For some people, the thought of an open relationship is terrifying, like waking up from a dream where you accidentally went to school naked.
For others, the possibility feels thrilling and exciting like someone just handed them $100,000 and an open-ended plane ticket. For many, they feel somewhere in between.
Being in a committed long-term relationship provides a level of emotional security. A 2016 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that one in five single Americans had engaged in consensual non-monogamy in their lifetime. With open relationship rates on the rise, this conversation is becoming increasingly more common.
Being in a committed long-term relationship provides a level of emotional security and safety. If your immediate reaction wasn’t “hell yes,” your long-term partner asking you to redefine your monogamy agreement is a big thing to consider especially if you weren’t expecting it.
Below are a few tips to help you navigate this novel situation.
1. Don’t take it personally.
It is easy to assume that your spouse asking to add additional romantic or sexual relationships to their life means that you are somehow “not enough” to satisfy them or are in some way to blame for the situation. That is not true. Their desire to augment their love life is about them. It’s not a reflection of you.
If they are telling you “it’s your fault” or that they need to do this because “you’re not enough” or they are already engaging in an ongoing affair, you need to reconsider the health of the relationship overall, non-monogamous or not.
2. Stay curious.
Try not to jump to conclusions in the conversations. Ask lots of questions and use reflective listening in order to fully understand what your spouse is really asking for.
Some things to inquire about are: do they want to have sexual or emotional relationships with other people or both? Do they want you to be involved and included? How do they feel about you pursuing your own sexual and romantic interests elsewhere?
3. Consider their offer.
Because breaches in monogamy are emotionally loaded, you might be tempted to say “no” right away. Take time to consider their offer, talk to trusted people about it, and let it settle. This isn’t something that needs to be decided overnight. They had time to fully consider it, you deserve the same.
4. Explore your desires.
Use this as an opportunity to self-examine what else you might desire in the relationship. Your spouse has opened the door for both of you to consider and communicate about what you might want. Give yourself time and permission to think outside the box about what more you might want that you were afraid to ask for previously.
5. Don’t agree to it unless you really feel great about it.
You don’t have to agree to this out of fear that your spouse will leave you if you don’t say yes. You do not have to compromise your values in order to save your marriage. Instead, consider all of the above, have ongoing conversations and see if you two are able to come to a conclusion that you both feel good about.
Your relationship is as unique as you and your partner are. Taking the time to listen to their desires and consider them fully while staying connected to your inner truth will add a level of depth to your relationship, regardless of the outcome.
Reconsidering your monogamy agreement is a big negotiation in a relationship. But with the right tools and a little bit of patience, you can get through this conversation together.
There is no black or white in this situation, but there is plenty of room to explore the gray area.