Over the past few years, polyamory has gone from an obscure practice to a vocal subculture. People who hadn't even heard of it a decade ago are now asking themselves, "Should I open my relationship?" Answering that one question, though, requires asking yourself many more questions.
A YouGov poll last year found that 17 percent of Americans ages 18-29 had been sexually intimate with someone else with their partner's consent. Only 56 percent of people in this age group said they definitely wouldn't be OK with their partner having sex with someone else. That means a lot of people are curious about consensual non-monogamy, or at least open to it.
Consensual non-monogamy takes many forms, including polyamory — which generally means you're in a relationship with multiple people, rather than just having sex with them — and triads, or relationships between three people. An open relationship is any kind that involves consensual non-monogamy.
All right, still with me? The same way monogamy isn't for everyone, non-monogamy isn't either. It comes with its own set of challenges, like dealing with jealousy and negotiating expectations. If you're thinking of opening your relationship, here are some questions that'll help you figure out if it's for you and prepare you to engage in it successfully if it is.
1"Do I Want To Face My Insecurities Head-On?"
Starting an open relationship requires an emotional commitment similar to starting therapy. Uncomfortable feelings are probably going to come up, so you need to decide if you want to devote your time to processing them. "For many folks, jealousy is deeply tied to a fear of abandonment, a seed of fear which was planted in childhood," Jessica Graham, relationship expert and author of Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out, tells Bustle. "You will likely face your past trauma in a very real way when you open your relationship. The great news is that if you bring a lot of self-love and mindfulness (and a good therapist!) into the process, you'll do a huge amount of healing. As your jealousy becomes less intense, those old wounds will transform, creating a more resilient you."
2"How Good Is Our Communication?"
If you and your partner don't typically have tough talks and talk about feelings, non-monogamy isn't going to change that. In fact, these skills are the foundation of a healthy open relationship. Before opening your relationship, make sure you have practice dealing with conflict and a plan for dealing with future conflicts, says Graham.
3"Am I Trying To Improve My Relationship By Opening It?"
For some, opening up a relationship may strengthen it, but it's not always the case. If your goal is to save your relationship, Graham recommends focusing on that before introducing even more potential complications.
4"Do We Want To Open Our Relationship For The Same Reason?"
You and your partner may run into some misunderstandings if you're not looking to get the same things out of an open relationship, Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist Weena Cullins tells Bustle. "If you’re motivated by curiosity and your partner is motivated by a deeper desire to maintain the lifestyle, or vice versa, then you may have difficulty closing the door once it’s opened," she says.
5"What Emotions Might Come Up When We Sleep With Other People?"
Cullins suggests you try to predict what insecurities your open relationship might trigger so that you and your partner can address them in advance. If, for example, hearing about them sleeping with someone else might make you afraid that person's more attractive than you, come up with ways your partner can reassure you they're attracted to you.
6"Who Are We Opening The Relationship To?"
Since there are so many ways to have an open relationship, Cullins recommends discussing how many and what kind of partners you'd be comfortable with and what you'd be comfortable doing. You should also decide whether you both have free reign to do whatever you want or will need to discuss all your potential relationships first.
7"When And Where Can We Sleep With Other People?"
Again, you need to communicate clearly to make sure nobody does anything the other's not OK with. "You must also determine how to respect each other’s needs if they aren’t always in sync," says Cullins. Don't make assumptions.
So, yeah, getting into an open relationship is not something you just do on a whim because it sounds like fun. It'll be an emotional journey that stretches your comfort zone and brings you face to face with your demons. That provides an amazing growth opportunity for you and your partner, but only if you're committed to doing the work.