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. I don’t have any personal advice for the question but I do second the recommendation for the book Opening Up. The book did a very good job about explaining the good and the difficulties of being in an open relationship and thinking about why someone would want to pursue it and good tips about how to go about it and all the different ways people structure their relationship.

  2. One thing that is really REALLY important is knowing what you want out of “opening” the relationship. Do you want to fall in love with other people? Do you want you and your boyfriend to have a “third,” or do would you pursue things independently? Would you have ongoing emotional relationships with other people? Or ongoing/repeated sexytimes with other people? Or simply one-time sexytimes with people occasionally? Know this before you bring it up, as it can help you frame the issue.

    I am in what might be called a “monogamish” relationship. Basically, the way I think about it, other people occasionally function as “sex toys” in my relationship with my boyfriend. Love/prolonged friendship with the other people doesn’t happen for us, and we’ve agreed that if it began to, we’d immediately deal with it. Although a couple of times we have brought a third (or third and fourth) person into our bedroom, most of the time we go out with people independently.

    One thing that I think is useful to mention is that jealousy, if it’s not based on insecurity, can actually be a fun and interesting emotion to explore. It doesn’t have to be something to fear or avoid. My boyfriend actually really enjoys feeling jealous while I’m out, and then “vindicated” or “triumphant” when I come back to him. It’s like one of those trust games where you fall backwards and someone catches you, or like a roller coaster. You have to be confident that the person will catch you to let yourself go, and that the seat belt will hold, but once you let yourself go you get to experience a kind of “fun” thrill and then a happy relief.

  3. One of my husband’s biggest turn ons is threesomes, so that was the gateway to our open or ‘monogamish’ relationship. We are negotiating constantly though, to what degree things are ok. I don’t have a lot to add, as I’m going through similar things, but good luck. As other have suggested, I recommend ‘Ethical Slut’ as well.

  4. My husband and I have a pretty dry sex life, which is my fault for the most part. At one point I brought up the idea, semi jokingly, of him having a side peice so he could get out his sexual frsutrations without me having to feel pressured to full fill them. He turned it down, saying he only wants me, but over time our sexual side has become more strained. A while ago I started to think about it again and felt lik an open relationship, or even monogomish, sounded like a lifestyle I really was interested in myself for various reasons. I tried to bring it up again and the conversation went down in flaes pretty quickly. He was very defensive, just saying that he must not be enough for me, or that its cheating, etc. I still can’t get it out of my head and really want to have more talk, but he’s so opposed. I feel like I can’t honestly talk to him about it bcause he gets so angry :-/

  5. Hey! Let me start by saying it is awesomely refreshing to read a post pertaining to polyamory on OBE. I have been a rogue reader for the entire OBE community for longer than I can remember, and this is the first time I have ever posted on something. Why? Well, because I feel that strongly about polyamory and non-monogamous lifestyle choices in general. I am not quite sure how much bearing my opinion or advice or words will have, but hopefully a perspective from someone who is in the lifestyle will help out!

    I have been in an extremely wonderful, fruitful, and successful poly relationship now with my primary for a little over 5 years. I am identified as a lesbian; however, my primary is male. It was an odd situation where he and I met, hit it off as friends, and I fell in love with him as the person, not as the sexual organs, or his gender. That is beside the point. I have been practicing a non-monogamous lifestyle before he and I met. It didn’t quite go over too well with some of my other partners due to the fact they just thought I was a lady-loving Skanky McSkankerton… which, don’t get me wrong, I sometimes am, but it was never my intention to hurt anyone. I never sought out a non-monog life because I wanted to be intimate with many people. I, instead, thought it was more conducive for two people to express their yearn, want, need for further companionship/intimacy/romance/etc. Instead of hurting one another with sequestered feelings, why not be open and up front with one another? At least, that was my point of view.

    Now, opening up this discussion with a loved one is not easy at all. I can honestly admit that my discussion with my primary was an odd one but left me feeling extremely fulfilled. Admittedly, I went about having this conversation with my primary in an unseemly fashion. At the time, my primary did not know I identified as polyamorous — Yeah, yeah, I know, honesty is the best policy and all that jazz. I actually cheated on my primary with a woman I had grown very interested in. She and I had a secretive little relationship. I decided to tell him about everything that had happened and tell him about my lifestyle. Much to my surprise, he was very accepting of me. He understood that I identified as non-monog. Although this was something he was not used to, he decided to travel through that journey as well.

    So, if I had to offer a strategy to you about an open relationship, about opening the door to the wonderful world of non-monogamy, I would have highlight one stridently obvious theme: communication! Let your partner know that this is something serious to you. Let your partner know you want to have a good, long, at-length discussion about this, making sure to fully express your feelings towards other people, yourself, your relationship. With non-monogamy, it is very important to explore every detail, account for all possibilities, just so no one gets hurt. Explore what kind of relationship you want to get out of all this. Is it physical? Emotional? What is your end goal? Just know that your primary always comes first. That person is called your primary for a reason.

    Polyamory has been something very beneficial in my life. While it has left me a few scars from an argument here and there, it has made me a stronger, more open minded person. A non-monogamous lifestyle is very possible and has an opportunity to be very successful. As I stated earlier, I have been in a great, fulfilling relationship with my primary for over five years. He and I have dated both separately and as a unit. Currently, my primary, our girlfriend, and I live in one cohesive household and have peacefully existed this way for almost 3 years. My primary, our girlfriend, and I are all allowed and encouraged to seek other interests, loves, etc. as we please, keeping in mind that openness, honesty, and communication are at the forefront.

    I really hope I could offer some insight to the polyamorous lifestyle. I don’t think I covered anything, but I am more than happy to answer any questions or be there for support if you (or anyone) needs anything. Feel free to drop a comment or maybe exchange e-mails with me. I hope I helped even just a tad! Thanks!

  6. I just want to say thank you for posting this article and for taking an open, informed, respectful stance on a topic that so often gets scandalized.

    (I’m not surprised by the approach as the Offbeat Empire has my heart for that reason, but it is so wonderfully refreshing and encouraging to see.)

    This article also answered questions I didn’t realize I had! Thank you for asking and beginning to answer!

  7. For me it was easy: “I’ve read on the blog I follow about couples being in open relationships…..” :p So happy we’ve had this conversation, thanks obh&l!!

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