If you and your partner are thinking about moving to an open relationship, it’s important to discuss sexual and emotional boundaries from the start. Whether you’re comfortable with penetrative sex or not, you’ll need to establish what kind of sex and partners are okay.
But broaching this conversation can be tricky business. Here’s how to do it well, according to sex and relationship experts:
Clarify Your Desires
If your partner is receptive to the idea of an open relationship, you should first think deeply about what it is that you want out of your relationship. Getting clear on this can help avoid hurt feelings, prevent jealousy in the future, and ensure that you’re both happy with the arrangement.
For example, you’ll need to determine whether you just want more sex or if it’s something deeper than that. Ultimately, non-monogamy can make a lot of people feel more fulfilled, but it’s important to figure out what it is exactly that you’re looking for from your romantic life.
Once you know what your desires are, you can start the conversation with your partner. Keeping it light and fun can make the process much easier, so you shouldn’t be afraid to joke around and use humor to ease the tension.
It’s also important to discuss sexual and emotional boundaries from the beginning of your open relationship so that both parties are clear on what is and isn’t okay. This includes discussing the number of partners you can have, whether or not you want veto power over other partners, and how much time you’ll spend together as a couple. It’s also helpful to have regular check-ins with your partner to ensure that they are still satisfied with the boundaries you’ve set.
Give Your Partner Time to Respond
For many people, open relationships are a big change from the monogamous structure they’re used to. It’s important to be transparent about your desires and to give your partner a chance to respond to the idea before you ask if they’re willing to explore consensual non-monogamy with you. If you’re not sure where to start, you can try a general discussion about your feelings on the topic or suggest that you both schedule time for a heart-to-heart to discuss your concerns.
If you choose to bring up the conversation about an open relationship, make sure that it’s a time where both of you can devote your attention to the topic. Having the talk off-hand or while you’re watching an episode of your favorite show can lead to tension and confusion, so it’s best to reserve some space for a deeper conversation about how you feel about openness in your relationship.
It’s also important to remind yourself that, even if you’re both happy in your relationship and excited about the possibility of an open relationship, this type of arrangement is not necessarily a guarantee of long-term happiness. It takes a lot of work to establish and maintain healthy boundaries in any relationship, let alone one that allows for openness. That’s why it’s crucial that both partners are on the same page about what they want out of their relationship and that they commit to communicating with each other regularly.
The best way to get your partner on board with an open relationship is to be honest about why you want it. This will help to alleviate any fears that you may be taking the initiative or that you are trying to control them. Be sure to highlight all of the positive aspects of your relationship, especially if you feel that they are the main reason you want an open relationship.
Jealousy is a common issue in relationships, and it’s even more likely to pop up in open ones, as people often find that they have more interest in other partners than their current ones. This is why it’s so important to discuss what your boundaries and expectations are, and how you will address issues like jealousy and possessiveness.
Another important point is to clarify what you mean by “open”. While there’s a lot of room for interpretation (and 10 couples would probably give you 10 different definitions of what an open relationship means), the most successful ones do have some basic tenets that help them work. For example, you’ll need to decide whether you’re both allowed to actively seek out other partners or if it’s okay to “stumble” upon them or be introduced by a friend. You’ll also need to establish who is fair game to have sex with (it’s not always easy to avoid someone you’ve developed feelings for). The best approach is to think about what kind of arrangement is most compatible with your current lifestyle and the needs of both you and your partner.
Set Some Rules
When couples enter into an open relationship, it’s important to set some rules. It’s likely that the parameters of these relationships will change over time, but establishing the nitty-gritty of them early can make it easier for both partners to be on the same page and can help prevent jealousy and insecurity.
For example, it’s important to discuss how much outside sex and hookups each partner will engage in. It’s also a good idea to talk about how the couple will protect themselves (for instance, will they use condoms or dental dams with their sex partners?) and how often they’ll have “check-in” conversations to process emotions, reassess negotiated boundaries and ensure that the primary relationship is healthy.
Finally, it’s important for both partners to be transparent about their needs and fantasies when they discuss the relationship. “If you’re not honest with each other about your feelings, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of hiding and lying,” says Sussman. “But if you’re both clear about your needs and fantasies, you can avoid those patterns.”
While an open relationship is a great way to explore sexuality and have more variety in one’s romantic life, it may not be the right choice for everyone. If your goal is to get out of a monogamous relationship, or you want to fix a bad one, it might not be the best fit.