are unhappy, and thinking about it all the time, more than a transient what if.

        Some people who are interested in poly are able to take or leave it based on the person they are with. Sometimes I think if our relationship was open, it’d be nice to have a girlfriend since that’s such a different role for me than having a boyfriend, but because our relationship has a ton of value to me as it is, I’m okay with knowing mine are the only pair of breasts I may touch for the rest of my life, and it really is only a fleeting thought on rare occasion. Other people into poly simply can’t function in a monogamous relationship. It really is a your miles may vary kind of thing.

        If you’re able to have a good conversation, feel like you were heard and understood, but the answer remains no, it may be something you are able to come to peace with as having explored the possibility in the fullness your relationship allows. And you might not.

        Having people who are aware of poly (and are accepting of both as valid relationship paths) to talk to continuously will probably help tons, whatever happens (yay upcoming forums!). I used to live in Boston, which had a pretty good support network if you found it for those who lived or identified as poly; while I wouldn’t pin it as the most helpful for those who were poly but not living it for their partner, it did underscore how helpful it is to have people to talk with whenever you venture off the beaten path for relationships. /novel

  2. It’s really nice to see this topic addressed. I’d like to make the disclaimer that I have never tried to “convert” a monogamous relationship into a polyamorous one, so this is entirely speculation on my end. That said, I think one useful way to approach this is to talk about what a polyamorous relationship could mean for your partner. That is, rather than say “I want to be able to date other people,” you may mention how meaningful it could be for your partner to explore other relationships. Additionally, figuring out how to word it like that raises the empathy you feel for your partner’s situation if that makes any sense. Best of luck!

    • Rebecca, that is a great idea. I’ve been too focused on how he would take my side of things, but if I focused more on him that might make him feel less afraid and insecure, which would be great! Thank you!

      • It’s possible he may, but I’m interested in the lifestyle for more then just myself. I think it could benefit us both. I take that risk no matter what, but if he sees that I’m willing to wait and let him go first, that could help him. If he sees me reacting positively to an experience he has, perhaps he would feel good. I want that too.

    • I’m monogamous to my soul. My husband of 21 years recently dropped the polybomb, and I’m sorry poly people, no matter how gently you think you’re approaching it, it still feels like a bomb. My husband tried the “oh hey, and you can date too! Isn’t that something?” Um, no. For a truly monogamous person, that translates roughly to, “I don’t give a flip who you diddle as long as I get to go out and play.” It was probably #2 in the top 3 most painful discussions we had. I love my husband, I’m devoted to our marriage, I have no interest whatsoever in going out with another man and really don’t understand why, if he loves me like he claims, he wants to date/sleep with other women. Just advice, don’t assume because you’d find it super cool to play the field that your boyfriend would also feel this way. If he brings it up as something he’s interested in, THEN you can reassure him that you’re fine with it.
      I hate poly, I hate that it’s destroyed my marriage and any trust and security I had with the only man I’ve loved and the father of our girls, nothing in my life will ever be the same and I have to live with that every day and it sucks harder than a Dyson. But he doesn’t want to lose his family, and God help me, I still love him, so I’m staying. He’ll have his happiness, the girls will have their family and home in tact, and I’ll learn to live with it.

      • Please don’t martyr yourself.
        You are worth way more than that.
        If you truly can’t bear to look at him and you still “God help me” love him and you don’t trust him, then leave.
        You can still have a wildly successful family and not be with or married to someone. Don’t just sit there and suffer in silence like you say you are doing and/or are going to do.
        Don’t martyr yourself, Hun. Just don’t.
        You are so above this.

        • It’s not about being a martyr, it’s about making the best of a worse scenario. You know “for better, for worse”? Those aren’t options you get to cherry-pick when you get married. Would you call someone who stayed with an ill or profoundly injured spouse a martyr? I still love my husband. I still have hope we can rebuild our relationship, still hope when he gets this out of his system, he can rediscover his love for me. That being said, there are some things you can do if your monogamous spouse agrees to open your marriage.
          1. Don’t constantly sing the praises of your lover. We know we’re no longer #1 in your heart, no longer your best and beloved. Rubbing our noses in it doesn’t help us accept the demotion.
          2. Don’t treat us as an obligation. I can’t tell you how many poly books and blogs stress “your existing obligations” and how you need to give equal time and care to existing relationships. We’re already dealing with the revelation that you’d rather be with your new love, being made to feel like an obligation makes it worse.
          3. Don’t “date” us because you feel you have to in order to get to your sweetie. Don’t throw us leftover passion from your dates. “Here, I just had amazing sex with the love of my life. I know you need sex too, so I’ll let my passion for X spillover on you.”
          4. When we try to tell you we’re scared/hurting/lonely, don’t tell us we’re jealous and to get over it. And the whole “I’m not responsible for your feelings” poly mindset sucks. Also don’t tell us to go find someone of our own. I’m monogamous. Period.
          5. Don’t treat us as Old Faithful, fallback, Plan B. Don’t come seeking us out to entertain you when plans fall through with your sweetie. I joyfully jumped on this a couple of times, and spent a miserable evening with someone who really didn’t want to be with me as much as wanted a diversion. Also, don’t use us as a diversion when your sweetie is out with someone else. Watching you check your phone every 10 minutes isn’t great fun.
          6. Don’t try to make us over into your new sweetie. Don’t buy us things your sweetie likes, make us food your sweetie likes, take us places your sweetie likes. Also, don’t take your sweetie to our favorite haunts. At least leave me one or two things that are special reminders of us.
          7. Realize that my loving you and being devoted to making our marriage work isn’t a sure thing. And if you do stop loving me, tell me. Let me go.

          We’re in the middle of his first truly deep “falling in love” thing, and it’s painful and scary and lonely and sucks.
          I keep hoping it gets better.

          • Hi Angel,

            I hope you’re ok. I’m a male who’s starting an open relationship with my wife (she’s ok with it) and I really appreciate your words.

          • Hi Angel, that sounds pretty crappy and not healthy at all. Relationships should be about compromise, obviously, and it sounds as though your husband is taking, taking, taking. I can’t tell whether your jealousy is skewing how you are viewing his relationship with ‘the other woman’ (if so, that’s nothing to be ashamed of) but if that is truly how things are, then it doesn’t sound like he loves you at all, or even values you as a human being with valid feelings. Sounds as though he brought up the poly thing so he wouldn’t feel guilty for cheating on you, and he’s staying with you in case this new relationship doesn’t work out.
            You mentioned ‘for better or for worse’ and staying with someone if they were ill/injured. Your husband isn’t ill, he’s emotionally abusive. He’s injuring your self-esteem. You wouldn’t stay with a physically abusive person (or at least I’d hope not) on the off chance he’d stop hitting you.
            I realise this comes across as harsh and I won’t be able to change your mind, but that’s my twopence on the matter, and I hope it gives you something to think about.
            Good luck xxx

  3. My fiance and I have one open aspect of our relationship – kissing. We can kiss whomever we darn well please, and it’s great for our relationship in two big ways.

    First, it allows us to satisfy our curiosity about other people. Just because we’re in a relationship doesn’t mean we aren’t attracted to other people, and with the open kissing rule we don’t have to sit there wondering if Bob or Jill are good kissers, because we can just go find out. Forbidden fruit sometimes looks much better than it tastes.

    And second, it lets us go out and flirt (with intent, even!), and come back feeling sexier for it. There’s nothing more empowering than realizing you could probably have 10 people at the party, but you choose ONE.

    It means we both know we’re not being settled for – we’re being chosen. And that’s amazing.

    • That is an awesome policy. I think I could live with that policy. A little taste could make a person feel sexy and confident. Then you bring all that sexy back home to your partner. It’s a little boost, because you know you still got it πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the idea!

    • Oh my god thank you! This is the answer I’ve been looking for! Xxxxxxxx kisses all around!!!!! Will run this by my boyfriend and see what he thinks. Thank you!!!

  4. This post reminds me of the one from last week (?) about the couple that broke up because they couldn’t agree on having kids. Similar to that situation, when you discuss an open relationship it’s important to remember and keep front and center the fact that neither person is wrong for wanting to explore being open or feeling adamantly uncomfortable with the idea.

      • This is totally off topic but I don’t read Off Beat Families because kids are not on my radar at all and I’m 40. Thanks for sharing that article over, I had a quick read, my husband has mentioned kids off and on over the years and I am so not maternal. It could be an interesting subject on the Off Beat Home & Life side of things.

        • I don’t plan to have kids, ever, but I read Offbeat Families because I’m interested in people’s lifestyles and a lot of that stuff lumped under the “parenthood/family” banner is interesting!! Plus you can be a family even if you don’t have children!

        • I ended up at Offbeat Family when I was looking for pros and cons of a certain birth control so I *don’t* start a family anytime soon, and discovered articles about being an aunt, people talking about their paths on deciding not to have children, or deciding to have children when they never thought they would, even DIY hair for the ‘mom’ on the go that also works for the broke student on the go. At this point, I just watch all the Offbeat things, because even if Home & Life is the only one currently officially applicable, I follow all the Offbeat sites for the occasional nugget that must become a part of my life, now, thanks, that pops up on Family or Bride.


          • And *I* ended up *here* by following a link from OBF… I didn’t know y’all talked about relationships and other stuff besides home decor! I might add it to my feed after all.

    • Yeah, neither of us is wrong at all! I accept that. It’s difficult though because when we met many years ago, I felt the way he does. It’s hard when such a huge ideology changes over time, and your partner’s stays the same. It’s true though, neither of us is wrong.

  5. Something isn’t strictly speaking an infidelity if it’s permitted within the boundaries of the relationship. Good short article on the subject here:

    It looks like some people are just one way or the other when it comes to monogamy, and if the origial writer and her partner are just different in that respect then talking it through is surely still going to be productive and help their understanding of each other.

    One thing about Dan Savage: don’t take anything he says uncritically. He’s got a lot of good ideas and it seems like his heart’s in the right place, but he’s expressed support for evolutionary psychology’s theories about sex, the vast majority of which are a total crock and some of which are actually destructive. Just because many people view him as a teacher, doesn’t mean he’s not fallible, that’s all.

    • Thanks for the article link Jan. Yeah, I don’t expect to bully him into it or anything, I just feel he has never considered another lifestyle choice other then monogamy. If he learned more about it and THEN decided that it wasn’t for him, I would of course accept that.

  6. (Sorry, fake name ’cause we’re not really “out”)

    I did this. When I got engaged to my now-husband I basically had a moment where I was like “Shit. No new penises? EVER?” and had myself a little crisis. Much talking and reading later, we’re not full-on poly, but we’re solidly monogamish and it’s working out well.

    I recommend the book “Sex at Dawn.” Not because it’s particularly amazing (it has some amazing information in it but it’s sort of crappily written at times) but because it approaches the topic of open relationships from a scientific/sociological/anthropological perspective which is waaay less threatening. It never says “You should have an open relationship” it simply says “these other cultures have different relationship models and it works really well and we think this might be how humans are supposed to be, naturally, and here’s why.” If you hand your partner that book you’re saying “Hey this is super interesting” not “I want to suck other wangs” but it will still undoubtedly get them thinking about things and will make those things feel really normal and natural. It’s a really good jumping off point. Plus it’s a bestseller so it won’t look weird on your shelf or seem weird that you’re reading it.

    If you decide to actually *try* opening up, “The Ethical Slut” is a classic. It’s a little hippity-dippity sometimes, but the information on communication and coping with jealousy is so very good (I think monogamous couples could benefit from reading it too, honestly.)

    I haven’t read Opening Up (I’d like to, but I don’t like to get those books from our small town library so I have to space ’em out, haha) but the combination of those two books and having my partner read them (and have lots of time to think about things and process them for himself) pretty much worked for us.

    • The Ethical Slut’s chapter on jealousy is one of the best pieces of relationship writing I’ve ever read. I have issues with the rest of the book, but that chapter is full of SUCH good advice — even for completely monogamous couples.

    • I actually found that, for my initially monogamous partner, opening up was a good book, but not ethical slut. because ethical slut assumed a fairly promiscuous slutty kind of polyamory where ‘opening up’ was more about love and stuff, which was better for him. So I didn’t even show him ‘the ethical slut’ because that wasn’t the model of non monogamy i wanted to present

      • My husband wouldn’t read all of Ethical Slut because phrases like “sharing sex” made him want to throw up a little (I can’t blame him.) But I stole some of the good stuff about communication/jealousy and relayed it his way, haha.

    • Oh man, your advice rocks! I’m going to get that book right away. That does sound less threatening. I think he would respond much more positively to anthropology/fact based/cultural information. Monogamish is probably as far as he would ever go, and I would be very happy with that. Thank you so much!

      • My hubby and I started discusing nonmonogamy after reading sex at dawn and then opening up. The anthro perspective is what clinched it for us. Since then we have discussed more and more, clarifying our feeling and needs, and have played with a few people. We use those other people to explore things we are interested in trying sexually that neither of us has experience with. I think the understanding that we are a forever thing and these people are extremely temporary and for learning and exploring as opposed to dissatisfaction or just not getting enough.

    • I know this is an older post, but for anyone finding this now, there’s a newer book called More Than Two (it grew out of the website of the same name) that is the most comprehensive relationship guide I have found yet – nearly all of the ideas apply to mono, poly, and monogamish relationships. It’s more in-depth than Opening Up (although that’s where we started), and more up-to-date than Ethical Slut. Go forth and read!

  7. My policy has always been that honesty is more important than strict sexual fidelity. We have been monogamous to this point, and aren’t seeking out other sexual partners, but I think that lying and being sneaky is worse than touching another person’s genitals, personally. Break down the word “cheating”. Why is cheating bad? Was he cheated on? Why did that hurt? Does he only frown on cheating because he’s been conditioned to do so by society or is monogamy truly that important to him?

    That said, he may just differ from you on this issue. If it is important enough to you that you be non-monogamous and it is important enough to him that he have a monogamous partner, you may reach an impasse. Good luck!

    • Well I think he has been conditioned to think that cheating is bad because of society. He actually cheated on his last long term girlfriend when things were getting stale. He felt so guilty that he proceeded to break up with her and never tell her why or what happened. I think an open relationship would benefit both of us, not just me. I totally agree lying is the more hurtful aspect.

      The fact that a lot of people see the actual sexual relations as the terrible part seems odd to me. Why is it so bad that someone else touches me? Am I your property? If I wouldn’t touch you any less or show you any less love, what does it matter if someone else shows me some love too?

      These are just confusing thoughts running through my head. Thanks for the thoughts to chew on πŸ™‚

  8. As a strictly monogamous person, I can understand the knee-jerk reaction your boyfriend had. But I also think it was a knee-jerk reaction. A long time ago with a previous boyfriend, I found myself beginning to look elsewhere and form emotional attachments to others. I also have been cheated on. In both cases it was because there were problems with the relationships I was in and they were not salvageable. So with that kind of background, it can be hard to consider that maybe the relationship is okay and yet you still need something else. So I agree with @kathleen that it is worth discussing his history with cheating and infidelity. I think it is also really, REALLY important for you to come to the table ready to be honest about why an open relationship intrigues you or appeals to you. Be ready for questions relating to your current relationship. Why don’t you feel like it is enough? Could your boyfriend do something different to satisfy you more fully? Is it a flaw in the relationship that is really causing this interest – aka is our relationship still solid regardless? Those are the questions that would run through my head that I would need answered. I personally would need to know why my partner wants to include experiences with other people within the framework of our relationship. I think being able to answer those questions for yourself so that you can come to the discussion ready to allay fears. The explanation @ZOO gave makes total sense to me. I’d have a hard time with it but I would be able to wrap my head around that working based on my own experiences.

    Definitely a hard conversation to have but as others said, worth having it if you are feeling this way. Maybe you need that and it can work. Maybe it helps you both explore your relationship and changes you could make within. Maybe you need to both move on if you want different things from a relationship. But if you talk about it, nobody is wrong.

    • “Why don’t you feel like it is enough?” This type of misconception is what makes talking about non-monogamy difficult for those of us who don’t identify as monogamous.

      I recommend you (even as a monogamous person, clearly one who is articulate and interested in anthropology as a whole) read the aforementioned books (Ethical Slut and Opening Up), as they both do great jobs describing this phenomenon. For most people, the feeling isn’t “not enough” with only one partner. It’s an “expansion of” or an “exploration with”. People who identify as monogamous can often end up feeling hurt or insignificant when confronted with the idea of multiple partners because of these lines of thought. There are so many different types of non-monogamy that exist!

      I do love the other things you said about making sure the writer is ready to articulate the feelings and desires and changing level of monogamous identification involved with her own self.

      • I don’t believe little red was necessarily presenting this question as one that SHOULD be asked, but rather one the author could anticipate being asked–particularly as her partner is not yet well-versed in the various kinds of non-monogamy you describe. Therefore, I think it was a wise scenario to include, so that should this question of adequacy come up, the author can be better prepared to address the wider implications of what non-monogamy can mean for them.

        • I see that… But she also does say for the author to answer those questions for herself, not just anticipate them. That would mean the author would have to actually think those things about her own relationship and be reAdy to answer why it isn’t enough, when if the author is truly non monogamous, the “not enough” thing would not be a thought at all.

    • Yeah, I totally agree with what you’re saying and those are some great questions (many of which he will ask I’m sure).

      Our relationship is really solid, nothing changed between us. It’s hard to explain. It’s that my ideologies changed. It feels like converting to another religion partway though a relationship. I still love my partner just as much as before, but now we just believe in different Gods. Neither of us is right or wrong, nothing changed between the two of us, rather something changed within me. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how it feels to me.

  9. While I don’t know how the original topic was brought up, I know the one couple amongst those in my poly social group who started monogamous, when he wanted to open up the relationship, he urged *her* to be the first to have a second relationship and go on dates. I think it helped her see it wasn’t something he wanted just for himself, but something he wanted for both of them. It was a rocky road, but when they got married, both had their other partner there, helping the day go smoothly.

    I have to admit, I’m perversely happy to hear OP’s boyfriend is uncomfortable with the ‘less threatening’ option of just other women, since I think it reflects well on him. I had a poly relationship whose death knells were heard when a one penis policy got introduced, and I realized I was allowed to date other women because he did not think they were legitimate relationships, and that introduced a huge inequity between us and what our different relationships meant.

    • I feel like the inequity notion is a BIG point.
      If one partner stresses that they’ll only have same sex relationships outside the main relationship, where does that leave the other partner? He doesn’t seem to be interested at this point in ANY other relationship, but does he feel like you’re holding him to the same-sex only standard? Does it make him the bad guy to want an other-sex relationship?

      • Oh, good point! I hadn’t even thought of that aspect.

        In my mentioned case, he was dating other women, as he wasn’t bi, and I realized he was allowing himself to have multiple ‘real’ relationships while thinking he was barring me from doing the same. He also pulled out the word ‘harem’, which I was less than amused by.

        Possibly because there seemed an inordinate number of bi women in our group, the problem I always saw shook out more that the women were only allowed to date other women, but the men were allowed to date other women because they themselves weren’t bi, and it was a rather messy, warped, or downright broken version of ‘fair’ depending on how the different parties viewed things.

        • This is a conversation I have a great deal. In my own relationship I we have a similar set of rules: He can do whatever, I can date only other women for the most part (There’s 1 exception to this rule). I’ve had other friends in similar situations, and in their cases, yes I think it was because their primary SO’s didn’t see their sexual encounters with women as being “real”. Which speaks to deeply rooted biases that are truly unfortunate.

          To the OP: My fiance and I began our relationship as entirely monogamous, and I remember how…”icky” it felt to try and find a way to bring up the subject of opening our relationship.

          First of all I think you need to examine what it is about an open relationship that you feel appealing (or at least intriguing). Is it the potential sex? Or are you open to the idea of going with the truly polyamorous model and developing love based relationships with others?

          When I first started the conversation with my now fiance I told him that I had come to realize that I was not a naturally monogamous person, however if that was the kind of relationship he wanted then monogamy was a gift that I could give him because I loved him. That worked for us because it left the topic on the table without anyone having to harp on it. From there we just kind of naturally opened the relationship to acknowledge the fact that I identify as bi/pansexual and we allowed other women into the sphere of our relationship.

          Our biggest hurdle has always been other men. We still have strict boundaries there, but this last spring there came a difficult and very emotional conversation where I finally just sat my fiance down and told him that there was a specific gentleman that I shared a mutual attraction and affection for. I told my fiance that I would never want to betray the boundaries that we had set together, but that this was there and I wanted his permission to pursue it. To my surprise we expanded our “rules” to include this new attraction.

          9 months later I have never been closer to my fiance. Yes there have been awkward moments as we figure out a path that is new to the both of us. But the sense of intimacy and unconditional love it has brought to the table has been incredible.

          My advice is to sit your SO down and prepare yourself for what will probably be a tough and emotional conversation. Recognize that you’re going to have more of those. Open/polyamorous relationships take work, and a herculean amount of communication. And no matter what come to the conversation from a place of love. From day one I have stressed to my fiance (and he to me) that he is my priority. I will always choose him over anyone, and it is him that I want to build a family with. The rules of our relationship are built around that: no sharing our bed with anyone unless the other person is also involved. If we are struggling in our relationship then “extra” ones are put on hold so we can focus on each other. etc.

          Just stress to your partner that this isn’t about him not being “enough” (I HATE that phrase). It’s just about recognizing and exploring other feelings.

  10. My partner and I had numerous discussions like this at the beginning of our relationship and he shot me down every time. I was persistent and pushed it on him, though, and made sure he knew that if he felt a connection with another, he could just talk to me about it ahead of time and establish parameters. My husband has been clear that he won’t feel comfortable opening up our relationship and I respect his decision.

    We’ve also watched shows like “Sister Wives” ( and discussed the idea from a broader point of view (this show is about a traditional, religious polygamist household, but the issues the family has to deal with are similar to those experienced with polyamory). Once we started watching the show, it was much easier to see what his opinion truly was. In these discussions, he’s made it clear that he has a hard enough time giving me all the attention I need, let alone bringing in another.

    In the end, it wasn’t a dealbreaker for me because he’s my soul mate and I want to be with him. Every once in awhile, I just make sure he knows that he can bring someone in if he wants, and if I feel a connection with another that I feel I need to pursue, I’ll bring it up with him. I think more than anything, just be persistent and find different ways to approach the subject in a non-threatening way.

    • Interesting…thank you so much for sharing your experience. Yes, time given to other people and taking away from your partner is a completely legitimate reason! If that were his reasoning I would understand, but he won’t give a reason. He simply said “no.” I just want to know the reason why. Thank you so much JR.

      • Hi Ann–I’ve been thinking about this response the last couple days and, at least for my husband, he didn’t know why and it took prompting and a lot of discussion before he figured it out. For something like this, especially for someone who hasn’t even considered the possibility of opening up a relationship (which seems to be the case for your other half), there is going to be a knee-jerk reaction, but that doesn’t mean he understands why that’s his reaction.

        For my husband (who wouldn’t be communicative at all if I didn’t poke and prod), I had to make sure that he knew that this was an acceptable discussion to have and that this lifestyle choice was an option. He truly hadn’t thought about it before, but he was open to thinking about it and looking into it. Once he did, that’s when he came to his conclusion that he doesn’t think he could handle the time commitment.

        Anyway, I say all this because it’s possible your partner has not thought about this before and has no opinion about it one way or the other so he’s using the societal norm as his default. Suggesting a couple books/TV shows to read/watch may be a good way to open up the dialogue and get him to start to reframe his thinking. It’s not going to be a simple answer, though. It may take awhile before he knows what his answer is. πŸ™‚

        • I agree completely. I believe his knee jerk response is definitely a default to society norms. I would say the majority of people don’t even question monogamy and just accept that it’s the only lifestyle choice (besides permanent bachelorhood), so anything outside of that would actuomatically get a “no, of course not”.

          If he could articulate his feelings and figure out the real reason, perhaps it’s something that could be worked on like jealousy (he doesn’t understand why I’m not a jealous person and sometimes thinks it means I’m not as into him as he is me, which is completely untrue. If it was something that couldn’t be worked on, then I’d at least feel like he actually gave it some thought and would then be able to forward.

  11. I was the partner that needed convincing!

    The book that I found most helpful, like a balm to my terrified soul, was Sex at Dawn. It’s an incredibly interesting treatise on human sexuality, with the thesis that the human species, like basically all other primates, is not actually monogamous. I read it, and thought, “Oh, well, that is totally reasonable.” In addition to presenting evidence that humans are not monogamous, it makes a case for the physiological benefits of non-monogarmy. My one complaint with the book is that I felt it ended a little weakly. One of the last chapters (the very last one, if I recall) is focused much more strongly on how non-monogamy hugely benefits men physiologically. I felt pretty irritated that a book so egalitarian throughout would end with, “hey, you should be non-monogamous because it’s good for your male partner.” In your case, that’s probably a good thing, but as a woman reading it, I thought “Just what I needed. Another person telling me that I should do something I don’t want to do, for the good of a man. Greeeeeeaaat.” If you skip the last chapter, however, it is an absolutely fabulous book.

    However, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical advice. Once I read Sex at Dawn, I was on board with the idea, but I was at a loss for the best way to implement it. For that, I turned to The Ethical Slut. The Ethical Slut has all kinds of advice and exercises for individuals and couples who want to be non-monogamous ethically. The communication techniques it teaches are so useful and valuable that i sometimes want to force it on my monogamous friends. It taught me that I had been using “I statements” wrong for years!

    In my case, I found the comparison to friendship to be quite helpful. I have a large circle of friends with whom I am as close as my boyfriend. He pointed out that I could have strong feelings for more than one of them, so why not more than one romantic partner? Same with children. People have multiples of them, and I have always assumed you can love more than one!

    Another thing that helped me was the realization that being monogamous doesn’t actually stop you from feeling jealous sometimes. When your boyfriend is going visiting his ex for the weekend, you might feel jealous even if nothing more than platonic is happening. The process of opening my relationship let me reframe jealousy. Jealousy became an indication to me that I had some desire for my relationship that wasn’t being met. “Oh, I am feeling jealous that he is taking her to a fancy restaurant, because I would like him to take me to a fancy restaurant! I guess I will ask him to plan that for me!” The Ethical Slut helped tremendously with re-framing jealousy.

    There were some big hurdles for me, emotionally, along the lines of “but he thinks she’s prettier/more interesting/better in some way than I am”, which were quite nicely addressed via therapy, which I will recommend to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.

    But there were also some big benefits. Our sex life was AMAZING. One of the girls my boyfriend was seeing was multi-orgasmic, and the marathon skills he developed for her took me from my “one orgasm and go to sleep” contentedness to multi-orgasmic myself. So that was pretty cool.

    Even better, I became very close friends with one of the girls he was seeing. To the point that even though he and she had an incredibly messy breakup, she and I are still good friends. I’m even going to be a bridesmaid in her wedding this spring!

    Further, it forced me to start looking after my own emotional needs in a proactive way. I nurtured my friendships. I had more time to myself. It was awesome.

    In addition to those benefits, it forced my boyfriend and I to have better relationship hygiene in general. We went on more dates, instead of just staying home and playing video games all the time. We were more appreciative of each other, kept better abreast of each other’s feelings, etc.

    But, a word of caution: open relationships require a level of commitment to communication that is sometimes uncomfortable. They don’t leave room for being passive about hurt feelings or conflicting desires. It’s nothing that people shouldn’t be practicing in their monogamous relationships, it’s just that non-monogamous relationships can get a lot messier a lot more quickly if you don’t scrupulously practice good, open, honest communication.

    All in all, I think non-monogamy is AWESOME and totally worth the extra effort. My boyfriend and i have now been together for 6 years, happily non-monogamous!

    • Oh man, you ARE my fiancee! Except we (me and my partner) both identify as women, but other than that our situations (mine and yours) are eerily similar! First of all, thank you for your post because we are nearly three years in, around a year non-monogamous, and it is always nice to hear success stories of folks who’ve been at it longer! We have stumbled on occasion, too, but we are stronger for it and very happy! Right now we are also seeing the same person, which has it’s ups and downs.
      While I’m posting I want to add to the comments about how bi sexual women find male partners more accepting of female relationships – me and my partner actually feel that we only want to see men, at least for now. Men are intriguing in that way of wondering if the grass is really greener. Also we both only ever had awful relationships with guys, so it’s exciting to explore a new way of feeling about a whole set of humans that you’d written off. We both identify as something like queer or pansexual, but I call myself gay if I’m being casual. The last thing in the world I think of myself as being is bi sexual. Actually, one of the odd sort-of-problems of my relationship with the guy we’re both seeing is that I don’t want to go in public with him and be perceived as his girlfriend. For me that feels horribly like being shoved in a closet that I work very hard to stay out of.

  12. I would add:

    Sometimes a refusal to discuss IS the discussion. You mention that you have tried to bring the subject up several times. It sounds to me like he’s made his opinion on the matter quite clear – he’s not interested – and so I find myself unsure if you’re wanting to talk about this in depth with him in hopes of changing his mind or simply to understand him and for him to understand you, at which point you will accept that as long as you choose to be with this guy you choose complete monogamy.

    If all you really want is talk, hopefully your six wonderful years together will have taught him that when that’s what you tell him, he can believe you. If you’re trying to tell yourself that if he only understood, he would see how beautiful and wonderful and OKAY this thing is, it might be better to spare you both some rough times in between and break up to find a polyamorous boyfriend instead.

    This is my painful personal experience speaking here. Your boyfriend is telling you who he is and what he wants. You are the only person who knows if you want that or not. If you want him BUT, or you want him AND, and you can’t make your peace with monogamy and be thoroughly happy to never bring it up again, the simpler (but probably not easier) path is to go your separate ways sooner than later.

    • This.

      If my husband brought up the possibility of an open relationship…I would shut him down right then and there, and I would tell him to never bring it up again. Because for me, one relationship is enough. I would feel extremely hurt that my husband did not feel satisfied with our relationship as it stood. Is it possible your boyfriend feels the same?

      I think you should do all that is suggested to you here to here if you are trying to open up communication regarding this issue. But be prepared the answer might be the same. Then what happens next is up to you. If an open relationship is truly what you need…then you’ll need to end the relationship, because trying to force a lifestyle onto your boyfriend who may not want that would be selfish.

      • Lauren, a word of caution here to be careful when labeling other people’s actions as “selfish.” I know talking about open relationships can be really difficult for those of us who are committed to monogamy, but please try to use respectful language.

      • “Why don’t you feel like it is enough?” This type of misconception is what makes talking about non-monogamy difficult for those of us who don’t identify as monogamous.
        I recommend you (even as a monogamous person, clearly one who is articulate and interested in anthropology as a whole) read the aforementioned books (Ethical Slut and Opening Up), as they both do great jobs describing this phenomenon, so you can better understand this whole thing and these people (even if you may never even meet one). For most people, the feeling isn’t “not enough” with only one partner. It’s an “expansion of” or an “exploration with”. People who identify as monogamous can often end up feeling hurt or insignificant when confronted with the idea of multiple partners because of these lines of thought. There are so many different types of non-monogamy that exist!

        If my partner flat out shut down a discussion with me, that would be a HUGE red flag. If we can’t even discuss an area of life or ask questions about uncomfortable things, how can we communicate fully about other important things in our relationship?

        And- for the record- my previously extremely jealous, monogamous partner is now headlong into the world of multiple partners and changing relationship structures. We have learned so much about life, each other, and the magnified issues in our relationship through this experience.

        • I totally agree with this, with the caveat that shutting down discussions can be a red flag for different reasons.

          I have done extensive research and exploration into non-monogamy of various sorts and learned a lot about myself and my partner, definitely. In the end, I *personally* learned that non-monogamy doesn’t suit me and that my then-partner was not a good person and was only interested in doing things that were good for me if he wanted to do them anyway. I’m perfectly fine with the existence of consensual non-monogamy but don’t wish to be myself, and in hindsight I would have been spared a lot of grief if I’d just shut the discussion down straight off rather than entertaining it, but again: I didn’t have a healthy partner then. When I said, “This doesn’t feel right for me, I don’t feel good, I don’t like this,” he just kept pushing.

          • The thing here is not so much “Shutting down” a conversation, but rather being able to communicate your own needs and feeling clearly and concisely.

            To me, “shutting down” means saying “no.” and then that’s it. End of discussion. I realize that this may very well be my own baggage. My ex husband was very much like this (and we STILL battle with that attitude as co-parents!). Once he had decided against something then that was the end of it and it didn’t matter what thoughts or feelings I had. In the long run that ended up being the demise of our relationship.

            The other side of that however is also being able to let your partner know when they are making you uncomfortable, and making sure your feelings are heard. Particularly when it comes to topics that can be relationship deal breakers.

          • I think defining “shutting down the conversation” might be useful. I’m curious what the OP meant by it.

            To me, shutting down a conversation means he’s literally just saying “No!” and then walking away with his proverbial fingers in his ears while singing “Lalalalala.” If that’s the case, then that’s one thing… and deeper conversation should definitely be had. But, to me, the original post sounds more like he’s responding to her by saying, “I don’t agree with open relationships because I believe that it is cheating. I don’t want to open up our relationship, and I won’t change my mind.”

            To me, that’s not shutting the conversation down… that’s saying that he doesn’t agree with open relationships and doesn’t want to be in one. If that’s the case, then I’d advise against continuing to push the issue. It sounds kind of like you might already have your answer, but you still need to come to terms with it and decide whether or not your current relationship is worth remaining monogamous.

            If it’s that he literally won’t discuss the subject at all, then totally try some of the techniques suggested here, and good luck! Just be prepared for the possibility that he will still say it’s not something he can/will do, and figure out how you feel about that. Hope it all works out!

          • But it sounds like you, since you are telling the tip of the iceberg of that experience here, would at least feel comfortable explaining that to a partner who brought up non-monogamy.

            “Sorry, I’m not interested because I had a bad experience in the past- here’s what it was like for me and the sad results I’ve experienced and the myriad reasons I would never try it again” is COMPLETELY different than “I refuse to say a word on the subject, I’m hurt you don’t think I’m enough, and you can never ever ever bring this up again in any circumstance no matter what”. In version A, a dialogue is taking place that, even with the monogamous result you want, has shared something deep and meaningful about you and your life experience with your partner. Version B is stifling the other person’s words or simply a desire to talk about something. A is healthy and B seems pretty messed up. Huge difference!

          • Replying to anon above – yes, I would. I’m slightly concerned by the letter writer’s continually trying to bring up a topic that the partner has expressed disinterest in, because **in my experience** **with an unhealthy partner** that type of thing has resulted in being worn down, manipulated, and otherwise dragged into various things that I was too tired to put my foot down firmly about (hello, torture of dripping water!) and because I am generally an open-minded person willing to discuss things.

            I’m trying very hard NOT to project here, Letter Writer, into being concerned that the same thing is going on here. I also know what it’s like to need to have a Conversation that the other person would really prefer not to have…and maybe it’s that Conversation that you need to have, the “I need other-than-monogamy and you need monogamy. I am truly sorry but I am breaking up with you” conversation, rather than the “Have you MET this lovely, soft, fluffy puppy of nonmonogamy? If you only gave this cute, adorable, amazing puppy a chance, we could bring him HOME with us!” or, please god no, the “I am going to sneak this puppy up on you every time you let your guard down, despite the fact that you are sneezing and have never wanted a puppy, because you really can’t have a problem with such amazing, wonderful, cuddly creatures existing, right?! And now that you’ve admitted THAT, why can’t **I** have a puppy?!”

            But. If your boyfriend just doesn’t DO conversations on things and uses silence as his argument (it’s really effective for winning, but terrible for relationshipping), that’s a red flag there for me about as big as the one for trying to talk someone around into something that is really Not Cool for them.

            But like I said earlier – we should have just split up then and saved ourselves the trouble. I hope you two can have an excellent and enlightening conversation on this!

    • Yes, he made his opinion clear, without even knowing a thing on the subject. He has never even heard of polyamorous before or that there are many forms of it. He is basing an opinion without any knowledge. If he could tell me why he doesn’t like it after letting me explain what it is about, and he STILL wasn’t ok, I would respect that.
      These are not discussions we had. They are “because I say so” type arguments. I just want to discuss his fears (not even to counter them, just to understand where he is coming from) and why. I think I deserve to hear why instead of “just because”.

      Funny thing is, this is the only topic EVER that he has been like this with. That also makes me curious why he feels so strongly. He is open for discussions on anything else. Plus, in our relationship, he isn’t the type to give in to appease me, he wouldn’t. He would only do something if he was ok with it too. Trust me.

      I can appreciate that without knowing him or me, it would be easy to jump there though, and I don’t take offense at all :).

      Edited: This is partially to the poster directly above me too…sorry with so many comment threads I was getting confused who I was replying to. GAH!

      • I know that for me, a person who has always been monogamous but very intrigued by nonmonogamy, my biggest challenge on this subject has been an immediate reaction something like this: I consider myself in a nonmonogamous relationship, I feel physically nauseated, my brain is flooded with self-deprecating and other insecurity-fueled thoughts, and I shut down no matter how logical or potentially beneficially nonmonogamy could be. In fact, I’ve had to do my research on this subject very slowly simply because my insecurity gets in the way of my attempts to be reasonable and objective.

        I tell you this because he may just flat-out tell you know because of thoughts and emotions pumping into his head that he isn’t even aware of, or can’t stomach, and doesn’t feel safe to share. Vulnerability terrifies people, even when they’re vulnerable with people they believe they can trust. The fact is, he loves you, and that makes him vulnerable to you – though you may never do anything to hurt him, he is still at your mercy to a degree.

        That said, try to be patient and, as others have said, be prepared with a clear explanation of why you are interested in opening the relationship, as well as understanding of his hangups about it. You clearly already want to do the right thing by him or you wouldn’t be asking for advice. Good luck and much happiness to you!

  13. My husband has expressed interest in an open relationship and we’ve talked about it at length. I am not opposed to the idea in theory, but as we talked about it, I realized that unless the absolute perfect situation with the absolute perfect partner(s) came along, I just have too many trust issues and baggage to feel comfortable with it.

    So when you decide to have a conversation with your partner about something like this, you need accept that the answer might just be, “no” and if it is, you need to know if that’s a dealbreaker for you. That’s the only fair way to bring this up.

    How can you bring it up without making your husband feel like he’s not enough? I have to say, it’s possible you can’t. Even though our relationship is strong, I constantly feel like I’m not good enough for my husband, simply because we considered and discussed the subject. It’s not his fault, it’s not the situation’s fault, it’s just the way I’m hard wired.That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bring it up–you have a right to have your needs met, too. Just be prepared that it’s not like bringing up his tendancy to leave socks on the floor. It could change things and if it does, you should both acknowledge it.

    I did like what Miss Elizabeth suggested about emphasizing this as a want, not a need. I think that may have asuaged a lot of my fears of rejection when my husband brought it up.

    Bottom line, polyamory is advanced relationship and some people just aren’t there. I am self-aware enough to know that I’m not. Daily, I’m thankful that I can squeak by on Relationship 101. πŸ™‚

    • Thisssssss. While I completely started in polyamoury and I met my partner in a social crowd heavily bent towards poly, left to our own devices, neither of us actually lean that way, and we had a really good discussion towards the beginning of our relationship that we wanted a closed relationship BUT if either of us wanted to open that door again down the line, we would talk about it again then.

      Ultimately for me, it was a time and energy thing. I *like* having only one person to pour my attention into. I *like* having only one other person to consider when I assemble my calendar, and I *like* being able to have my introvert, alone time, without feeling like I need to get all the attention I can out of my partner when I can, so I’m not later stepping on their other partners’ toes when *they* need time. I think because I started in poly and this is my first mono relationship, I find the fact I can reasonably guess our combined calendar for the coming months to be exotic and exciting.

      Because there is such a level of self protection around poly, it can leave someone not quite into it thinking there is something wrong with them. I’m too jealous. I’m not giving enough. I’m too flawed virtuously to go along with this. It sometimes goes over the fact some of it comes down to personality and needs. I could have five different partners like some of my very happy friends do, but I wouldn’t get the same thing out of it, like I do out of a single partner with whom I can go introvert off with and have the ability to recharge, so being monogamous works better for me. Both are valid, and I’m ever thankful those friends and I have been able to find respective people that those preferences work with.

      Hope you’re able to eventually work through the negative emotions the discussion pulled up, from someone who’s had to hack through similar feelings in the past.

  14. I’m kind of going to jump on the bandwagon that says be prepared for the fact that this may be an absolute deal breaker for him. It would be for me mostly because I am so insecure. My SO and I are recently engaged and I keep asking him if he realizes this means no sex or kissing or anything with anyone else, ever. Sure, we’ve had no issues at all in the past 4 years, but forever is a really long time.

    Unless Emma Watson suddenly comes along and wants a threesome. Then we’re both totally down with that… πŸ˜‰

  15. Sorry for being anonymous… my gravatar is connected with my business and I don’t need my “bizness” mixed with my business πŸ˜‰

    I think the Ethical Slut, in addition to being awesome, is the book that has several chapters involving unequal relationships. It’s quite important for you to enter this discussion knowing the answer might still be “no way”, and it might be “probably not” and it might be “not now but maybe in the future”, and that all of those are his totally valid feelings and NOT WRONG. It’s completely ok to be monogamous, too.

    That being said, you said you’re changing when it comes to monogamy. People tend to see this thing as an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Either you’re monogamous, or you’re poly. And you can’t have one of each in a relationship; they are mutually exclusive. I call BS.

    Your relationship will fluctuate in every area over the course of your lives. You may ebb and flow in regard to monogamy levels, commitment levels, etc. You can be in a relationship with one monogamous and one not-so-monogamous partner and be totally happy. Yes, one of you may be uncomfortable at times. You’ll each have to sacrifice something sometimes, and you’ll have to share in that discomfort, for out of discomfort comes growth. And if in the end, the judgments are still harsh and resentment is building, you likely don’t have the communication compatibility you need to continue- so you leave having learned a LOT and ready for the next chapter.

    I think the final thing to bring to the table is that this type of thing usually, for most people with a primary relationship, is not an every-day kind of thing. You may have the desire to try something out with a new partner every now and then, and sometimes just knowing you can- that you’re not stifled- will relieve that desire and you will likely not even pick up the phone to call anyone for that experience.

    • Thank you so much…you put a lot of my thoughts into words that I wasn’t articulate enough to say. Thank you so much. And yes, of course he isn’t wrong if monogamy is what he wants. Neither am I if it isn’t what I want.

    • Oop, my post was edited a bit and I’m totally cool with that! I do want to say what I did say in another (hopefully better) way, though: In my personal experience, listening to Dan Savage’s podcast softened both me and my husband to the idea of non-monogamy. When it ended up coming up, after eight years together, we’d been listening to Dan Savage for years and I think it was an easier conversation to have. This might work for your husband, too. Sometimes you can warm to an idea when it comes from a less threatening source.

      • I agree, maybe it feels so threatening coming from me…instead of him hearing about it from an unrelated third party. I just want him to listen and THEN make up his mind. That could be a good way. Thank you!

  16. I appreciate the timing of this post. My fiance and I are entering into conversations about opening our relationship to other people. We are both bi-sexual, so for us, its about the fact that we have same sex desires and can’t fulfill those desires in a monogamous hetero relationship. Beyond that, we both agree that we have attraction to other people, of both sexes, and being in a relationship doesn’t turn that off. We haven’t explored much outside of our relationship past kissing a few other people, but we chat about polyamory on a daily basis. We have also discovered that, for us, this is not something that will be agreed upon in just one day or one conversation. This is an evolving topic and will take lots of communication and time for us to get to a place we agree on.

    As for the OP, I suggest finding out why your BF refuses to talk about open relationships. Generally there is a reason behind things like this. And to me “Because I don’t want to” is NOT a good enough reason. It may take some personal contemplation on his part, but I think you deserve to know why he won’t even discuss it.

    • Exactly. People seem to be upset that I’m “pushing” the subject with him, but I’m not. In a year I’ve brought it up twice. His reasoning for not talking, both times, is “no, because I say so.” which feels condescending and offensive towards me. I feel like I deserve to know why. Thank you!

  17. From a much more basic, pragmatic angle, maybe try writing a note (okay, or an e-mail) rather than diving right into a conversation. Most of the comments here have been relevant to the pros and cons and whatnot. I’d rather address basic approach. saying “Here’s a book. Read it” asks for a lot of commitment to an uncomfortable subject. In my experience, something of that magnitude will condtantly get shuffled down to the bottom of the to-do list, because I simply dont’ have the time or attention span to devote to the books I *want* to read, let alone one I’m avoiding. Writing a one-page e-mail or (in my opinion, better yet) drawing a comic strip or making a short video require much less time and obligation, and are more likely to be viewed in completion.

    I would personally recommend something tangible rather than digital; It’s way harder to ignore a piece of pink cardstock covered with sloppy handwriting and drawings of flirtatious Nautilus, as opposed to clicking “read later” in your digital inbox. As with any persuasive piece (verbal, written, or otherwise) You need to make it short and clear. Express your feelings, make sure that you are sympathetic and compassionate, and be a little funny. Humor is welcome in all but thee gravest of situations, and can really help your cause by breaking the tension AND indicating that the situation is, in fact, not all that grave in the first place.

    Another advantage to these more passive forms of communication is that they place the ball in your partner’s court: He can choose when and how to reply, as opposed to feeling cornered and forced into an uncomfotable corner. Mind you, keep an eye on your time – if it’s more than a week (taking into account other relevant factors) you may need to bring it up so that you’re not left hanging by your own consideration and politeness. Best of luck!

    OH, and, P.S. My partner and I are non-practicing monogamish. We dated for 6 years, got married last spring, and have been officially open fo the past four years (pre-and post marriage) The option is always open, and yet neither of us has felt thee urge to pursue it. Just thought it was woth mentioning.

    • You are right on about the book thing! I read the books, but because it’s interesting to me. I know he wouldn’t. A letter is a great idea. Plus I wouldn’t get flustered and forget what I wanted to say. Oh and humor! You’re right, it isn’t a grave life or death situation. Humor, I never thought about that. Thank you!

  18. I’ve been on both sides of this issue, so I have plenty of experience to share. When my husband and I had been married for just about a month (and I was six weeks pregnant, so I was basically a seething ball of hormones and body insecurity), he brought up the subject of polyamory. He brought it up at first as an intellectual discussion on this new thing he’d heard of and wanted to see if I knew anything about it.

    Little did he know, I had once tried to open up a previous relationship, partially because polyamory had always appealed to me, ever since I first learned of it when I was 15, but mostly because I didn’t want to be with my then-boyfriend, but didn’t know how to leave him.

    Naturally, that relationship failed, without me ever having to so much as kiss anyone else. But it still left me with a decidedly dysfunctional view of nonmonogamous relationships. I felt waves of schadenfreude whenever I heard about an open relationship breaking up, and vowed never to embark upon nonmonogamy again.

    So of course, when my husband brought it up, I was furious. Screaming, crying, and threatening divorce furious. “And you didn’t think to tell me two months ago!?” furious. I was begging for advice from everyone from Dan Savage to Yahoo Answers.

    Ultimately, it was my husband’s saintlike patience, his unflagging kindness, his total honesty, our fundamental compatibility, the Savage Love archives (I had been an avid reader of the column since high school), and (this cannot be emphasized enough) my interest in nonmonogamy that predated my prior bad experience, that eventually won me over. If your boyfriend has never heard of polyamory, you need to proceed twice as cautiously.

    There is absolutely no way to get around moving at your boyfriend’s pace, no matter how incredibly slow it may seem. It took over a year of slowly getting me warmed up to the idea before I let another woman into the picture, and I had to see how affectionate he was with me afterward (even moreso than he had been) to believe that being with another woman wouldn’t dim his love for me.

    • And I would like to emphasize again that I was always, at heart, interested in polyamory. If it turns out that your boyfriend is, at heart, 100% monogamous and unwilling to have a girlfriend who is anything other than 100% monogamous, it may not work out for you two. If he can embrace the idea that “cheating” is only what you, as a couple, define it as (his belief that “it’s cheating no matter what [even if the people involved don’t think it is]” makes me suspect he’s simply repeating an unexamined assumption), and allow you to have other partners under certain circumstances, it may work out, or it still may not. But you do have to talk about it, and you definitely need to tell him that it’s not that he’s not enough for you, it’s that you have more love than you can share with any one person; that different people bring different things to one’s life; et cetera.

      Unless it really is that you’re not satisfied with him, in which case, well, you know what you need to do.

      • Thank you for sharing with my your experiences! Your husband sounds like a great guy. I would let my bf take all the time he needs! I know it’s a lot to take in.

        What you said about him repeated unexamined assumptions is COMPLETELY TRUE. I think that’s what he’s doing. It’s a hard idea to change when society (at least in the US) really only accepts one kind of relationship, monogamy. Most people grow up thinking that’s just what you do. Asking someone to consider an alternate lifestyle is very hard to do. I actually felt similar a long time ago when I first heard about polyamory. My first reaction was “That isn’t allowed…is it?” It had just never occurred to me that there was any other options. I then realized that it’s my life and I could, potentially, do whatever I want. Even if I what I wanted was considered wrong by some people. That thought opened up my world.

  19. From my own, personal, and recent experiences with going from monogamy to polyamory in a long term, committed relationship, I would strongly advise you to take a very thorough personal inventory and make sure you know what your reasons are for pursuing this. I say this because when my ex and I decided to open our relationship of five years, it stemmed from a place of feeling unfulfilled and unhappy on my part and I didn’t recognize that until it was too late.

    Polyamory requires a very high level of communication, support, and trust. My relationship with my ex was lacking all of those things, and it ended disastrously. We both screwed up and by the end we were both deeply unhappy, hurting, and kind of messed up by the whole thing. He resented the fact that I was having more dates and was happy spending time with other people (I am quite outgoing and he was quite introverted, which didn’t help matters). He didn’t like that I insisted on full disclosure and wanted all parties to meet one another (hello, red flag!) because he felt it would be easier to start relationships with other women if they didn’t know about me. He was unhappy with the rules we agreed upon at the beginning and attempted multiple times to emotionally coerce me into changing them. A man who had previously been pretty good to me became an emotionally abusive, secretive, resentful, anger-bomb of a person I didn’t recognize.

    I don’t know how much of our issues with going poly had to do with our reasons at the outset. I don’t know how much of what happened was a case of true colours coming to the surface. I don’t know if it could have been avoided. I do know that the relationship was doomed from the beginning of the experiment because I was so unhappy and just didn’t have the self-awareness at the time to see it, and things went from bad to worse in a hurry.

    Now, I have very good friends who have wildly successful poly relationships. They do experience jealousy and insecurity like everyone else. They have also dealt with cheating (yes, cheating happens even in poly relationships) and with breaches of trust. What makes their relationships work varies, but I see excellent communication, self-awareness, trust, and being secure in their relationship as the real core of success. Having open lines of communication, knowing yourself and your feelings inside and out, trusting your partner to be faithful to your agreements, and feeling safe and secure in the relationship are even more important when you start introducing other partners to your relationship. If any of those factors aren’t there, then you should focus on those *before* introducing new people to the mix. Lesson learned the very hard and messy way.

    Going forward, my partner and I have talked about poly in the future. It’s not something I am interested in doing again for the time being. He and I started our relationship as poly and closed it because we felt we needed time together as a unit without outside relationships. It was something we each came to on our own, and it has worked very well for us. We also know that there may come a day when we want to open things up again, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, we have made a point of building the right foundation for that kind of shift and for a healthy long term relationship in general. Communication has always been great between us, and we keep working at it to make it better and more open. We build trust with each other and have had several conversations about long term monogamy and how to make it work if we never open up (and the stumbling blocks that lead to cheating). We work individually on our own self-awareness and being in tune with our wants and needs both in the relationship and outside of it. And we work at making sure the other feels safe, secure, and loved.

    I guess what I’m trying in a long-winded fashion to say is: Don’t rush into anything. Make sure your reasons aren’t rooted in deep unhappiness with the relationship you are in. One person cannot be everything to another, but if you feel that a second or third person will fill the gaps, you are very much mistaken (as I was). All that said, I do wish you the very best of luck and many of the commenters here have posted excellent advice. A poly friend of mine, Amory Jane, writes a blog on her poly marriage. It’s well worth reading if you’re interested in the lifestyle:

  20. How do you approach an icky subject with your other half normally? Use those tactics to talk to him if they work.

    In your discussions, make it clear that you’re not saying “I want to do someone else NOW!” and reassure that at present there is nobody else. It takes away the time pressure. Nobody likes to make big decisions in the blink of an eye and perhaps the thought that you’re already with somebody else is forcing a knee jerk reaction from him. Perhaps when you do get talking to him, tell him you don’t want a decision about it, just to think about it.

    One thing to also consider, would you want this as a permanent feature of your current relationship or just a temporary thing? My other half and I tried it for a while, agreeing that if either one of us felt uncomfortable, we both stopped. I think your discussions should emphasise that you wont do anything that you’re both not happy with and that you’re not saying it’s permanent.

    I’ve always found that writing a letter to my other half is a lot more helpful than a discussion in the early stages. It allows both sides to collate their thoughts coherently and hopefully avoids arguments.

    In the spirit of compromise as well, I’d suggest you offer to consider his thoughts and opinions carefully too, when he can offer you rational reasonings behind his stance, say if he wrote you a letter back detailing these things.

    Good luck with the discussions!

  21. Some social drama put this on our discussion radar a lot last autumn — which in a long run, has been a good thing. From the perspective of a monogamous relationship between two 99% monogamous people, I think its important to have these conversations even when we’re not interested in actually pursuing a poly lifestyle.

    My husband and I have had off-hand discussions about polyamory — mainly from an intellectual, “Hey, I suspect all humans are wired for group love; I’m certainly attracted to other people, but I only love you,” sort of way. I don’t want to have sex with anyone else (it actually makes me uncomfortable, when I get past the initial Ooooh); and I’m not comfortable, as his wife, with him having sex with other people.

    We’ve been together for seven years, and we’re mature enough these days to know that we’re both openly affectionate, we’re both going to flirt, that we’re down with social nudity, and that even with all that — neither of us is going to do anything inappropriate.

    If the discussion comes up again in three years, or five years, or twenty, I feel like having had these groundwork conversations about our feelings helps us understand each other.

    And take this with a grain of, “Your mileage may vary,” but I will echo that its important to really consider why you want to open your relationship, and be honest about that. I had to examine a crush recently and realize that it wasn’t about compatibility or even sexual interest, but because they have very similar anxieties and “bouts of crazy” that I do. I feel incredibly understood, and that understanding helps my friend knock me out of shitty moods unlike anyone else. Knowing that, I can both categorize my own feeelings and communicate better with my husband about that aspect of our relationship which needs some work. (His family has… somewhat similar moods, and he’s always responded by shutting down and giving space, which is rarely what I actually need.)

  22. What perfect timing to be reading this! I am actually going on my first extramarital date this afternoon!

    My husband and I have been together for 6 years now. We met each other as poly people and have always technically had an open relationship, but we never actually explored other partners until about 7 months ago. And even then, the “we” was just “he.”

    I think that even though we were always theoretically cool with seeing other people, and the OP’s partner is not, there might be some commonalities.

    One of the things that we clearly had to go over and talk out, like, kind of a lot, before proceeding, was CONTROL. Neither of us ever wanted to control each other–which is what being decidedly monogamous meant to us–but at the same time, neither of us wanted to feel OUT of control due to the other’s actions. I think this is an often-overlooked topic in poly discussion. Talking to your partner about power dynamics might be helpful, as it might give him more of an understanding of where you’re coming from.

    I also wanted to say–and feel free to pass this on–that when my husband started seeing other people it did AMAZING things for our sex life. Like, seriously, we’ve had more (awesome) sex in the last 6 months than I think we had in 2 years prior. This is something I really did not expect, but maybe it might intrigue him to know this might happen with you two as well?

  23. I may be alone on this, but id prefer the relationship articles on a different part of offbeat. Unless it’s about fighting over wallpaper or sharing chores or something more home related. I suggest maybe offbeat mom/dad become offbeat families or something. I read this for home related posts.

    • Anon, as discussed earlier this week, we’re expanding the focus of Offbeat Home to Offbeat Home & Life in an effort to make the site economically sustainable. With the decor-focused content, the site is not covering its operating expenses.

      I totally sympathize that the shift might be tough for some longtime readers… but after two years of losing money, the options I saw available were to expand the site’s focus to try to expand its reach, or shut it down. I chose to expand.

      (Oh and PS: Offbeat Mama became Offbeat Families a few months ago, so I’m with you on that one!)

  24. I have been thinking over this a lot over the past couple days. I feel I need to add my thoughts. The idea of how a third or a fourth in a open relationship gets any of their needs met has not been brought up. Being in that place means you generally do not get invited over ” family events “. You will always be the outsider. Especially as it has been repeated over and over that the main relationship is always most important.
    For me I could not be in a relationship that is open for this reason as well as I think that being committed and monogamous is something I value. Therefore I make it a point to not let others think I am available.

    • There are many different types of relationships within the “open relationships” category. Some people are friends who occasionally sleep with you. Some are additional full-time partners for one or both members of the original couple. Some are just one night stands. Some are relatively casual dating scenarios.

      I personally agree that in most situations, it is unfair to have a secondary partner unless they are also seeing other people, so that their needs for companionship are more easily fulfilled. But keep in mind that some people just don’t have as much of a need for company, or emotional fulfillment by other people. Some secondary partners enjoy that they are able to focus on, say, their career, without worrying as much about neglecting their lovelife as they would if they were a primary partner.

      • I agree with this whole-heartedly!

        I think it goes back to the “norms” that we are raised with as to what a “healthy relationship” looks like. Recently as I was returning home from an afternoon spent with a “secondary” partner I had this moment of huge crushing guilt, or what I like to call “societal guilt”. As I was driving home I suddenly had thoughts of “You know he’s just using you!” “if it’s just sex then clearly he doesn’t actually care about you!”

        I’ve struggled my entire life with low self-esteem and grew up in an abusive household, so thoughts like that are not uncommon for me. But I’ve learned to not take them at face value and instead try and examine the “WHY” behind the thought. This time around was no different. I took a second look at those thoughts, and the relationship that they referred to. The person in question and I have had an intense and rocky relationship for the better part of a decade, and yes at one time I very much wanted to be “his girlfriend”. So I get where those thoughts were coming from.

        But then through that I remembered how content I’ve felt since opening up my primary relationship and changing this other friendship to essentially “friends with benefits”. All of my emotional needs are met a thousand times over in my relationship with my fiance. I’m not lacking anything there (but getting them met elsewhere is certainly a bonus!), and as much as I adore my friend I’ve now know him long enough to see he is a TERRIBLE boyfriend in the traditional sense. But adding sex to our relationship has made our friendship…easier, closer. Neither of us want anything more than exactly what we have with one another right now.

        It’s difficult to process that sometimes. The voices pop up with all of the things that mainstream society have taught me over the years. Sex w/out monogamy = BAD. If you’re not demanding that you be his only then you must not value yourself. Slut shamming. All of that stuff is still there, but I’m slowly learning to really examine those thoughts, and I’m realizing that they’re in my head because of what I was taught, but don’t reflect my own values.

        Some of us are just wired differently.

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