10 Tips (and One App) for People Thinking About Open Relationships
10 Tips (and One App) for People Thinking About Open Relationships
-Guest Post by Rebecca E. Blanton-
So you think you want to try opening up your relationship. Maybe you have thought about this for a long time but never ventured into trying it. Maybe it is a new thought. Maybe your partner brought it up and surprised you (for better or worse). Whatever has triggered your interest, you are now thinking about non-monogamy.
You are starting at a good place. Reading about non-monogamy and polyamory is useful, whether you are trying it for the first time or you have been practicing it your whole life. We are not born knowing how to have adult romantic relationships. This is something you learn over time and through lots and lots of mistakes.
After practicing various forms of non-monogamy and polyamory, I have learned a few things and have a few tips for newbies. I also tapped into the collective hive mind of polyamory groups on Facebook that I belong to and asked people in that community to provide me with things they wish they knew when they started.
Having open relationships is an ongoing learning process. Every experience is unique and will change what you need, desire and is true for you in your current and future relationships.
1. Know Thyself
You have a unique set of needs and desires in a relationship. We are not born knowing what these are. It takes time and experience to figure yourself out and find out what you need in a relationship. If you are in a monogamous relationship, your needs and desires influence one other person, which is hard enough to negotiate. In an open relationship, the degree of interaction and influence your needs and desires have on shaping that relationship increase logarithmically.
Take some time to seriously think about what is important for you in a relationship. Do you need to be the primary focus of one person? Are you okay if your partner’s other partner is a different gender then you? Are you okay with the third (or forth, or fifth) partner being more attractive than you? Do you want veto power over who your primary partner dates? Are you okay if your primary partner goes on vacation with another sexual partner?
Be honest with yourself. If the idea of someone you love being intimate (emotionally or physically) with another person drives you crazy, non-monogamy may not be for you. Spend some time thinking about how much time you need to spend one-on-one with a partner to feel good about your relationship. Talk to people, especially your partner and potential partners, about your needs, expectations and desires.
2. Talk About It – A LOT
There are many ways to talk about open relationships. Everyone has their own fantasies about them and a set of expectations. In America, we don’t discuss how to have relationships very often. You need to talk to your partner(s) about their visions of a relationship and their expectations.
When you start to try and open up your relationship, you and your partner(s) may have drastically different ideas. You may both be saying you want to try poly or non-monogamy, but those words may carry very different meanings for each party. You have to talk about what you mean by this.
You also have to talk about feelings. This can be especially hard for introverts of any gender. To make non-monogamy work, you need to figure out a way to let your partner know what you are feeling in a gentle way. Holding back things that make you upset or angry and then lashing out or becoming passive-aggressive hurts relationships. If your partner is doing something that bothers you or is hurtful, you need to tell them. Gently.
I am a writer. I express myself on the page more easily and with more tact than I can in conversation. I know that when something is highly emotional or will upset my partner, I have a very difficult time carrying on a conversation. I tend to just shut down and let them talk and decide when the conversation is over. Knowing this, I now write. I will send a partner an email or, in the past, I have kept a journal that my partner reads on a regular basis. This allows me to more effectively communicate what I want. Figure out what method works for you and our partners.
3. Types of Non-Monogamy and Polyamory
Non-monogamy comes in many flavors. There are swingers – people who tend to look for people outside their primary relationship to have sex with. Generally swingers do not create lasting relationships or intimate bonds with these sexual partners. People who practice polyamory generally are looking for a third (or more) partners to form an emotional as well as sexual relationship. People practicing consensual non-monogamy tend to fall somewhere in between these two.
Everyone has their preference for types of non-monogamy. People can be very opinionated about various types of non-monogamy. People who practice polyamory tend to think swingers are just being slutty. Swingers tend to see polyamorous folks as overly emotional and clingy. Ultimately you need to find out what is right for you and your partners.
4. Feelings are Real, Legitimate, and Should be Acknowledged
When you are in a consensual non-monogamous relationship, you will have lots of feelings. They are your feelings and mean something. You will fall in love, your will be really happy, you will be really hurt, you will get jealous, you will be happy for your partner when they find someone awesome. These feelings need to be acknowledged as real and legitimate.
There are people in the various non-monogamous communities who will say that jealousy is a bad emotion and should be suppressed. You will also hear that “Real Poly People” do not experience jealousy. That is so wrong. You and your various partners will have all sorts of feelings. Acknowledge them, talk about them, and figure out how to negotiate the negative feelings. Often jealousy can stem from personal insecurities or feeling neglected or disrespected by a partner. Figure out what is at the root of this feeling. Do not use jealousy as an excuse for bad behavior. Also, do not try and deny when you are hurt or jealous. You need to deal with these feelings.
5. Know Your Personal Risk Acceptance Level
Open relationships come with risk. You are bringing in another person who will introduce a certain level of emotional and physical risk. Depending on the relationship, it may also include financial and other types of risks.
Everyone has a personal level of comfort with various risks. One major risk includes potential STIs. If you or your partner is sleeping with someone else, there is an increased risk of contracting STIs. Safer sex practices diminish these risks significantly, but they do not reduce them to zero. Think about things like STI testing and disclosure of the results. Do you want to see a recent STI test result report before you have sex with someone? Is it okay with you if your partner has unprotected sex with someone else? Do you and your partner need to start PReP before having sex outside your relationship (PReP is a daily pill you can take to prevent HIV infection).
There are other risks. You need to think about the level of emotional and financial involvement you want with third parties. Questions like who pays for dates, travel and gas arise. If you reach a point where you talk about moving in with a third partner, there are financial and housing risks to consider. What level of risk you and your primary partner take is up to the two of you.
6. Approach Opening Your Relationship Like Having A Child
People will decide to open their relationships for lots of different reasons. Some are better than others. If you have a relationship that is full of love and joy and you and your partner want to share that with someone else, this is a great base to work from. If you and your partner are missing something significant in the relationship or the relationship is failing and you bring in another person, this is a recipe for disaster.
Opening a failing relationship is similar to having a child to try and save a failing marriage. Never in the history of humankind has a baby helped a couple reduce stress, have more bonding time with each other, or effectively saved a bad marriage. Opening a relationship is the same thing. If you are lacking a significant thing in your relationship and decide to pursue someone else to fill this void, you are setting yourself up to fall in love with the new person and hurt your established partner. Proceed with caution.
7. There Will Be Drama
Everybody says they hate drama. However, everyone has drama in their lives. When you have multiple people in a relationship, drama arises. Regardless of how low-drama you think you are, it will happen. Be ready for this. Think about ways to moderate your reactions to situations to help improve communication and reduce stress. Also keep in mind, there are some fights well worth having.
8. More People Are Doing It Than You Know
You are not alone in your journey. More and more people are practicing various forms of consensual non-monogamy. Some couples limit it to bringing in a third person to have sex with on occasion and only play together as a couple. Some people have independent relationships with third parties. Some people have rules stating when it is okay to seek out other partners, such as while traveling or stationed overseas. Most people are not very open about these arrangements because of the stigma around non-monogamy.
Once you start practicing consensual non-monogamy, in whatever form it takes, you will begin to meet others who do the same. It is useful to have compatriots to talk about your relationships with and enjoy social outings. Seek out other people in these communities and expand your social base.
9. Go Back to School (Sort Of)
Relationship styles come with a learning curve. If you have been practicing monogamy since you started dating, you have learned some of the tricks to making those type of relationships work. Non-monogamy in all forms requires the same type of learning.
There are lots of ways to get information and grow. I personally love talking to people. Most cities (even small ones) have social groups for people who practice non-monogamy. Check out MeetUp.com to see if there is one in your area. It’s a great start.
There are also podcasts, internet sites and books about non-monogamy. Use these resources. Some of my favorites include the podcast Poly Weekly and The People of Kink. The books Opening Up and More than Two are particularly good.
10. Not Everyone is Cut Out for Non-monogamy
I think consensual non-monogamy is great! It works for me. It does not work for everyone. Some people have a very difficult time with jealousy and time management. They tend to be poor candidates for non-monogamy. Some people have deep cultural or religious objections. You need to honor their needs and decisions.
If you are interested in non-monogamy, accept that this is an experiment. It may turn out to be just the thing you are looking for. It may turn out to be a disaster and you hate it. Both outcomes are okay.
11. Google Calendar!
When you have an open relationship, there is a lot of scheduling. You and your primary partner have date nights, PTA events, school plays, work functions, social obligations and family obligations to schedule. So does your third partner. Start a Google calendar for your dating partners. Put important events on it and list who needs to be there. Be realistic with your scheduling. If you have a surgical procedure that is an in-and-out in a day and you are supposed to be home by five, it is generally not a good idea for your primary partner to schedule a date with someone else at seven that same night. If you have to attend your child’s back-to-school night and your partner does not need to come, this may be marked as a potential date time for the other parties in your group.
Google calendar has an option for all parties to view the calendar and schedule things on it. It is a most useful tool.
Rebecca E. Blanton