When couples are considering opening up their relationship, very often one partner is more enthusiastic about the idea than the other. I often work with couples who are working through this kind of dilemma.
My goal, while I work with a couple that is trying to decide if and how to transition to a non-monogamous relationship, is to help both partners
- listen to one another with curiosity and empathy
- share their feelings and desires honestly
- explore more deeply what it is they actually want
To this end, I very often ask the more reluctant partner, “Can you think of any way that opening up your relationship would benefit you? Not your partner, not some other person, but you?” The response I usually get is, “No way, are you crazy?”
It can be hard to imagine what you could get out of an open relationship if the idea feels threatening, or if it’s something your partner is pushing for despite your lack of enthusiasm. Interestingly enough, however, I often hear things from these reluctant partners that imply that there might indeed be a way they would benefit from an open relationship. For example:
- “I just don’t have that high a sex drive, and I wish he would stop pestering me.”
- “I don’t like the things she’s into, and I don’t think I’ll ever be interested in trying, so I wish she would leave me alone about it.”
- “I don’t want to spend every second together–I want to go out with my friends, do the things I want to do some of time, but I can’t because we’re together all the time.”
In each of those cases, there’s some pressure on the relationship–pressure to have sex more often, to have sex in a particular way, to spend all your time together–that having a non-monogamous structure could potentially relieve.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Often the idea of a non-monogamous relationship brings up fear, insecurity, and jealousy. Those feelings are perfectly understandable, and it’s imperative that the reluctant partner is able to fully express and explore them, and that the enthusiastic partner is able to listen empathetically and hold steady as they hear about their partner’s fears.
If they are able to feel heard and supported, and get some basic hard-to-find information about open relationships, they may find some of their fears calming, and curiosity blooming.
Here are the facts most people are missing: open relationships of all varieties actually exist. Many function well for all involved, some last a very long time, and many include deeply intimate connections. Often open relationships benefit all involved.