Ask Adam: Are We Truly Ready for an Open Relationship?
My boyfriend and I are thinking about opening up our relationship. We’re excited about adding new fun into our lives, but at the same time we’re both scared about hurting our relationship with jealousy. How can we know if we are really ready for this?
Scared in Sacramento
Dear Scared in Sacramento,
Congratulations on taking the time to thoughtfully make this important decision together. It seems like you have a commitment not to hurt your partner’s feelings, and that is the most important element in a successful open relationship. Here are some other issues to consider.
Sex is not an easy topic for most people to discuss honestly. Do you and your partner know how to talk about difficult subjects and end up closer at the end of the conversation rather than further apart? If you open your relationship before you have developed this skill you could be headed for trouble.
Open relationships increase the possibility of waking up the more vulnerable part of ourselves. If you both have not had practice in comforting each other in vulnerable emotional places, then consider developing this skill prior to opening the relationship.
Your Sex Life Together
Are you longing for an open relationship because your sex life has fizzled? If so, before embarking on an open relationship it’s important to understand (and discuss) why the sexual chemistry between you has declined.
Sometimes couples seek to open the relationship to avoid the difficult conversations about poor sexual communication. Sex between couples can decline over time when they neglect to bring creativity to their sexual routine. For humans, everything gets boring without change.
Some couples declare they aren’t sexually compatible because they want different things in bed. They underestimate their own or their partner’s flexibility. You two may not agree on everything, but where could you meet in the middle? Our sexual turn-ons are more malleable than we may think. You might be surprised.
Be wary of the impulse to give up on improving your current sex life with your partner by turning to an open relationship. Are you open to the possibility that with some imagination your current sex life together could grow even as you explore an open relationship? If so, you’ve greatly increased your chances of open relationship success.
All open relationships need mutually decided guidelines. Each partner will have different feelings about what is okay. Consider these questions:
Can you fully hear and accept your partner’s guidelines even when they are different than your own?
Are you able to track yourself and know when you are getting close to violating a guideline?
Are you comfortable telling your partner about the limits you need him to respect?
Can you commit to sincere and patient emotional repair if by accident your partner’s feelings are hurt?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then maybe you are not yet ready for an open relationship.
Does all of this sound like a lot of work? It is. An open relationship requires an advanced level of communication skills. You’ll need to spend more time “processing feelings” and talking about the relationship than most couples.
If this is something that you and your partner are committed to creating, consider giving yourselves six months to prepare. Use this time to practice talking about the tough issues in your relationship.
Discuss your sexual history together.
Explore the unresolved hurts that have accumulated over the years.
Look at any of your unproductive communication cycles.
Consider how you emotionally hold, protect, and express love for each other.
When these discussions bring you to a place of feeling closer rather than an unpleasant fight, then you may be ready for a fulfilling open relationship.
Adam D. Blum, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in relationship and self-esteem issues for gay men. Adam offers services in his San Francisco office or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit his website to subscribe to his e-newsletter and his free guide on building gay relationships. Follow him on Facebook and read his blog. Send your questions for possible publication to [email protected]. (Questions may be edited.)