If you’re in a relationship, you might be thinking things are going great between you and your partner. You’re an unstoppable duo – it’s you two against anything life throws at you. So, what happens when you’re partner tells you that they’re looking to explore outside the two of you, but still want to be apart of your relationship?
In the past, someone saying “I want to see someone else” usually meant the end of the relationship. Now, with more people questioning whether monogamy is the best way of life, open relationships have become a viable and welcome option for folks. If your partner approaches you about wanting an open relationship, they may not be trying to disrespect you. They may genuinely love you and care about you, but monogamy just isn’t for them.
If your SO approaches you about an open relationship, it may feel like a punch in the gut at first. Your natural reaction might be along the lines “hell NO!” But if you truly love and respect your significant other, you owe it to them to hear them out about why they believe an open relationship could be your next great journey. If you think you’re alone in this, read on to learn how to approach this next step in your relationship, and hear from actual college women who navigated the ups-and-downs of their open relationships.
Approach your partner with questions.
If an open relationship is going to work, you need to understand why they want to explore this new option, so you can’t shut them down immediately. Seattle University junior Anna emphasizes this. “Don’t let [an] attitude pervade your response, lest you make your partner feel shame about wanting to explore something new. Open relationships aren’t scandalous or dirty, they just can be complicated and messy if not done with proper respect and communication.”
Anna continues: “Sometimes first reactions to having your partner express a desire to be in an open relationship can be: Am I not enough? Do they not like me anymore? Or are they cheating and looking for a cop-out? It’s important to remember that in general, it’s likely that none of those are the case; your partner might truly want to explore an open relationship.”
Remind yourself that your SO would not approach you about asking for an open relationship if they did not respect you, and also try evaluate the state your current relationship is in. Are you in a long-distance relationship? Is your emotional connection there but your sexual chemistry lacking? Is your partner the type to just want to spice things up? If you think there may be a valid reason for your partner wanting to explore something new, you shouldn’t scoff at their request. You owe them the respect to hear them out with love and understanding.
Decide whether an open relationship is for you.
However, it’s also important to evaluate how much you trust your current SO. If you love them but the foundation of trust in your relationship is a bit shaky, you may not want to pursue an open relationship. If you think they wouldn’t be clear on the expectations of an open relationship and would keep it secretive, that’s a huge concern.
If you trust your SO and think they are sincere in wanting to explore an open relationship, you can let them know that, but clue them into your doubts as well! It’s not going to be a perfect transition if you do decide to open up your relationship, but if you keep it real with each other you can minimize hurting each other in the process.
Lastly, if you say you are not willing to partake in a new relationship and you stay together, yet it feels like your relationship has taken a turn for the worst, it could be time to end the relationship so it doesn’t become unhealthy for both of you.
If you do decide to pursue an open relationship, set boundaries.
Boundaries are essential in exploring this new layer to your relationship. If you’re both going to be pursuing new partners, you need to figure out how far you will be allowed to go with each new person. Is this open relationship purely meant for finding new sexual partners? Or are you looking for emotional connections as well? These are tough questions that you and your SO will have to figure out the answers to before you dive head-on into an open relationship.
You’ll also have to discuss how much you truly want to share about your outside relationships with your SO. Do you want the nitty-gritty details, or would you prefer them to just tell you the bare minimum of their pursuits? Regardless, Anna emphasizes the importance of setting these boundaries early on.
“Know your boundaries and don’t be shy about setting them from the beginning,” she says. “The fundamentals of a good relationship still apply, even if the relationship dynamic shifts.”
Keep your expectations clear and communication honest.
After setting these boundaries and dipping your toes into an open relationship, ensure that you and your SO are consistently being honest with each other and clear in what you expect out of them. Like Anna said, just because your relationship dynamic has shifted does not mean the foundation of your healthy relationship has to as well. If you’re upset with them over something that’s going on, or you think you’re becoming less of a priority in their life, you need to voice that concern.
Massachusetts College of Art and Design senior Karina says communication was tough initially in her open relationship. “My recent ex and I were in an open relationship for about a year. He figured out he was polyamorous and wanted to seek another relationship and although we decided to make it a fully open relationship, I never actually [sought] anyone else out. It was a rough few weeks from the beginning, but from my experience as a mono/poly relationship, open communication is the most important aspect.”
However, Karina also notes that during the bad moments of their open relationship, it helped to remind herself that her SO did “truly love her” and that she needed to “actively push away” her anxious thoughts as they only hurt her. Keeping that line of communication open allows your relationship to not only address worries but grow stronger from the mistakes as well.
If you’ve tried out an open relationship with your partner and you’ve decided that it just really isn’t for you, you need to let them know.
Karina says that though she and her recent ex didn’t work for unrelated reasons, one of the strengths of their open relationship was her consistent reflection on it. “If I felt I wasn’t getting the same treatment or I was being ignored, I never kept it to myself and instead aired my emotions out as soon as I felt them [so] we could talk it out,” Karina explains.
Without consistently reflecting on the state of your relationship and how you’re adapting to a new dynamic, you and your SO could be having unnecessary arguments that turn into relationship deal-breakers. Whether or not your open relationship thrives, you need to tend to the relationship that started it all.