"How Can I Discuss Polyamory With My Partner?"
Polyamory – the desire, practice or acceptance of maintaining more than one intimate relationship concurrently with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved – is coming more and more into mainstream consciousness. Sex blogger, sex educator and adult product reviewer Amy Norton weighs in on how to talk to your partner about an open relationship.
So you think you might want to be polyamorous, but you're already in an existing relationship?
The hard truth is that the transition from monogamy to non-monogamy is often difficult and requires a lot of work from everyone involved.
The good news is that, with communication, commitment, compassion and a hefty dose of patience, it's entirely doable! If you're reading this, I assume it's because you want to know how to broach this potentially fraught subject with your partner.
Step 1: Explore Your Thoughts First!
My first piece of advice, counter-intuitive as it may seem, is to sit on your thoughts for a while and work some things out in your head before approaching your partner.
Try journaling around these prompts, or talking to a therapist or trusted friend. It’s fine if you don’t know the answers straight away, and it’s fine if they change over time!
- "WHY do I want to be polyamorous?" Do you feel that non-monogamy is central to your identity? Are you simply after sexual variety? Are you bisexual or pansexual and hoping to have relationships with people of multiple genders? Or are you already into someone specific and hoping you can convince your partner to be okay with it?
- "HOW do I want to be polyamorous?" Do you want a hierarchical structure, where one relationship (often a spouse or the person you live with) is “primary” and all other relationships are “secondary?” A loose network of casual lovers while living by yourself? A closed relationship with two, three, four or more other people? Something else entirely?
- "WHAT IF my partner isn’t on board?" Is a closed relationship a deal-breaker for you, or can you quite happily remain monogamous if your partner isn’t on board with opening up? If they want to explore but take things very slowly, are you okay with that? In asking this question of your partner, are you actually open to other answers besides an enthusiastic “yes!”?
Step 2: Broaching the Subject
Go into the conversation with an open mind. Perhaps you think you know how your partner will respond. But you might also be completely surprised!
It's important, too, to have realistic expectations. Aim to have a productive discussion and establish if you're even remotely on the same page. Do not expect to have carte blanche to sleep with your hot co-worker by the end of the evening.
Pick your moment. Have the conversation when you have an extended stretch of time to yourselves, and definitely not while wrangling your kids or trying to get out of the door for work!
Remember HALT: if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, it is not the time to have a potentially emotionally charged conversation.
It's also wise, if at all possible, to talk about opening up your relationship when it's still only an abstract concept. If there's already another person you've set your sights after (and especially if you're already cheating!) then you're likely to put undue pressure on your partner, even if it's unintentional.
While the transition from monogamy to polyamory is entirely possible, I have never seen a relationship successfully transition from infidelity to polyamory.
So what do you actually say? "Honey, I want to be polyamorous!" is probably too much to open with. Try these openers on for size:
- "Have you ever heard of polyamory?"
- "There's a show on Netflix about a couple who open up their marriage and start a relationship with another woman, and it was really interesting."
- "Do you think it's possible to love more than one person at the same time?"
There are endless variations. The idea is to introduce the concept initially. After that, proceed depending on how they respond.
Tell them you've been thinking about ethical non-monogamy and that it speaks to you. Tell them what it means to you and how it might look in your ideal world.
Reaffirm that you love them and that being interested in opening up doesn't mean they're somehow not enough for you. Ask them what they think and if it's something they've ever considered or would be open to exploring further.
Then listen to your partner's response. Really listen. That means paying attention to what they're actually saying, and not what you want them to be saying.
Step 3: What If They Say No?
If the answer you get is some variation on "no effing way", you need to accept that graciously.
It's okay to decide that monogamy is ultimately a deal-breaker for you and decide to move on from the relationship, but it is not okay to hold the relationship hostage until your partner agrees to go along with what you want.
Don't make any drastic decisions in the heat of the moment. Don't pressure or cajole. Don't shout, call them names, or imply they're closed minded. Some people are just monogamous, and that's fine!
Step 4: What If They Say Yes?
Jackpot! You got the answer you wanted! Your partner is somewhere on the spectrum from cautiously interested to "Yes! Let's do it right now!"
This is where I counsel you both to slow down. Don't dive head first into anything. Read, research, reach out to local polyamorous groups or online communities.
Above all, talk. Talk, talk and talk some more. You cannot be in a functional non-monogamous relationship if you're not prepared to communicate extensively and work on your communication skills until you can do it well.
That joke between polyamorous people that we don't actually have as much sex as people assume because we're so busy processing? It's only half a joke.
Next? Grab a copy of Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, and buckle in for the ride.
You can read more of Amy's work on her blog, Coffee & Kink.
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