How to Master Communication in Open, Polyamorous and Other Relationships
A guide for monogamous and non-monogamous people who want more closeness, less drama, and overall amazing relationships
Opening up my relationship was one of the best decisions I made in my life.
Have you ever been curious about opening up your relationship, but never gathered the courage to try it out — or even to mention it to your partner?
Or perhaps you have tried it, only to see it fall to the ground due to overwhelming jealousy?
For many, the very idea of non-monogamy is unthinkable. It sounds scary. It feels vulnerable. And yet, there is so much about it that sounds appealing… The freedom, the openness, the possibility of meeting each and every one of your desires with anyone you want. No more guilt, just unconfined love.
Do you think you’re weird for wanting that? Well, think again.
A study published by YouGov shows that only 51% of people under 30 years old reported that their ideal relationship is completely monogamous.
Non-monogamy is not an imaginary utopia — it actually works. According to a study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy which involved older adults practicing non-monogamy, the participants reported being “happier, healthier, and more sexually active than the general population of similar age and relationship status.”
However, it’s not all roses. The truth is, it can be hard. Sometimes, the emotions and insecurities and drama can become overwhelming. But if you want an open relationship, there are ways to overcome these problems.
From my experience as a relationship coach and as a long term polyamorous person, I’ve learned that the only way to achieve deep happiness in open relationships is by developing communication skills. Truly, deeply, passionately dedicating time and effort to learn how to be better at communication—in ways that I had never imagined to be possible before.
There are some specific tools that I have encountered or created throughout my journey that I find particularly useful, and that’s what I want to share with you in this article.
Though written with the additional complexities of open relationships in mind, all of the information here can be applied to any relationship model, and I invite all monogamous people out there to read it and try some of the suggestions, too.
Why (Open) Relationships FailThe Key to Making a Good Relationship—of Any Type1. How to Structure a Relationship Together2. How to Keep Growth Alive in Your Relationship: Handling Change3. Installing a New Emotional Program4. Creating an Environment of Expansive Communication5. Don’t Listen To What I Am Saying — Listen To What I Can’t Say6. Work On You FirstOpening Up—In All Relationship Forms
Why (Open) Relationships Fail
When you start a business, registering your company is only the beginning. After that, there is the building of the business plan, investing capital, managing the team, strategizing development, and actually making things happen. If you want to make your business grow, you need to put in the work.
When it comes to relationships, the process is much the same. Starting a relationship is only the beginning. If you want to see it it thrive, then you need to continually work on it: invest love and attention, manage the “team” through challenges, and dedicate time to it.
However, a lot of people seem to expect the “registering the company” phase to be enough. They expect the relationship to work itself out, just because both parties once agreed that they love each other and are committed to being together.
And then life happens.
We feel jealous. Our partner’s habits start annoying us. Our interests change and evolve. One of us feels neglected, the other angry. We feel attracted to other people. Communication shuts down.
We watch as everything around (and inside) us constantly shifts, and yet we remain passive. We see the relationship as something with a sense of stillness. We say “I am in a relationship” when we should be saying “I am making a relationship”—something that is dynamic and changing. And because we don’t know how to work with change, our relationships deteriorate and break.
The only difference between monogamous and non-monogamous relationships is that the latter tend to include more variables of change — more people involved, more emotions, more complexity.
Therefore, the illusion of stillness tends to shatter more easily.
In an open relationship, the feeling of safety you might have felt before (“my partner agreed not so sleep with anyone else, therefore I will never feel insecure”) is suddenly more obviously up for questioning.
Depending the number of partners you choose to have, your personality and theirs, or the relationship model you choose (among many other factors), having an open relationship will almost inevitably add more variables to your emotions and interactions, and therefore require everyone involved to have a higher degree of openness and commitment to communication themselves.
The Key to Making a Good Relationship—of Any Type
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” — Neale Donald Walsch
The amount of challenging emotions that usually come with open relationships can actually be a blessing in disguise, as behind each of them there are usually endless opportunities for growth.
However, in order to for us to harness that potential, we need the right tools.
The best one I have found so far is communication — clear, compassionate, open communication.
Think of you and your partner(s) as members of a team. Your goal is to make the relationship as fulfilling as possible for everyone involved.
For that to happen, effective teamwork needs to be in place. Ideas need to be exchanged, emotions shared, synergy created. The team members need to hear each other’s ideas, as well as contribute their own.
Communication is paramount. Get this right, the the sum will be greater than the parts.
But if this clear, compassionate communication system is not in place, the goals can’t be achieved, and the team may break apart. When that happens, we often blame it on our emotions and the current circumstances.
- “Because there is too much anger.”
- “Because she broke the rules.”
- “Because the jealousy is unbearable.”
- “Because he disrespected me.”
- “Because I feel more attracted to him than to you.”
But the truth is, as long as we’re human, those things will always happen. As long as we’re human, we will feel, we will fail, we will doubt, and we will fall.
And that’s not the problem.
The problem is when we let ourselves become victims of those things. When we do that, we lose the opportunity to grow.
What’s the solution? It’s simple, in principle.
We need to stop saying: “This is happening to us.”
Instead, we need to say to each other: “This is happening for a reason. Let’s see how we can turn it into something great.”
In practice, it helps to learn some skills for communicating in a way that fosters growth. Here’s how to develop them.
1. How to Structure a Relationship Together
(or “What Do You Mean, an Open Relationship?”)
If you’re already in an open relationship, you’ve probably already had some discussion of what that means. Even so, you might have different expectations that may create conflict in the future. Avoid that with strong communication that strives for clarity.
And if you’re new to the idea of open relationships, you might be surprised at the variety of forms they take.
Agreeing on a Definition
A big percentage of monogamous relationships follow the Relationship Escalator model:
However, when you enter the realm of non-monogamy — or even “less conventional” monogamy, you’ll see that this simple model no longer applies.
You have no option but to create your own reality — to define the very path you are about to take.
What should be your first step?
According to Rachel Sussman, licensed clinical social worker and relationship therapist, the most important thing to do when opening up a relationship “is to ask each person what an open relationship means to them”.
This brings us to another question: what are the options?
Well, the truth is, non-monogamy can come in countless shapes and sizes. Having an “open relationship” is only one of them.
In its most basic definition, an open relationship is a form of non-monogamy — an umbrella term for any sexual or romantic partnership which is not based on exclusivity.
In actual usage, ‘open relationship’ or “open marriage” often refers to couples who have strictly sexual (as opposed to emotional) contact with other people outside of the primary partnership.
Another example of non-monogamy is polyamory — this is where my partner and I both feel that we fit in the best. That means that we accept and embrace the idea that we can, at any point, fall in love with other people and develop any kind of intimate and romantic relationships with them, with the consent of everyone involved.
Regardless of the labels, we all have the power to build and customize our relationships to fit our own personalities and needs, making them unique.
That’s the main principle behind Relationship Anarchy — “the belief that relationships should not be bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree upon”. No hierarchy (primary or secondary partners), no difference in value between romantic or platonic relationships — every relationship is unique and incomparable.
Labels might be helpful, but what’s really important is for you and your partner(s) to be on the same page from the beginning, so that there are no unmet expectations and hurt feelings due to misunderstandings. You want to make sure you mean the same thing, so that then you can build the same relationship together.
Here are some questions you might want to ask and answer:
- “What does ‘open relationship’ mean to me/you/us?”
- “Why do I/you/we want to do this?”
- “How can this make me/you/us happier?”
- “What needs am I/are you/are we trying to get met?”
That’s step one: coming to agreement on the terms and definitions you are using.
Defining boundaries: an exercise
Do you ever find it hard to say ‘no’ to people?
Do you ever do things that hurt you just to please other people or meet someone else’s expectations?
Do you ever think “Why did I say yes to that? I should have been strong and true to myself!”
You’re not the only one. A lot of us struggle with setting boundaries in our relationships with others. Those feelings are signs that we are allowing our boundaries to be violated.
According to the IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance Program, “a boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends … [t]he purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you”.
When it comes to non-monogamous relationships, a lot can come up that makes us shy away — from standing our ground, from communicating what we need, or from even admitting those things to ourselves. Setting good boundaries for yourself becomes even more critical when the complexity of your relationships increases.
Let’s take a look at this example:
Cam and Pat have been in a non-monogamous relationship for a while now, where they agreed they can have any kind of sexual intimacy with other people, as long as they don’t get involved romantically. In the past few weeks, Cam has been seeing another partner several times — not just for sex but also taking walks together, going to the movies and having dinner. Pat is upset, considering this to be a romantic relationship and therefore a betrayal. However, Cam claims they are just friends who have occasional sex.
Who is right and who is wrong?
The answer is… no one.
The problem here is that although they agreed on some common definitions, there were still mismatched expectations — as well as lack of knowledge of what each one wants from the relationship.
A way to solve this would be by defining clear boundaries.
Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, a sociologist and educational consultant who has written several books on polyamory, developed an exercise for that purpose:
“I have couples write three lists of something they absolutely must have in a relationship; something they would like, but are willing to flex on; and something they absolutely will not allow in a relationship. So it’s three columns of your boundaries and where they fall. Each person does that independently, and then comee back and compares lists — just to give yourself a baseline of, ‘What do I want?’”
When doing this exercise, don’t be shy — bring as many topics to the table as you feel it’s necessary.
Here are some examples of topics you might consider in deciding on qualities you want in your relationship and which of the three columns (must have, flexible about, won’t allow) they fit:
- Do you want a full honesty policy or not?
For me and my partner, a full honesty policy helped us feel really safe in the beginning, and then eventually it stopped being a rule and it became an option — however, we end up usually sharing because it feels good to open up and process together.
- Respecting other people’s privacy
Are you talking about other people’s private life and problems? Are you gossiping? Sharing about our connections can be helpful, but always make sure to check if you’re not disrespecting someone else’s privacy.
- Taking into account everyone’s needs
Some couples in open relationships become so immersed in maintaining their primary relationship that they sometimes tend to forget to consider the needs and feelings of other people they get involved with. Remember: everyone you connect with matters, so always aim at creating the best possible environment for everyone!
- Do you want to establish any policy about dating common friends? Some people find that awkward and too much to handle.
- Are there any people that you wouldn’t like your partner to connect with? Why? Do you want to create a rule for that?
- Do you feel that you need some kind of hierarchy (primary and secondary partners) in your relationships, or do you feel more comfortable with complete freedom and equality among all partners?
- Do you ever want to meet your partner’s partners (or vice versa)?
- What is important to you in your connections with others? Platonic friendship? Romantic love? Nurturing affection?
- What about living arrangements? Do you consider sharing space with others? Or inviting others into your current shared space?
- How about starting a family? Do you consider having children with more than one partner?
- What about if you do have kids? Will they be involved in social life with other partners? Do you discuss your relationship style with them? At what age?
Sex life and safe-sex practices
- Are there any fantasies you feel particularly excited about?
- When you imagine your partner with someone else, is there any kind of sexual interaction that makes you feel uncomfortable (examples: S&M, anal sex, all kinds of penetration, etc.)? Why?
- Do you want to agree on always wearing a condom or other contraception methods with other partners?
- What happens if someone gets an STD?
- When is the best time to address that? (For example, sometimes it can feel awkward to mention just before having sex, so you might want to mention it in a casual conversation before it happens.)
- Do you want to have regular STI screenings?
- Do you feel any insecurities or fears around this topic?
These are some examples, but you can draw from elements of all kinds of relationships: how to talk to each other; what words we like to hear and which ones always tend to hurt us, feelings, work-life balance, other people, relationship work — whatever is part of our life and our partner’s is also a playground to practice our ability to respect ourselves and others.
Of course, when answering these questions and brainstorming boundaries together, there is a whole spectrum of safety vs. freedom to be considered. For example, going back to Cam and Pat’s example, they could have agreed that they would not allow each other to date one specific person more than once—one end of the spectrum on not being “romantically” involved.
Sometimes, committing to establishing and following certain rules can be the safest, most comfortable way to set boundaries.
However, it’s important to know that your desires might change in the future. Perhaps you value the freedom to make choices that serve you in each specific moment, and have the space to change your mind.
The way my partner and I allow ourselves that space and freedom is by remaining open to change the decisions we have set before. And that’s why we prefer to work with intentions instead of set-in-stone rules when defining our boundaries.
Let’s say that Cam and Pat can’t reach an agreement on the boundary between “romantic” and “sexual”, but they also don’t want to set arbitrary rules such as not dating another person more than once.
The could decide to focus on what they truly want and need, and share that with each other from the beginning of their relationship.
Here are some examples of intentions they could voice:
- “To hold space for each other in challenging moments.”
- “To share a home.”
- “To build a family.”
- “To support each other emotionally.”
- “To build a long-term, sexual, emotional, loving relationship together.”
- “To be always honest and open.”
The same could apply to their relationships with other partners. Here are some examples of intentions they could set for those:
- “To meet any and every of my sexual needs.”
- “To meet any and every of my emotional needs.”
- “To help the other person meet their own needs to the best of my ability.”
- “To allow myself fulfill my desires in each present moment.”
- “To build a larger family.”
- “To learn how to be more loving towards others and give more openly.”
- “To get to know myself better through connecting with different people.”
By engaging with their date in ways other than having sex, Cam might have been, for example, trying to “fulfill their desires in that specific present moment”, whether they were romantic or not. Or they might have been exploring a part of themselves that this other specific person triggered, or simply exercising their ability to be more loving and open towards all beings.
True, this wouldn’t be sure to prevent hurt feelings. However, to have this kind of conversation is to set the ground for a continuously deeper connection and mutual understanding.
The point is, there are two approaches to setting boundaries.
Some people like to set specific rules in their open relationships as a way to create healthy boundaries in a comfortable way. If this is something that appeals to you, make sure that you:
- Are absolutely on the same page with your partner(s) as for what those rules are and what they mean;
- Prepare and and discuss possible consequences, how to deal with challenging situations (such as trust being broken), and whether or not you want to review what you first agreed upon.
If you choose to let your relationship(s) be guided by your intentions and remain more open to change and intuition, make sure that you:
- Really try to connect with your deepest “why” of being in such a relationship, and define what you want to get from it;
- Keep coming back to it and re-defining it together — after all, every person we connect with is unique, and so our feelings and desires change with the passing time.
2. How to Keep Growth Alive in Your Relationship: Handling Change
“Anicca, […] in Buddhism, the doctrine of impermanence. […] Recognition of the fact that anicca characterizes everything is one of the first steps in the Buddhist’s spiritual progress towards enlightenment.” — britannica.com
Probably the most important lesson I have ever learned in life (and keep learning every day) is that the only constant is change. Therefore, the only way to be truly happy is to accept change — to detach from expectations, to be adaptable, and to stop wishing things could be different than what they are right now.
This lesson has been especially important to me when it comes to my relationships. People, emotions and perspectives are always changing. Therefore, boundaries and intentions are only the beginning — their strength is that they serve to point you in the right direction, more as guidelines than set-in-stone rules.
One way to embrace the impermanent nature of open relationships is to get comfortable with the idea that anything can happen by openly discussing all kinds of possible situations—even worst-case scenarios.
“We should love all our dear ones, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever — nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long.” — Seneca
For example, my partner and I frequently consider the possibility of ending our relationship as it is. Of course, we don’t pursue this actively, but we remind ourselves that it’s always an option, and that helps us because:
- It helps us to de-dramatize it and eventually suffer less if it ever happens;
- We feel infinitely more free knowing that we can choose whatever we want for us, at any point;
- Being together becomes an everyday choice instead of a habit and obligation, and that only makes our love stronger.
You can practice expanding your perspective by turning difficult subjects — or even taboos — into everyday conversation.
Here are some topics that might help you build that muscle:
- What will happen if one of us disrespects the other’s boundaries? How can we communicate and support each other through that?
- What if I fall in love with someone else?
- What if suddenly I don’t feel like being in an open relationship anymore? Will I be able to discuss that with you?
- What if someone gets pregnant?
Be careful, though, not to turn this into negative thinking.
When you talk about challenging scenarios, try to treat them as interesting specimens under the lens of your microscope. If one of you falls in love with someone else, that’s as neutral as drinking a glass of water in terms of good and bad — the only difference is the emotional charge attached to it. So make sure you explore carefully, and create space to support each other when those emotions surface!
But rest assured—change is not always for the worse — and that’s what we’ll cover in the next section.
3. Installing a New Emotional Program
Close your eyes for a moment.
As you do so, imagine your partner making passionate love with your best friend. Imagine them enjoying it to the fullest, seeing nothing around them but each other, and finally climaxing as if their very souls were connected.
As you picture that situation, how do you feel?
Probably stabbing pain. Unbearable jealousy. Or maybe you just feel disgusted — how could they do that to you?
Now imagine that at the end of the day, your partner comes back home to you with a smile on their face. Nothing seems to have changed in them — they are as loving towards you as ever — but they seem to be happier and more invigorated than usual.
Would this happy homecoming change the way you felt about the previous situation?
Probably not. Most likely, it would make you feel even angrier: “How dare they come to me with that smile after what they’ve done?”
Unfortunately, we are conditioned to feel pain when our loved one(s) experience joy with someone who is not us. In other words, we are conditioned to feel lack when we witness someone else’s love and abundance.
According to Amanda Major, a sex therapist and senior consultant at Sex Therapy, the reason why it can be so painful when our other half has an intimate connection with someone else is because we “tend to seek a one to oneness with someone who is special to us”.
This mindset can be one of the most challenging in open relationships, and one of the most difficult to reprogram.
That’s why a lot of non-monogamy literature out there is all about “how to stop feeling jealous”. However, from my experience, fighting our emotions usually does more harm than good — frequently ending up in deeper trauma, self-victimizing, or even violent outbursts.
So what if, instead of trying to get rid of that unhealthy emotional program, we install a completely new one — one that’s 100 times more powerful and more beneficial — and just let it slowly outrun the old one?
Here are two practices you can foster do that: focusing beyond dualistic zero-sum thinking, and opening your heart for real emotional growth.
Seeing beyond duality
The reason why we feel lack when experiencing someone else’s abundance is because we see relationships in terms of duality.
However, it’s possible to leave that paradigm. Here’s what happens when you do:
- You stop thinking about love in quantifiable terms (The question of “do you love her more than me?” stops existing, and hierarchization tendencies might stop making sense);
- You stop treating love as a zero-sum game, where someone loving someone else makes them love you any less;
- You no longer let your emotions affect your logical thinking (“Just because I feel hurt, it doesn’t mean that I am less than I was before — it actually makes me stronger”);
- You start seeing your relationships as opportunities to create, rather than obsessively trying to “fix” things;
- You love every single bit of life all the same — pleasant or unpleasant, big or small, unexpected or certain.
The way to escape non-duality in your relationships is by practicing gratitude for everything that you already have in your partner as an individual, and in the relationship you have created together.
Gratitude towards your partner(s)
According to a study in the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, feeling grateful towards your partner can improve numerous aspects of the relationship, such as feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple.
Sometimes, my partner and I give each other letters describing what we really appreciate in each other — for Christmas, for our birthdays, or for no reason at all. Receiving those letters always makes me feel like giving him more, and writing them brings my attention again and again to how amazing he is and reminds my why I love him so much.
Take the time to write each other these letters.
Hearing your expressions of gratitude — for their love, for the way they treat you, for their presence, for that gift they gave you — can be extremely powerful for your partner(s).
Expressing that appreciation by writing and presenting it to your partner will also have a surprising impact on how you feel about things. If you have been frustrated with them, you might even feel that frustration melt and gain a renewed sense of being able to work together to resolve any difficulties in a compassionate way.
Gratitude towards the relationship
If you focus on what’s great about your unique relationship with each other, you are bringing awareness to what you have in abundance instead of emphasizing the lack.
In this way, by expressing how proud you are of everything you have achieved, by looking back on beautiful moments with appreciation, and by bringing attention to the love that exists, you are protecting yourselves from the dangers of comparison and jealousy and building certainty and safety.
Try finding ways that you can express gratitude for your relationship, separately and together, and you will remember everything that motivates you to keep working on it.
Opening your heart for emotional growth
“Compersion: The feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy, such as witnessing a toddler’s joy and feeling joy in response. The feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.” — Wiktionary.org
Sometimes I find myself wishing “I hope my partner doesn’t feel attracted to that person,” or “I hope they will tell me they didn’t have sex.”
However, I find that trying to control my environment in that way is an unconscious way to hide from my feelings. And I don’t like it, because instead of it allowing me to grow and be more open, it creates a bubble of protection that brings me back into that duality mentality (“if he loves the other person, he will love me less — therefore I should protect myself.”)
The way I counteract this tendency and teach myself how to experience love in every situation is by actively practice compersion.
My favorite technique is asking my partner to tell me about his experiences with and feelings for other people. Then, I try to train my brain to feel his joy instead of imagining that I have somehow been hurt by what he did.
At first, this can be extremely difficult. Here are three things I do when it feels extra challenging:
- The light-hearted solution
I ask myself: “If I would be seeing this story enacted by two characters in a movie, how would I feel?” Very often, the answer is “super turned on!” or “cuddly”, or even “inspired.” So, I hang on to that and try to focus on it, and keep listening.
2. The “perspective” solution
When jealousy feels strong, I bring my awareness to the memory of my last meaningful connection with someone else, and ask myself the following question:
“Did that threaten or make me doubt my relationship with my partner in any way?”
Usually, the answer is no. The truth is, I choose to work on and commit to this relationship every single day of my life, and so does he. When I imagine myself in the same situation, I understand that I can connect with both people without taking anything away from either. And it helps me realize that he can do the same. I let my head take charge and bring my jealousy into a new light.
3. The “fuck-everything-I-need-to-take-care-of-myself-first” solution
Sometimes, I need to take some time for myself or ask for my partner’s emotional support. All is fair, apart from blaming — the important thing is to recognize my emotions as my own, and be there with them as I process them.
Even if at first this might seem super hard, I highly recommend that you give it a try.
For example, sometimes I just need to cry, but I know that if stay in my partner’s presence, I might subconsciously use my tears as a way to manipulate him into pitying me, and I will enter a self-victimizing downwards spiral. Therefore, I gather my strength, swallow my pride, and tell them that I need a moment on my own.
Other times, I just can’t find the right words and what I need is to be held. So that’s what I ask for. And it usually works wonderfully —you will be surprised at people’s reaction if you just show a bit of vulnerability and openness —it helps us both take a break, breathe, and reconnect.
If you practice enough, you will eventually get the hang of it — and when you do, you will see that there are few feelings in the world more liberating and empowering than being able to love your lover’s love for someone else.
4. Creating an Environment of Expansive Communication
There are plenty of ways for us humans to connect and communicate with each other.
However, one of the problems that tends to happen in relationships is that we get locked in two or three communication options. For the majority of relationships, those will be:
- Talking about certain topics, and
- Having sex (and sometimes, not even that often).
Some people add activities to that list, such as watching Netflix together or going out with friends to drink or go out for dinner.
However, from my experience — both as a relationship coach and a lover/partner — I have observed that the most successful relationships are ones where people develop deeper, creative, and more varied ways to communicate with each other.
In open relationships, when you develop simultaneous connections with different partners, it can become challenging to bring meaning to each of them — with some it’s hard to keep the flame alive, and with others there is a challenge to stay close if a tendency for distance and hostility gets stronger than your desire to communicate.
Here are some of the (less intuitive) ways to communicate that I have found the most transformative:
Although this can include sex, it’s not limited to it.
Communication is all about exchanging information. When it comes to successful relationships, we’re looking for an effective exchange of (especially) emotional information.
Our bodies are a great way to do that. In her book ‘Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships’, author Marnia Robinson explains how a daily dosage of physical affection, such as mutual caressing, can do wonders for the closeness between lovers.
A few years ago, my partner and I wanted to take our relationship to the next level, so we set ourselves a 30-day dance challenge, where every day we danced together for at least 5 minutes. Even something as simple as this has brought numerous benefits into our relationship: commitment, closeness, intimacy and creativity are only a few of them.
You can also use your bodies to communicate your way through blockages and old traumas together.
For example, something I love to do is to let my partners gently and intentionally explore the parts of my body where I feel ticklish. I realize that being ticklish is something that is intimately connected with my insecurities and body image issues, and by engaging in that kind of experience, my partners and I get to know and trust each other on a much deeper level.
The main point is: bring intention to your physical connections.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Replace mechanical sex with conscious eroticism. One of my favorite practices is to completely let go of the expectation of reaching orgasm during sex play, and focusing on the pleasure of each present moment — it really helps me enjoy my partner’s presence more, and tune in to how our bodies respond to each other’s touch.
- Become fluent in each other’s body language—one of my personal favorites is to practice contact improvisation together, or talk only through gestures as an exercise.
Send messages that are deeper than words by adding little moments of physical touch to your day. Sometimes, a simple hug can be the key to solving the most complex of issues, if offered in the right moment.
Have you ever felt like you take life too seriously? Like you have more angry or anxious moments than happy ones? That it’s more frequent for you and your partner to fight than to have fun together?
Well, it might well be time to change that!
According to a study from Pennsylvania State University, being a playful adult can make us more attractive to the opposite sex.
According to my experience, the same also applies to people from the same sex — in fact, play has a very powerful impact in all my relationships. I feel the most attractive and the most sexually empowered when I adopt a playful attitude in my interactions — and I love it when my partners do the same.
How can you bring more playfulness into your relationships?
You can introduce new deliberately playful activities into your daily routine — such as going out partying, playing board games, working on an exciting project or hobby together. Or, you can simply add a fun component to activities that you already do — such as start role-playing your fantasies during sex, putting on dance music while cooking together, or adding more jokes and laughter to your conversations.
Don’t save all your “open-relationship talks” for moments of crisis. Discuss the topic for fun. Fantasize together about each other and other people. Let your imagination fly, and let this lightness be at least as present in your relationships as all the difficult emotional stuff!
Sometimes, the best way to improve your communication with your partner is simply to give each other space. To breathe, to explore, to miss each other.
Every week, my partner and I take one day to be away from each other, in order to connect with ourselves and plan our week.
Needless to say — especially if you’re in a non-monogamous relationship — it’s crucial that you give your partners space to explore their other relationships without you, and that you take time to do the same.
When my partner and I only connect with others as a couple, it almost feels like we begin to forget who we are individually, and we immediately start feeling the need to connect with ourselves and other people on our own to create balance.
My partner and I live in the same house together, so sometimes I will leave the space for him to enjoy it on his own or with guests, and he will do the same for me. We also attend different events on our own, so that we experience different social situations without each other on a regular basis.
We also value our individual hobbies that allow us to express our creativity while being in our own space (I currently love painting, and my partner is really passionate about journaling).
5. Don’t Listen To What I Am Saying — Listen To What I Can’t Say
One of the most life-changing tools that my partner and I have ever applied to our relationship has been Nonviolent Communication.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a strategy for communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg which guides us to re-frame how we express ourselves, how we hear others, and how we resolve conflicts by focusing on the real meaning behind the words we say.
One of the main struggles that my relationship coaching clients face the most is that they lose control when they feel angry, jealous, or threatened, and they end up lashing out at their partner — only to feel very guilty later on.
One main key-point of NVC is that when others behave that way towards us, we try not to take those words personally. Instead, we try to identify the feelings and the needs of the person who is expressing them.
In most cases, people don’t really mean the hurtful things they say, but they say it in the heat of the moment because they don’t know how else to express what’s inside them. So if you want to shift your communication patterns, it’s your job to try to understand what’s behind those words.
Let’s imagine that you are coming back home from a date with someone, and your partner, with whom you live, receives you with the following words:
“Why are you doing this to me again? We agreed that we would offer each other support no matter what, and you betrayed me by going on a date when you knew I was feeling sad!”
If your first instinct is to defend yourself, then try to resist it — but reacting in the heat of the moment only makes the situation worse. Very often, all people need is to be listened to, and that in itself will often solve the situation.
So instead of becoming defensive, try this instead: practice real active listening by deciphering what your partner is really feeling and needing that makes them say those painful words.
“I see that you are feeling hurt and vulnerable, and that this was triggered by me leaving you to see someone else while you were feeling sad. I hear your pain. Is it perhaps because you have been needing some support, comfort and safety and this need hasn’t been met? How could we work together to help you meet it?”
Aside from listening to the feelings and needs behind other people’s emotional speech, it’s also important to know how to communicate your own feelings, without blaming them:
“I feel surprised when you say that, as I wasn’t aware that you were needing my support. I left to meet this person because I have been feeling excited about the connection we are developing. I met with them because I felt the need for space, change and fun, which is something that this relationship has been giving me in abundance.”
Sometimes honesty can feel painful to hear, but as long as you communicate it from a place of love, it will almost surely be the cleanest path to emotional healing and mutual understanding.
You can then move on to finding solutions to meet the needs for both of you:
“I am fully here with you now. I want you to help me learn how to be more aware of your emotions in the future. I want to be more in tune with you, because I truly love you. Meeting other people does not subtract in any way from my love for you — it’s just that different relationships fulfill me in different ways. However, I would love to hold more space for you, so please let me know when you are feeling vulnerable so that I can support you.”
My partner and I have found this approach to be extremely healing, but it can be quite intense when it comes to talking about something as vulnerable as our connections with others and dealing with jealousy.
So we keep on diving deeper as long as it feels necessary, and we stop when it feels like too much.
In order to make it easier, we don’t just keep it for challenging situations — we practice it regularly so as to make it a habit.
One way we do that is with regular weekly dates: every Sunday, we spend a few hours with each other and dedicate that time to connect, to hold space for each other, and to share openly.
If you don’t have a primary partner, you can do this with as many people as it feels appropriate, as often as you like. The point here is to practice responding consciously to your emotions instead of reacting impulsively, so that conflict can be addressed by the root instead of amplified or deeply suppressed.
So, spend that mindful time. Listen to each other and share. If it feels too intense, take one step back and use one of the tools in point 5. It’s your relationship, and there is no rush or pressure — listen to your feelings and needs!
6. Work On You First
No matter how much you apply the communication strategies above, they are never going to work if you don’t develop the most important relationship in your life:
Your relationship with yourself.
Many of our behaviors and feelings when in relationships are not “caused” by our partners, but are instead stemming from inside ourselves.
Some of them come from our old childhood imprints.
According to modern attachment theory (first studied by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby in children and their caregivers, and in the late 1980s applied by Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver to adult relationships), something as personal and as deeply rooted as our relationship with our caregivers can can play a huge role in shaping the way we connect with our romantic partners as adults.
Other causes are based on momentary impulses or fluctuating emotions.
An example of that is New Relationship Energy (NRE) — a term that popped up in polyamorous communities — which is used to describe that state of mind usually experienced at the beginning of sexual and romantic experiences, making us feel stronger excitement and sexual arousal, among other feelings. Chasing a rush of NRE can even lead some people to consider leaving their primary partner — but then always end up feeling disenchanted again, no matter who they connect with.
What I am trying to get at with these examples is that, regardless of who we choose to have in our lives and what forms those relationship take, if we want to have fulfilling relationships, we first need to figure ourselves out. We need to establish pathways for inner communication.
In order to be able to communicate with our partners in a responsible and loving way, we first need to be in a balanced emotional state. In order to do that, we need to know our own emotions first. Having strong routines for self-care and introspection are essential.
The most powerful tool I have for listening to and connecting with myself is my self-care morning routine. I start with journaling, where I allow myself to write down everything I am feeling and wanting for that day.
Sometimes, if I am struggling with an emotional issue, I write down a question (“What has caused me to feel this way?”) and let it sink deep into my subconscious. Usually, the answers come to me later during that day or that week.
You can spend as little or as much time with your journal as you want: some days, I take only as much as 30 seconds to track my habits and look at my goals, and express gratitude for people in my life, and it gives me a huge dose of clarity!
After that, I follow up with a 30-minute meditation, where I practice body awareness through body scans, as well as observe my thoughts and emotions.
This morning routine is my non-negotiable sacred self-space, which then allows me to bring the fullest, most balanced and responsible version of myself into my relationships.
Here are some of the ways in which communicating with myself improves my relationships with my partners:
- I know when to back away from a conversation, and take time to regain my clarity;
- I have the strength to ask for support when I need it;
- I can speak from a place of love and understanding, instead of reacting to heated emotions;
- I can clearly communicate my boundaries and desires;
- I can support and hold space for others, because I feel much stronger and balanced within myself.
Create self-care routines. Carve time to be with yourself, so that you can fully be with your partner(s).
“Self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” — Parker Palmer
Opening Up—In All Relationship Forms
I know that open relationships are not for everyone. And I am not trying to convince you to have one.
I want to tell you that, if this is something you want for yourself, it is in your power to create a non-monogamous relationship that is as fulfilling, loving, and growth-provoking as you are willing to make it.
It’s possible to “open up” and enrich your communication with a partner, no matter what your relationship model.
It’s possible to pursue ultimate freedom and still find safety within yourself.
It’s possible to change your perception of pain and, instead of blaming and avoiding it, using it to grow a thousand times stronger.
It is possible to love more than one person at the same time, without loving any of them less.
It is possible to have all your desires fulfilled, while respecting the desires of your partners and lovers.
It is possible to love unconditionally. It’s possible to be different. It’s possible to be happy in any relationship, as long as you are open to give, receive, be vulnerable and ready to embrace transformation.
There are no scripts for successful relationships — just like there are no scripts for living a successful life. The only certainty is that you exist in this world, connected to everything and everyone, and how you navigate the world and your connections is up to you. You can choose to infuse them with love and understanding, or you can keep hiding from your emotions in fear of being hurt. Monogamous, non-monogamous, old, young, female, male, and everyone in between… there is always a choice to open up, or remain closed.
What’s going to be your next step?