How to tell your partner that you want an open relationship
There's not one formula for a happy relationship — while some people are very traditional, others find their own way to build their partnership (and their sex life). While you may not have ever tried an open relationship, there’s a good chance you’ve seen someone who has. Whether in film, TV, or in your friend group, it’s become more and more clear that monogamy doesn’t work for everyone and, in the best cases, people have found a way to keep up a loving relationship while having sex with other people. This is normally different from polyamory — where people are in multiple romantic relationships. Open relationships are all about the sex. But if you want one, it can be difficult to know how to get there.
While an open relationship can seem like an obvious solution to someone who loves their partner but craves a more adventurous sex life, many people gloss over the conversation aspect — it can be awkward, uncomfortable, and really emotionally-charged to bring the topic up, depending on you and your partner’s relationship.
So how do you tell your partner you want an open relationship?
Here’s what you need to keep in mind.
First, think about your partner and your relationship as a whole
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this conversation. The first thing you need to do is consider your partner and your relationship as a whole. Is your partner someone who speaks openly about sex? Do you already have a fairly adventurous sex life? Are intimate or explicit conversations hard for you? Is your relationship healthy and happy outside of your sex life?
There’s a lot to think about. If your relationship is struggling more generally, don’t expect an open relationship to fix it — you want to go into a big change like this with a strong foundation. But if you think that this would be an exciting new addition to an already happy relationship, then just keep your partner’s conversation style and sexual history in mind.
Don’t jump right in
The last thing you want to do is blindside your partner. Of course, you every right to ask for what you need in your relationship, but you also have a responsibility to do it an empathetic way. Start by asking your partner about your sex life more generally and try to feel out if this is something they’d be open to. Of course, even if they’re resistant you still can ask for what you want, but it shouldn't come out of nowhere. Giving your a partner a sense that you’re looking for something more adventurous in your sex life can mean that they’re less surprised by the conversation.
Use the sandwich technique
You know how they tell you to sandwich criticism between two compliments? Well, the same can apply here. When you ask about opening things up, make sure that you also talk about positives in your sex life or — if you don’t have any — about your relationship more generally. Saying, “I love you and I love our relationship, but I also want to try exploring other sides of my sexuality while building on our sex life” is a lot gentler than “I really want to have sex with other people.” They both get the same message across, but one leaves your partner feeling less exposed and vulnerable.
Give them a minute
You might find that your partner also likes the idea of opening up the relationship — Great! Then it’s all about coming up with parameters. But you might find that they balk at the idea. They could be hurt, confused, or even angry. Give them a minute to sit with it. They may even want to take a few days to think it over. Answer their questions, try not to be frustrated if they don’t hop on board right away, and give them the space they need to process. For some people, the idea of opening up the relationship can shake their core and their understanding of what that relationship is — so don’t rush it.
You also have to accept that they may not be OK with it — that’s their choice. Of course, if you really feel like it’s important to you then you also have a choice: you can end the relationship. But if they really don’t feel comfortable with an open partnership, badgering them or getting resentful is not going to make the situation any better. You just need to decide whether or not this is something worth ending the relationship over — it might be, it might not be.
Set up some ground rules
If your partner does want to pursue an open relationship, the next step is to set some ground rules. Don’t just go off and hook up with someone else — come up with some parameters that you're both comfortable with. Will it be designated nights or any time? Do you share your experiences or is it a don’t ask/don’t tell situation? Of course, these rules may evolve as time goes on — keep the conversation open — but don’t jump in assuming you can figure it out without any understandings in place.
Open relationships can save marriages and transform partnerships — but first, you have to ask for one. Go in slowly, with your partner in mind, and make sure you both have room to ask questions and figure out the right course of action for you. When open relationships work, they can be amazing — but you can’t force it.