So, you've decided you might want to have an open relationship with your partner. The one issue? It's not something your partner is quite as sure they are into. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and it can feel frighteningly like you're approaching an impasse. If you're unsure what to do when you want an open relationship and your partner doesn't, there are a few things you might want to consider when broaching the topic, moving forward, and defining (or re-defining) the terms of your relationship.
First of all, as sex educator Jamie LeClaire, who is also a writer and consultant, tells Bustle, it's important to keep in mind that there isn't just one way to do "open relationships." So, one of the most important things to consider from the get-go is exactly what you want or are in need of right now, and making sure you communicate that clearly to your partner when you first broach the topic. This is not to say that your needs trump theirs, or that if they don't want to do it that they simply don't understand, but it ensures that they have all the information.
"Open relationship is an umbrella term covering everything from poly-amorous relationships, swinging, non-monogamy, relationship anarchy, and more," LeClaire says. "Within those frameworks, there are limitless ways to configure your relationships."
Open relationships are not one-size-fits-all, they say, and not knowing about the breadth of possibility can sometimes hinder people's understanding of what they want. For a deeper look into the options for open relationships, LeClaire recommends the book, Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. Doing some research and being clear with yourself about what you want is the first step before you broach the topic with your partner. Even if the clarity is about not knowing what you want.
LeClaire says there are many questions you might want to consider at the onset of this journey, like: Are you only looking for sexual relationships outside of your relationship or are you looking for emotional intimacy as well? Do you want to develop connections with other folks separately from your partner or with them? Do you want to be able to talk about the details of your respective rendezvous, or do you want to keep it private? Do you want friends/co-workers/acquaintances to be "off-limits"?
When what you want gets a little more clear for you, that's the best time to approach communicating and working through needs and boundaries with your partner. They can consider the details of what you want and be better able to make choices about their own emotional needs.
Sex therapist Janet Brito, who has a practice in Hawaii, tells Bustle to make sure that the process of communicating about your desire to shift the dynamic of your relationship does not feel in any way rushed, or that there is an ultimatum being given.
"The last thing you want is to feel pressured," Brito says. And you want to communicate that you do not want to place the relationship at risk. One of the most important things is to express honestly how much your partner and their safety on all levels — emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual — really means to you.
Ensure you are not trying to open the relationship as a solution for unresolved problems or because you are in denial of your incompatibility, Brito says. If that is the case, it is best to examine those challenges instead.
Another way to continue the conversation, while supporting and examining your partner's concerns, is for both partners to utilize a yes, no, and maybe list, LeClaire says. This can focus on what you might want or not want out of your type of open relationship. Then compare notes. You can each be fully honest with all your feelings, fears, and hopes on everything from jealousy to safer sex practices and the related "what ifs." Communication is essential at all turns, LeClaire says. Especially as you are getting clear on what you are both OK with doing.
Brito says that if there is doubt from your partner, but not a complete unwillingness, you could also consider a trial period.
"This might entail opening up the relationship for a set time or with conditions," Brito says. "If you need additional support, you could also consult a therapist who understands consensual non-monogamous relationships."
However, ultimately, if your partner does not want an open relationship, it is imperative that you are respectful of their decision, Brito says. Do not make ultimatums and do not pressure your partner into doing something they are not comfortable doing.
"If you are going to have an open relationship, it must be consensual and both parties in agreement," Brito says.
While the conversation might be nerve-racking, talking things out is always key. The most important thing is that you both trust one another and are happy with how it all goes.