Center for Shared Insight, PC

How to talk to your partner about an open relationship

October 1, 2019
Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

Bridging the topic of exploring an open relationship can be scary. There are dozens of reasons this path might appeal to you, from curiosity to “spicing” up your current core, romantic relationship. No matter the “why”, presenting this idea to your partner can make you feel vulnerable.

At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we work with a handful of clients who are interested in exploring an open relationship with their partner, and we can provide support and guidance around how to discuss this topic thoughtfully and effectively. Throughout this post, we’ll explore strategies you can use to ensure that a conversation about an open relationship is well-received.

Validate Feelings

Unless you’ve been having conversations about an open relationship already, chances are that your partner may be surprised by your request for a different type of partnership. It’s important to validate his or her feelings when you share your desire to explore this new approach. Share with them that you can understand why they might initially feel sad, inadequate, or insecure in the relationship. This can help your partner feel more understood throughout the conversation and allow your feelings to also be heard. It’s best to start the conversation when you have time to talk about it in-depth, and neither one of you is tired or pressed for time. When you start from a stable foundation in your relationship overall, not when things aren’t going well, you’ll have a more productive conversation overall about the possibility of an open relationship.

Explain the “Why”

When you share your desires with your partner, stress that an open relationship can be done in a healthy way. Explain to your partner why you want to try this approach, and be as honest and kind as possible. Stress that your desire isn’t coming from not being satisfied in your current relationship, and reiterate your commitment to your partner and your “core” relationship as you explore other partners or experiences. Be clear that you aren’t looking for a polyamorous relationship (in which you participate in more than one serious romantic or sexual relationship simultaneously) and that your long-term commitment still lies with your partner. Reinforce to your partner that they are “enough for you” so that relationship anxiety, as well as feelings of inadequacy, don’t bubble up. 

Establish Rules

One of the most important ways to ensure that you have a healthy open relationship is to agree to rules for the partnership. These include emotional and sexual boundaries with new partners, limitations around the amount of time spent with other partners, and agreements about what you’ll share about your open relationship experiences. You may agree on who you’ll tell about your new approach to your relationship, and you’ll probably want to establish a regular cadence for check-ins about the shiftings dynamics of your open relationship. Use these check-ins as a type of thoughtful maintenance for your existing relationship. You and your partner have the freedom to determine what types of rules and boundaries you need to feel confident in exploring an open relationship.

Get Outside Help

A therapist who is well-versed and trained in sexual health and sex-positive dynamics can support a couple exploring an open relationship. Having the opportunity to share feelings that result from exploring an open relationship in a safe and nurturing setting, like therapy, can make the process healthier for both partners.

At Center for Shared Insight, our therapists have a tremendous amount of experience helping clients navigate the waters of an open relationship. Two of our therapists, Dr. Brittany Woolford and Dr. Mallaree Blake, offer specialties in sexual health and functioning, sex positivity, LGBTQIA+, kink, fetishes, open/polyamorous relationships, BDSM, cultural identity concerns, and more. If you’d like to talk to one of our team members about how to approach a conversation about an open relationship with your partner, or need support during this exploration, contact us to schedule your free intake and consultation with a team member.

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