A Guest Blog Post By Sex Coach Lex
So, you know a couple people who are swinging and into “the Lifestyle”. And you’ve heard about this thing called “polyamory” or “non-monogamy”. Maybe you’ve even done some digging to figure out what it is. Now after a little bit of soul searching, you’ve decided that it’s something you want to try. There’s just one thing. You’re not single, you’re in a relationship already. Broaching this subject can bring up a lot of feelings for the both of you. So how do you approach discussing your interest in non-monogamy with your partner?
Introducing the Difficult Conversation Formula
This formula was put together by Reid Mihalko and I use it often with my clients (or I will create a variation from it that applies to their specific situation). There are three parts to the difficult conversation formula you need to put together on your own before you make the approach.
1. What I’m trying to tell you is . . .
First fill in, “What I’m trying to tell you is…” In this case, you’re trying to share that you are interested in non-monogamy and would like to know how your partner feels about that, or if they are also interested in exploring that topic with you. Make sure to find what your intention truly is and put it in your own words. After all, they’re your partner, not mine.
2. What I’m afraid might happen . . .
Second, answer “what I’m afraid might happen if I tell you is…” There’s a reason, or likely several, why you have been holding back from having this conversation. Be honest. Take the time to be vulnerable. One of the cornerstones of committed relationships is being able to be vulnerable with one another.
3. What I’d like to have happen . . .
Finally, answer “What I’d like to have happen by saying this is…” Here is where we find hope and motivation. What’s the best-case scenario? On the most fundamental level all difficult conversations are about being seen, being understood or understanding one another, and growth. For you it may be that you would like your partner to see that this in no way negates your commitment to them, or that they may see this a way for you to both grow. Again, you are sharing your truth so make sure to put it in your words.
Putting it all together
Now for actually making the approach. Begin by asking your partner if they have the emotional bandwidth for a difficult conversation. If yes, proceed. If no, schedule some time to have that talk. Once you have the go ahead, begin by letting them know that there is something that you have been wanting to talk to them about. Then, use your responses to the second question to let them know why you’ve been afraid to talk about this. Follow that up with your response to the third question to let them know what you are hoping their response will be like. Finally let them know what you have been wanting to talk about.
Once you have finished, make sure to thank your partner for listening and ask if they have anything to share in response.
Special Considerations for Non-Monogamy Intentions
For the sake of this article I have assumed that you aren’t interested in opening up for the wrong reasons. While there is no one right reason to engage in non-monogamy, there are several wrong reasons and I’d like to rule out one in particular.
I think the most common mistake may be thinking that opening up a relationship can fix problems that a relationship already has. Non-monogamy is not a salve for relationship troubles. According to Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, who has done multi-year long research studies on polyamory in families and relationships, while a few people may have saved their marriages with polyamory, it is extremely rare. Polyamory, and non-monogamy in general, has a tendency to exacerbate and bring out any troubles that already exist in relationships. It’s like clicking the fast-forward button on your relationship. You probably would have dealt with these issues 10 years from now, but instead you get to deal with them all in the first year of your relationship. Hurray!
Your Partner’s Reactions
If you have been researching this for a while, remember that your feelings about non-monogamy are not new and your knowledge about it is likely to be much greater than your partner’s. As a result, your partner’s reaction might be much stronger than you expected. That’s because for them, this is coming out of the blue. They may also have a lot of negative (or toxic) ideas about how relationships “ought” to be, and that if you want to explore something outside of your own relationship, there must be something wrong inside it. The most important thing is to assure them that this is not about them. Your interest in exploring this is about your own growth and not a response to them doing something wrong. Also, that it is not about something being wrong with the relationship.
Be prepared to hear some bad news. You might find out that your partner actually does have some problem with the relationship you are in, or that something you did has made them lose trust in you (Remember how I told you polyamory is like clicking fast-forward on your relationship troubles?). You wrote down your fears for a reason, and even the most well-crafted and well-delivered messages can be received in ways completely unrelated to your intentions. This isn’t exclusive to non-monogamy in any form. Any difficult conversation can be a test of your relationship.
What’s next? Don’t Rush
Let’s say that your conversation does go well, what’s next? Don’t rush things. You won’t be going on dates tomorrow. There is a lot more for both of you to learn and work through before actively engaging in non-monogamy. Depending on where you begin, it might be a couple of months until you are ready, or as much as a year before you are ready. If you are in this relationship for the long haul, then that time invested is a drop in the bucket. And even if you end up finding out non-monogamy isn’t right for you, the skills required for exploring diverse relationship structures are a huge boost to any relationship.
A Note On Terms: Non-Monogamy, Polyamory and Swinging
Various forms of non-monogamy have been discussed media lately. More specifically you probably heard about polyamory, swinging, or open relationships. While polyamory, open relationships, and swinging* (and there are countless other arrangements if you really like labels) are all different forms of non-monogamy they all have one thing in common.
All forms of non-monogamy (the umbrella term) change out our societal default idea of a romantic and sexual relationship being limited to only two people, for one where more than two people can be involved. Putting it that way may make it sound simple, but the impact of questioning something that a person has never even considered possible to question can be revolutionary. It is also destabilizing, which can be scary to navigate.
* Polyamory and swinging are particularly different as the communities that have formed around them have very different core values.
About Sex Coach Lex
Coach Lex is the founder of SCL Coaching and Consulting, LLC. He is a WASC certified sex coach who specializes in sexual communication in order to create a world where people can speak about sex as comfortably as they speak about breakfast. His work includes individuals, couples, and the polyamorous community, as well as the LGBT and kink communities (GSRD groups). Lex facilitates groups, workshops, and works with clients worldwide.
Coach Lex publishes a weekly blog on his website sexcoachlex.com known as The Bad Sex Advice Blog, where he deconstructs bad sex advice and sex myths, explains what makes them bad, and what you can do instead.
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Have a question about polyamory or swinging?
We know this may not be the easiest discussion to have with a partner, or anyone for that matter. Submit your question about polyamory, swinging or open relationships in the comments below. For privacy, feel free comment under an alias name.