How To Talk To Your Partner About Having An Open Relationship, According To Experts

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Polyamory is no longer a small, unknown subculture. Seventeen percent of people ages 18-44 have been consensually non-monogamous, according to a 2016 YouGov poll. As more and more people learn about polyamory as a viable option, the question of how to ask your partner about opening your relationship is on many people's minds. Some don't even bring it up because they're scared of hurting their partner's feelings. Others bring it up in a way that alienates their partner or makes them feel insecure. So what's the right way to do it?  

"Open relationships only work if the people involved both (if it starts from a one-to-one relationship) want it," life coach and therapist Karen Hartmann, tells Bustle. "Otherwise, I have never seen it work out in the long term. For that reason, I suggest to be clear, open, and straight with it. After all, you want to go into an open relationship. You cannot start it with half truth and being secretive about it. However, there is no need to be harsh and to run your partner over. State it as it is — without excusing yourself. Share about you, your wishes, and what you want to experience."

Nervous about that initial conversation? Here are some tips from experts to help it go as smoothly as possible.

1. Don't Be Pushy

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You don't want your significant other to agree to an arrangement they're uncomfortable with because they're scared of losing you. "In my experience working with people, the most important aspect of introducing the concept of having an open relationship to your partner is that — more than any other thing — you do not pressure them," Page Turner, the author of two books on polyamory, A Geek's Guide to Unicorn Ranching and Poly Land, tells Bustle.

Turner has worked with several couples that opened their relationships after one person was initially reluctant, and in all these cases, the first person brought it up only as a gentle suggestion. "When we try to restrict someone else's choices, their natural instinct is to rebel and do the opposite," she says.

2. Explain What They'll Get Out Of It

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Don't make this just about you. Whenever you want someone to agree to something, no matter what it is, you're more likely to get it if you explain what they'll get out of it. Maybe your partner would like the adventure, or maybe they'd feel less pressure to keep up with your sex drive. "Be curious about your partner's inner life and interests," John C. Hoelle, Co-Founding Attorney Mediator and Couples Mediator, tells Bustle.

3. Let Them Know It's Not Them

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Many people's knee-jerk reaction when their partner wants to be with other people is that they must be falling short themselves. Let your partner know that this isn't about them but about the kind of relationship you prefer. "Be clear about what your reasons for wanting to open up are," says Turner. "If you can't pinpoint what those are, you aren't ready to have the opening up talk, and you're certainly not ready to open your relationship."

4. Assuage Their Fears

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Your request to open up your relationship might bring up a lot of fears in your partner, like that they'll get jealous or that you'll leave them for someone else. So, it's important to reassure them that you've thought about these things and have a plan for how to deal with them. "If you want to remain partnered, there has to be a firm commitment that no one else will get in between that primary bond," says Hoelle.

5. Set Ground Rules

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There are different kinds of open relationships. In some, people can have multiple romantic partners. In others, they can only have multiple sexual partners. In some, people have to talk to their partners before picking a new partner. In others, everyone's free to do what they want when they want it. In some, people can have any kind of sex with other people. In others, certain acts are prohibited.

The point being: You need to discuss the specific terms of your relationship, because there are many possibilities. "As challenging as this conversation can be, the best way for open relationships to succeed is for these terms to be negotiated ahead of time," psychotherapist John Sovec, LMFT, tells Bustle. "That way, everybody is working from the same playbook.

6. Talk About STI Prevention

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In addition to making sure you're both emotionally prepared for an open relationship, you need to take care of yourselves physically, says Sovec. Discuss protection, testing, and other methods for STI prevention so that opening your relationship doesn't put either of your health in danger.

7. Talk To Friends Who Have Been There

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Ask your friends who are poly for advice on opening up your relationship. You may even mention their advice to your partner when you approach them. "I find that if you and your partner merely know someone who is in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, they're less freaked out by the suggestion to open up," says Turner.

Before talking to your partner, though, make sure you know what you want. Here are some questions to ask yourself before opening up your relationship. Think through what you want and why you want it so that you and your partner are on the same page from the start.