Hint: It'll take a LOT of work.
Several research studies show that about half of gay male couples are monogamous, leaving the other half that allow for sex outside of the relationship. Interestingly, research finds that there is no difference in the level of happiness or stability among these groups.
If you are in a gay relationship and you're looking to make it more open, here are some bits of advice:
1. TALK about it openly with your partner
If you and your partner want to have a close relationship and want to add additional sex partners to the mix, be prepared for a LOT of talking — and I'm not just referring to discussions about when, where and with whom. I mean talking about feelings — what we therapists call "processing." If that kind of conversation makes you squirm, it's understandable.
Most men are not socialized to embrace the sharing of intimate and vulnerable emotions. However, if you aren't willing to experiment with processing, then I suspect the closeness of your relationship is limited, and you might be headed for trouble.
2. REMEMBER why you want a long term partner
Most of us enter into long-term relationships because we want to feel special to another person. We want that experience of being number one in the eyes of our partner. We want the comfort, satisfaction, support and meaning that can come from spending our lives committed to another individual.
Having additional sex partners is sometimes perceived as a threat to the safety we long for in our long-term relationships. Some of us may not feel threatened on a conscious level, but I believe most of us do feel it subconsciously.
If you want to experience an open relationship that works, you will need to continually tell each other how much you love each other, how deeply committed you are to the partnership, and how glad you are to see him. Lots of hugs and kisses must be exchanged.
3. LISTEN (for real)
You will need to listen without getting defensive while your partner tells you about their moments of insecurity when you have sex with others. You will need to encourage this kind of sharing from him and to push yourself to express any of your own feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, or jealousy when he plays with others.
You're not responsible for changing your partner's emotions, but you ARE responsible for listening to them and for making sure that your partner feels heard by you. Repeat back to him what you heard him say about his feelings so you both know if you really listened.
4. DEFINE your terms and stick to them
Beyond feelings, couples must also agree on the guidelines of sex outside of the relationship. They need to talk about what kind of sex is acceptable and what isn't. These rules might require some negotiation — meaning you're going to have to keep talking. A good book on this subject is called The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt.
The core actions of a successful open relationship are identical to those of a successful monogamous relationship: shower your partner with attention and positive regard, offer lots of physical touch, share your more vulnerable feelings, and listen well when he does the same.
These principles are easier to say than to do. They take practice and risk, with lots of missteps along the way. Monogamous couples can sometimes get away with avoiding this work and do OK, but couples in open relationships won't do well in an autopilot relationship. To be successful in working through the inevitable hurt feelings, these couples need to lead the way on relationships based on intentional communication.
For more information about how the Gay Therapy Center helps LGBT (and straight!) individuals and couples build better relationships, please visit their website at www.gaytherapycenter.com. They offer services in their San Francisco office or by Skype or phone worldwide.
This article was originally published at The Gay Therapy Center blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.