June 7, 2015

3 Things I wish I’d Known before Opening up my Relationship.

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Growing up where did you get your education on sex and relationships?

Chances are you got it from your parents, media and friends. But chances also are that it didn’t come from the words that you were told. It came from what was modeled between the words. And then there are the things that simply weren’t taught.

This is certainly true for me.

I learned a lot of junk about sex and relationship that, these days, I’m constantly unlearning. There was also so much I didn’t learn as a young man growing up.

As open relationship has become more and more a part of my life, I realize that the skill it takes, to do it well, is definitely one of the things I wasn’t taught. I didn’t learn who I needed to be in order to have it be something that went smoothly. I didn’t learn that it could be one of the most terrifying stretches I’d ever make in my life. I also didn’t learn that it could be one of the most beautiful and connective experiences I’d ever consciously choose.

A lot of people have a lot of questions about open relationships.

One of the very most common is, simply, “Why?”

Ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred different answers. My answer for you, on this particular day is, “Because, when done with emotional and intellectual intelligence, it can increase intimacy and deepen trust in my primary relationship.”

If you have any interest, at all, in what it looks like to create that result your next question might be “How?”

My answer is “By creating conversation.”

By taking ways of relating, that many of us have pushed into dark corners of the room, and bringing them out into the light. The more awareness we have about ourselves and how we relate to others, the better we can be in relationship, open or not.

Here are the top three things I wish I’d been told when I was starting out with an open relationship.

They’re the things that allow me, at this point in my life, to have a deeply satisfying primary relationship with my amazing girlfriend, Natalie. One that conforms to our standards and desires, not the status quo.

1. Get clear about why you want an open relationship.

Get honest with yourself. Really honest. Why do you want an open relationship?

Is it because you know that it will nourish you? Because you know that no single person can meet all your needs, and that when your needs are fully met you can bring even more energy and love to the relationship?

Or is it because you’re running away from some aspect of your relationship? Is there a level of vulnerability and connection that you’re unwilling or unable to open up to in your primary relationship? Are there difficult conversations you’ve been unwilling to have? Needs or desires you’ve been unwilling to own?

Ask yourself: Will an open relationship feed and energize me and my partner? Or will it divert energy from my relationship and decrease connection?

Creating an open relationship on top of a layer of frustration and unspoken needs is a recipe for drama.

Creating an open relationship on top of deep trust, confidence, and willingness to grow as an individual and a couple is a recipe for growth and connection.

2. You get to say yes or no to what you want and don’t want.

My girlfriend, Natalie, and I help individuals and couples create the sex lives of their dreams and have amazing, inspiring relationships. Just yesterday we spoke with a man who was torn up because his girlfriend wanted to open the relationship. He’d been in the depths of his darkness for a week straight before he reached out to us for support.

He wasn’t ready for an open relationship, he couldn’t give the go ahead to his girlfriend. But at the same time he didn’t have the heart to say no.

I saw so much of myself in him. As a recovering “nice guy” I have a strong desire to keep people around me happy, to conform to their desires. The problem is that in doing so I must oftentimes disown my own desires (if I realize that I even have desires).

I wish that someone had sat with me and helped me explore who I was, on the deepest level, so that when a past girlfriend told me she wanted to kiss someone else, I could stand strong and let her know, from a loving yet solid place, that I wanted for us to be only with each other.

What actually happened is that I had no idea what I wanted and the only thing I knew how to do was, essentially, throw myself under the bus. She kissed him. She stayed the night at his house. She ended up going on a week long trip to Hawaii with him. I was more than a wreck the entire time.

In the end, things worked themselves out, but not before I’d allowed myself to be dragged through the mud. By the time she called it off with the other guy our relationship had suffered, badly. During the time we stayed together I was never able to fully heal from the experience. It continued to weigh our relationship down right up until its final throes.

All because I couldn’t express what I truly wanted in that first moment.

3. Create a support system.

A friend and mentor summed it up succinctly when he said, “People would be fools to try to do open relationship without a support system.”

I wish I’d had this advice in the past (and, of course, followed it).

Open relationships can throw a person into their darkest places.

When we’re in that kind of place, we need someone else to bring in the light so that we can see clearly. We need someone who’s been there and can help us navigate around to what would otherwise be a dark cave. And we need not just one person, but many.

In the modern age there are tons of resources available to you. If you’re in a city of moderate size, you should be able to find a meetup group. There are online communities that are dedicated to supporting people around the journey of open relationship. There are counselors, therapists, and coaches who specialize in this work.

If your current community won’t offer the type of support you need there is one that can. Take that step forward and find it. It may be one of the best decisions you ever made.

How did all of this land to you? 

An open relationship is not just about having more sex. It can be, in and of itself, a spiritual path, a path of personal discovery and growth. When you face your demons you grow into the deeply loving, connected person that’s waiting underneath.

It’s also not the path that’s for everyone.

I’m clear about that. But for those of you for whom it is a path, I want to encourage you to be well supported.

Are you currently, or have been in the past, in an open relationship? What were the top three things you wish you’d known before opening up your relationship?

Or have you thought about it but haven’t yet taken the step? I would also love to hear what came up as you read this article in the comments below.


Relephant read:

More Sex with More People: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Open Relationships.

What to look for in a partner:


Author: Bob Schwenkler

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: courtesy of the author

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