When a partner says they want to see other people, that doesn’t always entail a breakup. While open relationships may not be the norm for all couples, they have become increasingly common: a 2021 survey conducted by YouGov shows that a quarter of Americans are interested in pursuing an open relationship.
But, actually pursuing one can be complicated—especially if your partner isn’t on the same page as you. Communication is extremely important, both when you’re broaching the subject of opening up the relationship and while you’re maintaining that primary relationship while seeing other people. So, how can you navigate these tricky waters? Here, mental health counselor and psychotherapist Lyndsey Masters shares her expert advice.
How can you suggest an open relationship to your partner?
Do your research about varying types of non-monogamy and spend a lot of time exploring the why behind your desire for a non-monogamous relationship before you even broach the subject, Masters says. “Sharing a desire for a non-monogamous relationship can be a difficult conversation to have with a partner that has been historically monogamous, preparing yourself for their questions can help you keep yourself regulated and grounded.”
“When you've done the emotional work around why you're drawn to non-monogamy, you will have a better understanding of your desires and motivations and therefore be able to more accurately and authentically share that part of yourself with your partner,” Masters says. When you broach the subject, do so while you’re both sober, and in a place that is comfortable, safe, and calm.
What to do if your partner wants an open relationship, but you don’t
Don’t feel pressured to give your partner an immediate response—it’s perfectly fair to ask for time to think it over. This will help you to respond, instead of reacting to something that “can often feel like a criticism of the strength of the relationship or our value in the relationship,” Masters says. Use “I” statements and explain why opening the relationship up isn’t the right decision for you.
It’s important not to take your partner’s desire as a commentary on what you provide to them. “Remember that neither monogamy nor non-monogamy are inherently more moral or virtuous than the other and wanting either is a valid place to be,” Masters says. “A partner expressing a desire for non-monogamy is not necessarily a reflection on the present relationship, nor does it mean that you are falling short of being a spectacular partner.”
How to communicate with your primary partner when you’re in an open relationship
Be “honest, but kind.” It’s a good idea to set expectations ahead of time about how much you want to be communicated—you might want to know who your partner is seeing or you may not, you may want to meet their other partners, or have it be something you’re totally disconnected with. Open relationships can all look very different, so it’s important to establish your boundaries and guidelines. “There is no one right or wrong way to do non-monogamy, the limitations and parameters are set by those that are involved in the dynamic and what they find comfortable,” Masters says.