I see many people in my private practice who do not want to end the relationships they are in, but they are interested in having other sexual or romantic partners. As polyamory and open relationships become more visible, more people are wondering, "Is there a way I can be honest with my partner about my desires? How can I even start this conversation? What will help us to be successful if we try this?"
Here are some tips from my years of working with couples as they explore whether an open relationship is right for them. This article will focus on getting clarity for yourself before you even approach your partner.
1. First, do not start an affair. I cannot stress this enough. It is true for many people that the first time they begin to consider open relationships are when they have met an appealing new potential partner. While a new person may allow you to realize that you can love more than one person at a time, if you are seriously considering an open relationship with your current partner, the first requirement will be to treat them with respect and the relationship with integrity.
Open relationships are not a free for all or permission for cheating; lies are still lies. You will not be able to effectively change the rules of your relationship to allow for more openness and the trust that this requires when you are healing the wounds of an affair.
2. Be honest with yourself about what you want from your current relationship. Are you considering new partners because you are bored or unhappy with your current relationship? Are your reasons for wanting to stay with your current partner primarily practical, i.e. it would be inconvenient to divorce or separate? Can you identify things about your current partner that you love and really value about them? Are you happy being with them for who they are?
A functioning open relationship will require intense honesty, respect and ongoing communication. Do you and your partner currently have those skills and want to engage more with each other? Are you willing to take some time to first build the foundation of this relationship before adding other partners? If not, this brings us to our next tip.
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