So You Want To Open Up Your Relationship: Some Quick Advice

You’re both ready to try having an open relationship, or exploring polyamory. But what do you actually DO?
Publish date:
May 12, 2014
Dating, The Good Men Project, polyamory

A friend of mine wrote to me the other day that one of his wife’s buddies had been flirting heavily with her, and he was… kinda okay with the idea. As was she. As was, after some investigation, the buddy.

“So what next?” he asked. And here, in a nutshell, is my advice on what to do when you’re a couple, opening up to poly.

(NOTE: This advice is written to a guy because, well, the intended audience of the Good Men Project is largely men, and the couple is assumed to be a married couple because that’s who I wrote the letter to. But the advice applies for all genders and sexualities.)

When you’ve got an untouchable couple at the center of things, I think it’s best to really set expectations as to what you want out of things. After all, your obvious goal is to keep you and your partner intact as a unit. If it comes down to you or them, at this stage, it’s almost certainly going to be you. So why hurt this friend (and your wife!) unnecessarily by being unclear about what’s cool with you? The problem is, you don’t really know what’s okay yet.

You’re not poly yet. Maybe you’ve read some books, but polyamory is like parenting in that you can read every book and still get whomped by unexpected emotions. Right now, you’re theoretically okay with your wife sleeping with some third party, and maybe even falling in love, but hypotheses are not data.

And so you’re going to have that uncomfortable conversation of, “Here’s what I think I’m comfortable with you folks doing, but it might be less than this if it really triggers me, or maybe a lot more if it turns out I’m unexpectedly awesome.”

You have to talk, really. It’s just not as super-helpful as you’d think, because realistically this is jumping into a pool to see how it feels.

But I’d definitely talk to your wife, to try to figure out what she’s trying to get out of this. Is it romantic snuggles and candlelight? Single swinging? FWB? Or just the right to explore and find out what the hell it is she wants? Maybe you don’t even need to be poly, you just need to be swingers – which is easier. Less attachments generated. But regardless, even if her needs change once she gets into the flow of it, it’s good to know what things she expects to fulfill in doing this poly thing.

Then, if that’s cool, let her go on a date or two with the buddy. Make it clear that these are no-sex dates (though maybe some smooching is cool, if your wife can restrain herself to your comfort zone). I mean, your wife and her buddy might not hit it off – maybe s/he smells funny – and there’s no sense in generating a Big Important Conversation if this is going to end up in a thanks-but-no-thanks situation.

Yet if all goes well, then, yeah, talk to the buddy with all three of you at a sit-down dinner. Say, “Hey, we’re new at this, I’m totally cool with you sexing up my wife, but here are my concerns.”

Now, maybe, yeah, that sort of intense conversation may weird the buddy out. But my take is that if talking to you about what you guys need as a couple weirds them out that they skedaddle, then they really were NOT the right choice for you.

Because that sort of three-way communication is gonna come up. You’re married. And even if you weren’t married, the fact is that your wife’s known you for longer, and (assuming that you’re happily married) would be more likely to weight your opinion even if there were no other mitigating factors. It’s an uneven relationship – and sure, that may not be fair, but the buddy needs to know that your emotions are part of this mixture. If that’s a dealbreaker, then it’s only fair to the buddy to give them this opportunity to move on.

(Which isn’t to say that you should use this as an excuse to be a monster – the buddy’s feelings should always be taken into account. If you’re the kind of person who’s going to take all of your insecurities out on the buddy, using them as a flashpoint to blame them for everything that’s currently wrong in your relationship with your wife, then you probably shouldn’t try poly. Poly’s about getting your needs met, but it’s not about getting all your needs met.)

And then they start dating, and you hunker down for drama. I know you want the no-dramaness, but there’s rarely a time when you open up poly in an established relationship that at least a little drama is not generated. Maybe it’s not big drama, but you only really discover what makes your relationship unique to the two of you when you find someone nibbling at its edges. You’re probably going to find a couple of things that you thought were unique to your wife and you, and whoops, she doesn’t think that’s something she only does with you. And if you’re typical you’re going to fluctuate between “Wow, how bizarre, I feel no jealousy at all” and “I’m alone now, how sad,” and a newfound appreciation of your husband’s qualities now that other people are appreciating them and “Am I good enough?”

All that’s cool. It happens. And when you do that, you’ll be waist-deep in the poly pool and well on your way.

Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project. Want more?

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