I see many dyads in which one partner would like to explore open relating and the other person is disinterested. This can create a lot of tension in a relationship since in ways, you’re fundamentally shifting the original expectations you had for it (unless you explicitly discussed in advance that you each had different desires with regards to opening up). So what do you do when your partner approaches you with the desire to explore with other partners and you’re disinterested?
First, I challenge you to consider the question of why you choose monogamy. Most people passive choose monogamy because that is primarily what our culture has taught us as the “acceptable” form of a relationship. But do you actually choose it and if so, why? For some folks, monogamy feels in alignment with who they are as a person but for others, when they start to explore what is about monogamy that they value (trust, fidelity, security, etc) they find that those values can still exist in the context of an open relationship.
Next, explore with your partner why it is they are interested in choosing non-monogamy. Are they bored sexually? Do they feel there is more to explore and want to expand their sexual horizons? Are they interested in someone else sexually and want to see what that could lead to or mean for them? I cannot tell you what reasons are right or wrong but I can tell you that those with the most success with opening up choose it because it inherently aligns with their own values - not because they have someone else they want to sexually explore with right now. Perhaps by having this discussion, you both learn that sex has not had as much variety as you once thought and you can explore more together now. Or perhaps you learn that you’re each interested in expanding your sexual horizons with others as a means to grow individually and as a couple.
You should also discuss what your partner is looking for in opening up. Do they crave sexual exploration only, or do they also desire a romantic or deeper emotional connection with others they interact with? Do they want to be friends with those they play with? By understanding what type of relationships your partner is looking for, you can each understand more about if opening up is right for you.
No matter the reasons, usually the person who doesn’t want to open up feels they are “not enough” for their partner, which is quite contrary to what those who value open relationships feel. Many in the consensual non-monogamy community (CNM) feel that love and sex are not finite. We can hold love for more than one person without threatening either relationship or diminishing the value of either person. Consider the fact that you likely have a best friend as well as other friends in your life. If you spend time with your other friends, share your secrets with them, give them your time, does it diminish the value of the closeness you have with your best friend? It shouldn’t. Each of these relationships bring value to the table and none necessarily detract from the other.
“But I don’t have sex with my friends.” You might but, but sex isn’t necessarily the ultimate point of vulnerability and connection with another person. Many people can separate love from sex with the right boundaries in place. There are some people who feel closest to those they can open up with emotionally and don’t have sex with them (i.e. a best friend) while being able to have sex with multiple partners without feeling emotionally close to any of them.
“Okay, maybe I could explore opening up. Where do I begin?” First, don’t open up just because you don’t want to lose your partner. That is a quick road to resentment and hurt for both of you. Open up because you’re genuinely curious about exploring non-monogamy for yourself and possibly, for your relationship. You can start by reading books, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, etc. about opening up. Learn the nuances of what others struggle with and how they find the most success. Start to learn how to cope with jealousy before it even becomes a part of the equation. Once you have started this work, you could consider: going to a sex/swinger’s club with your partner, creating a dating profile with the two of you and look at potential partners together, go to a local MeetUp for the CNM community, grab dinner with someone already in an open relationship and simply ask them questions about their experience and form a friendship. You don’t have to rush yourself or the process. If you and your partner are deeply connected, they will be willing to be patient with you in this journey.
“What if I’ve tried those things and I just can’t do it? I know I’m monogamous and I can’t be any other way.” I know this is hard. It’s always the hardest part when you recognize that you and your partner simply aren’t in alignment when it comes to the relationship style you want. You have some options: 1. You can stay monogamous and they can open up. While it’s not a super common structure, some folx can make this work. You need to be secure in knowing that you two are solid and learn to take care of yourself/fill your time with fulfilling activities when your partner is away. 2. You could stay in the relationship and keep trying, in spite of knowing it’s not for you. This is the quick road to resentment. I don’t recommend it, but some folx choose this option, so it’s worth mentioning. 3. You can both acknowledge that you are no longer in alignment in the relationship style that you want and let the relationship go. I know this is hard, but wouldn’t you both rather have the opportunity to explore and be in the type of relationships you ultimately find fulfilling rather than engaging in a power struggle the rest of your lives?
While opening up isn’t for everyone, having the conversation is a great opportunity to explore if monogamy is really what you choose or if it was chosen for you. Many people embark upon the journey of exploring the relationship style they want and find they can shift to a new, open style and feel very fulfilled both individually and within the relationship. If you continue to struggle with determining if this is right for you, I recommend talking with a CNM-positive therapist to help you both explore your core values/beliefs and discuss boundaries to help you both feel secure. Happy exploring!
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