Every relationship looks and feels different. What works for one couple might not work for you and your boo, and vice versa. Enter the open marriage. While the concept is certainly not new, it’s definitely a relationship paradigm that is not only confusing and exciting but is also unique to each couple. If you’re considering an open marriage, or a consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship, then you probably have a ton of questions. Like, how does one work? Are there rules? And, how do you even ask your partner to engage in such a relationship? You’ve got the questions, and we’ve got the answers. If you’ve been wondering if an open marriage would suit you and your partner, here’s everything you need to know.
What types of couples benefit from an open marriage?
According to Courtney Watson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and sex therapist with a group practice in Oakland, “folks who are willing to be vulnerable and dedicated to open and direct communication” would benefit the most from an open marriage. Considering that you’re inviting multiple parties into a marriage, emotional safety and openness is crucial. As for why couples might choose one, Watson says there are a variety of reasons, “but one mindset I often see is an acknowledgement and comfort with the idea that one person can not meet all of your needs.”
How do you react if your partner wants one?
“Thank them for being honest about the desire to open up the relationship as opposed to bringing another person in without your knowledge,” says Watson. “Get clear on what an open relationship means to your partner. Take some time to think about how you feel about the prospect. I would not advise that anyone immediately say no nor immediately say yes.”
Keeping an open mind is also important, says sex and relationship expert Dr. Jessica O’Reilly .”The desire for an open relationship is not universally indicative of a deficit in the existing relationship; some people are simply more inclined toward consensually non-monogamous relationships (CNM). In many ways, you already love multiple people (kids, parents, siblings, friends) — loving multiple intimate partners may be an extension of this capacity to love,” she says.
O’Reilly says asking questions is key, too. “Ask your partner for more information — what draws them to CNM? How do they envision a CNM relationship? What concerns do they have? They’ve likely done more research, so be open to really listening to their perspective even if it doesn’t align with yours.”
Ultimately Watson advises spending some time alone reflecting on your feelings, values, and beliefs about both non monogamy and monogamy. “Don’t feel pressured. Return to the conversation when you feel like you are clear on where you want to go, then start to ask you partner questions and see if it makes sense for your relationship.”
How to negotiate ground rules
“After you’ve taken the time to reflect and only if you both decide to proceed, get into the nitty gritty of every aspect of the open relationship,” says Watson. “Get a piece of paper for each of you and set up yes/no/maybe columns. Each of you work on this on your own then come together and share your answers. Combine the yes/no/maybes that are in alignment and discuss the ones that are not.”
Adds O’Reilly: “This is a big ongoing conversation. This isn’t a one-and-done conversation. You’ll (hopefully) have many conversations pertaining to ground rules over the course of your relationship — regardless of whether or not you’re monogamous.”
O’Reilly recommends doing some reading together, and suggests Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up and Liz Powell’s Building Open Relationships. The latter is “a great workbook to help you consider questions, concerns and conversations.”