How to Talk About Opening Up Your Relationship

If you’re curious about being open, here’s where to begin.

Talking about opening up your relationship can be an unnerving and challenging conversation: You’re asking to redefine the rules of your relationship.

A recent study surveyed 160 male couples from Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago about their sexual agreements. It asked the question: Have you discussed sex outside of your relationship? If they did, researchers followed up about the rules that were applied.

The study compared the individual responses for each couple and found that over 30% were not in mutual agreement; those that were in agreement had different understandings of the most basic ground rules, including what was allowed and not allowed sexually.

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For any relationship to be successful, it’s essential that both individuals are on the same page. If you’re curious about being open, here’s where to begin.

It all starts with you.

Before you talk with your partner, you need to ask yourself some questions. The first, why do you want an open relationship? Secondly, what will an open relationship offer you that is different than what you already have? If your answers have anything to do with what’s currently not working in your relationship, such as a lack of intimacy, then in the words of Mariah Carey, “proceed with caution.”

An open relationship should not be used to divert attention from addressing existing issues—in fact, it will usually just magnify those problems. In that vein, entering an open your relationship should not be used as an alternative to calling it quits.

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Consider your partner and their reaction.

If you’re ready to approach your partner, you need to be prepared. Take time to think about how you’d like your partner to feel and what you want them to hear when you ask for an open relationship. Be prepared for a wide range of reactions that could include feelings of inadequacy, that you no longer love them, and that you are not committed to the relationship. Consider how you may reassure them of your love and commitment.

Timing is everything.

Give some thought to the location and timing of the conversation. This is not a conversation to have after an argument or when emotions are high. You should be alone in a safe space and free of distractions. Both you and your partner should feel comfortable having an open and honest conversation. The discussion should not be rushed, and you need to allow enough time to adequately talk this through.

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Spill the tea.

It’s probably a good idea to start the conversation by reassuring your partner of your love and commitment to the relationship. Once that is established, do not shy away from the purpose of your chat. This is your time to be open and honest about your interest in opening up the relationship and finding out how your partner feels about the idea. Start gently by asking something like, “Would you ever consider having an open relationship?”

As the dialogue continues, be prepared to share some of your answers to the questions you asked yourself in preparation for this conversation. Convey why you want an open relationship and why you feel it will be beneficial.

Remember, you’ve had a headstart in your thought process, so allow your partner time to absorb and reflect on what’s being asked. Respect their feelings and listen to their reaction and perspective. This should be the first conversation of many, because their initial response is likely to shift as time progresses, and they also may need time to think. Be prepared to revisit this conversation again and again, until you are both comfortable with the outcome.

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It’s all about the ground rules.

If you are both in agreement to open up your relationship, the success will depend on how clear you are on the ground rules. From top to bottom, you should leave no stone unturned. Start with what an open relationship means to you both: How do you as a couple define an open relationship? Follow this by discussing and agreeing on specific behaviors allowed or not allowed. Examples may include “we only play together,” “no sleepovers,” “we will not openly talk about our hook-ups,” “we will not have sex with each other’s friends.”

Finally, you should determine how often you will revisit your agreement, and how you will keep the channels of communication open.

If an open relationship is something you’re interested in, take time for self-reflection before getting the conversation started. You may just find yourselves in an open arrangement sooner than you think.

Australian psychologist, certified coach and self-help expert.
@sam_marchetta