As the term non-monogamy becomes more mainstream, (with an estimated 20% of the US population having tried some form of non-monogamy according to the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy published in 2016) the question often gets asked, how do you bring up non-monogamy to a partner, especially that first time? Whether you just want to have a discussion and see what your partner thinks of the whole thing, or if the idea of swinging, polyamory, or opening up your relationship has crossed your mind, you are not alone. After nearly a decade of researching, blogging, podcasting, and coaching singles and couples I have definitely learned a few things that have worked more consistently than others, and of course the what not to do’s.
As an aside, if you have already tried having the conversation and feel like you just crashed and burned, don’t worry. That is how my first open relationship started and I am still here learning, growing, and expanding my knowledge. While at times I wanted desperately to pretend I had never heard the term “open relationship” there was no going back for me. Pandora’s box had been opened, and the depth to which I love myself, and those around me would not have been possible without the term being introduced into my life, no matter how it happened. And with my partner we learned to be patient, loving, supportive, and figure out what made us both tick, and you can learn all these things too. I truly believe that there is no one size fits all relationship norm, and thus, I have written this article to be inclusive of any gender or relationship style outside of monogamy. And, if this is your first foray and you have no clue where to even begin, you have definitely come to the right place! So, let’s dive right into having that taboo conversation with a loved one, for the first time.
What Do You Want?
Before you can even entertain the thought of bringing up anything outside of monogamy to your partner, it is important that you first ask yourself what it is that you want. Why are you bringing up this “taboo” subject in the first place? What is your motivation, fantasy, or desired outcome? What do you envision a non-monogamous relationship will look like? Or even, what it could look like?
Now some of you might think that this is simple, and go to the obvious answer of just sex with other people. I’m sorry to tell you that it is not. And further, approaching it that way to a partner is going to put you at a major disadvantage for a real conversation. The most likely outcome of just putting sex with other people on the table is a rash of insecurity, jealousy, and basically questioning the entire foundation of your relationship. This is not, how you want to approach this. To really have this conversation, you need to look beyond just hooking up with someone new and the possibilities that excitement will bring, and think a bit more along the lines of why you are curious about this. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
For my partner, the thrill of the chase does it for him. More of a hunter’s mentality. Often, just finding someone new and exciting will kick his libido into high gear. For me, it’s the freedom to flirt and interact with people in a completely unrestrained way. I do not like being restricted in my interactions with people. If someone incredible comes into my life, I love the freedom of having authentic experiences with them, while still having an amazing and supportive partner by my side.
For others it is about making deep, new, and meaningful connections on a regular basis. And of course, some people just really get off on sleeping with someone new, or swapping partners in the same room. There is no singular motivating factor to wanting a non-monogamous relationship. But taking the time to really solidify in your mind what makes you tick, will be integral to having that authentic conversation with your partner.
So again, you need to take the time to figure out what it is that you want. Even if that changes, take a few moments to really visualize what a life outside of monogamy could look like for you. And to help you, I have drafted up a little table to give you some insight into just how many non-monogamous relationship types there really are.
The Ethical Relationship Chart (Gender Free)
I have seen every single one of these terms, including monogamy, be incredibly successful, which is why these are the ones I have chosen to include. Try not be overwhelmed, and keep in mind that there are probably more that I will need to include in future publications, but for now, this is a great launching off point. If you notice, I have included monogamy as a part of the ethical relationship chart for one specific reason. I truly believe that if both you and your partner make a conscious decision to have a monogamous relationship, after knowing that other relationship norms exist, then you will have a much better chance of success.
So many of us were raised in monogamy that we do not give it the thought or even the credit it deserves. Two people, bound for life is an incredible ideal to strive for, and going into it with intent will make it all the stronger. So, don’t be afraid of this new information. There is no one size fits all relationship, and the truth is, most often, one person will sway towards something stronger than their partner, and that’s where conscious compromise comes into play. But we will leave that for a future article. Now let’s take a look at what you need to do to prepare for the first conversation after having a better grasp on what you want.
Reaction Types and Creating a Safe Space
With the understanding of what you want out of this conversation, and your ideal goals, or at the very least an outline of what a relationship outside of monogamy could look like, it is time to prepare for the conversation. And by that, I mean creating a safe space or an environment where you feel most comfortable bringing it up. And of course, a space where you partner will feel equally relaxed and to minimize the emotional risks or inherent failures. Knowing how you and your partner react to new information is a key component in great couples communication, and something that most people struggle with, especially because in a monogamous relationship it is a skill that doesn’t come up all that often. But this is valuable skill to develop, and will help you best navigate your relationship going forward. As these variations and reactions can be incredibly complex I am including a few types for example purposes only. This list is by no means exhaustive, so are to be used to get you thinking more about your specific reaction dynamic and be more aware of how your partner usually reacts, and an idea of a situation to avoid.
The Emotional Type: Let’s say your partner has a tendency to get emotional, or reacts with their gut. Avoid just springing this conversation in a public place.
The Slow Processor: They react to things slowly and need time to process or sleep on it, the likelihood of having a long, in depth conversation in one sitting, will probably not be a viable option. Avoid bombarding them with everything you have learned at once.
The Impulsive Soul: The person is a try anything once sort of soul and is always excited to rush into things. In this case, your initial conversation will need to include a list of troubleshooting and ground rules to reduce someone going to far and hurting the other in the process.
Once you have spent a little time getting to know how to best communicate or bring up new ideas with your loved one it is time to create that amazing space for an open dialogue. Here are a few methods that have actually worked in the real world:
Method 1: is to bring it up casually, such as “I was reading this book about non-monogamy and it was completely fascinating. Have you ever thought about that, or would do you have any interest in reading the book?”
Method 2: is to create a calm quiet space and tell your partner about a sexy fantasy you have had in regards to a non-monogamous situation such as how exciting it would be to watch them dance/flirt/kiss someone else.
Method 3: would be to ask your partner to set aside an hour or so for the two of you to talk about something you have been thinking about. And then actually commit to having a real, uninterrupted discussion about your thoughts on non-monogamy under the setting the two of you agree upon. It is all about partnership right? Why not allow the both of you to contribute to creating a space that will no doubt hold many future conversations? It will come in handy.
Keep it light, buy a nice bottle of wine, or make a nice meal, and ensure that you have some one on one time where the two of you can really connect. Once you have a scheduled time, be honest, and tell your partner exactly how you discovered the term, share the amount of research you have done, and most importantly support, listen, and be kind as they react, and they will react (see below). Whatever their response is, be prepared to revisit the topic. In most cases multiple times as your experiences and knowledge base expand.
You are increasing your capacity for strengthening your relationship and communication skills by presenting this new subject in a loving, non-judgemental, and supportive way. If done right there should be no pressure. Remember, you have entered into your current relationship with the assumption of monogamy. With this conversation, you are in fact breaking the unspoken rules, and need to be prepared for a hard no, or a bit of backlash. And with that in mind be reassuring, loving, and supportive of your partner. In most cases these conversations come as quite a shock, and it can take some time for internalizing, and deciding what direction to take all the new information.
Under no circumstances will it ever work in your favor to be coercive or manipulative, for you, your relationship, or any future partners. Non-monogamy is a beautiful and healthy relationship norm, if done ethically, and ethically only.
What if they say no?
Again, I cannot stress this enough, they are probably going to say no at first. And there is more to be gained from you being prepared for that then not. Your reaction to the emotional knee jerk response will set the tone for any chance of future conversations. Just remember, you love your partner, and your relationship does not need to change in order to keep loving your partner. By re-enforcing that to them, you are establishing clear trust, after what could be perceived as a violation. So, let your amazing, awesome, and incredible capacity to love that person shine through even if you are on the inside a little crushed at not hearing what you wanted.
Only once have I seen a person threaten their partner with divorce if they ever brought something this crazy up in the future. So with that being the complete extreme, you will be able to re-visit the subject in the future. Time is key here, especially if it is something you are willing to work for.
What if they say yes?
So, in a few really cool cases, when a person brings up the idea of non-monogamy to a partner they express complete jubilation at the thought. I recently met a couple who were so in sync with the whole idea, that they described to me, mutually bringing it up after watching a movie that featured swinging, and then signed up to a lifestyle club the second they could find a babysitter. Or the couple, who when one partner told her that he fantasized about her having another male in their bedroom, they quickly negotiated some ground rules and were searching for their special friend that weekend. These cases do happen, and if you have taken the time to really think about what you want out of non-monogamy before bringing it up to your partner you will have a much stronger ability to start negotiating or fantasizing on the fly.
If you haven’t though, this 100% yes could be a little intimidating. Often it can be a sure-fire way to start questioning your own insecurities. How long have they felt that way? Are you not good enough? Has the whole relationship been a lie? Why are they even with me if they want to sleep with other people? The list can go on and on. So, to this point know that there are many resources to help you through the insecurities. From books, to blogs, to podcasts, to online forums, and even the sex positive community on Twitter. Don’t be afraid to download an audio book on whatever aspect of non-monogamy you are interested in, or to reach out to a coach or a sex positive educator. Ask questions, talk to your partner about what you are feeling, communicate authentically and with an open mind whenever you can.
What if they say they need to think about this, or just go very quiet?
This is where I usually fall on the spectrum when introduced to new things, and the most helpful thing that I have found, is when the person introducing the big scary new, asks if I would like some time to process. This simple trick has been a complete game changer in my life, but it is important to set a time to revisit and not ignore the elephant now in the room.Ask your partner when they would be comfortable talking about it again, and actually make a plan to do so.
In the meantime provide the resources you have used to get you to this point. Start the dialogue and give them as much time as you have had to sort this whole new concept out, or more. Be a great partner, by being a clear, and open communicator (see how important this skill-set is). Tell them you love them no matter what, and thank them for at least considering what you have said. The reality is, that there is no rushing this lifestyle. You both may take a few months to get onto the same page and then spend the next year looking for the perfect fit for you, or rush into it, then take a long pause to process everything. Make this adventure your own, and take it at the pace you are both comfortable with.
A Word of Caution
The last point that I want to make is that exploring non-monogamy will not fix your relationship. As I hope you have learned, this takes clear communication, and a solid understanding of your wants and needs, while negotiating the same with your partner. And it is not fair to the people outside of your relationship, to go in, hoping that their bodies or emotions will somehow help you rebuild, fix, or gloss over your personal troubles.
One of the phrases that I love to use, is that non-monogamy requires an expert level of communication, and without this you are going to feel a strain on even the best or most stable relationships. You will have bumps and bruises because you are adding more people and elements to the most intimate part of your life. The takeaway is, going into non-monogamy with the assumption that you are building onto a strong foundation, and that the new experiences are merely additions to your relationship, is something I wish I had known when I started. Remember non-monogamy is not a patch. It will not fix anything, and more to the fact, it will probably accelerate its deterioration. And will likely hurt the outsiders you are bringing into your relationship. So be ethical, realistic, and honest with where your relationship is at before you go down this road.
The Take Away
Exploring non-monogamous relationships can be an exciting adventure, and I hope that this article has helped you in bridging that initial conversation. And if you have any tips or tricks that made the conversation easier for you, please share below.
Do you have questions about non-monogamy? Stay tuned for the next post in my introduction to non-monogamy series or ask your questions below!