My partner asked me to open our relationship after we have been in a committed monogamous relationship for the last six years. I am seriously considering it but I feel a bit lost in how we can do this without us damaging our trust and intimacy. How can we navigate this relationship change?
Navigating the shift from a monogamous relationship to an ethical non-monogamous (ENM) relationship can be difficult because it is changing the bounds of the relationship agreement. When we start a relationship with one set of boundaries and change it during the course of the relationship it can evoke feelings of confusion, doubt, or insecurity. But it also has the potential to evoke feelings of hope, delight, and love.
The first step in navigating this change is to understand what it means to be in an ethical non-monogamous relationship.
There are many variations of relationships, think of it like “pick your own adventure.”
The more you understand what an ENM relationship entails, the more thoughtful you can be about your decision to engage in one. I suggest watching videos, listening to podcasts, reading articles, or engaging in discussions on online forums to gain insight into the ins and outs of ENM.
Once you have a clear picture on what ENM can look like, then you can decide what your boundaries are within the context of your own ENM relationship.
Open and honest communication is needed when discussing the boundaries in the relationship. Discussing hard and soft boundaries so that you and your partner are coming to a new relationship agreement.
This can look like saying, “I am OK with solo dates and outercourse, but for right now I am not OK with swapping bodily fluids or penetration.”
This type of boundary setting lets your partner know how you feel about certain acts and allows them the chance to respond. Maybe they will say something like, “This is a boundary I feel comfortable with but I would like this to be up for discussion as we gain more experience in this and form deeper emotional connections.”
After boundaries are established and you both feel heard and understood, take small steps in exploring ENM and then reflecting on how you feel about it.
A small step could be flirting on dating apps, going on dates, or bringing in a third to the bedroom. It is important to start small and evaluate how you feel at each step so that you don’t become overwhelmed with the changes.
It is OK to not have all the answers at the onset of your ENM journey, being reflect allows you to mindfully navigate this journey so both partners feel respected and heard. This is a learning experience for both of you. It is important to continually communicate throughout this process.
If you get stuck or feel that you can’t have this discussion without it emotionally escalating, bring in the help of a therapist. A trained therapist that works with non-traditional relationships will be able to help guide you and your partner through this difficult conversation.