Open Relationships: Don't Ask Don't Tell Doesn't Work- Here's Why

DADT Doesn't Work | Uncommon Love Polyamory Counseling Portland

Almost every week I seen couples who are considering an open relationship.  At least monthly someone tells me they are thinking about a don't ask don't tell policy.  

Let me state for the record, don't ask don't tell doesn't work.  

Don't ask don't tell (DADT) is a style of open relationship is when a couple has agreed to be intimate with others outside of their relationship, as long as they don’t have to share any information about these interactions with their partner.

Of course no one form of poly is the best and most righteous of all forms of poly. However successful relationships (monogamy or not) require openness and honesty.  When my couples ask about DADT, they usually describe something else.

When couples come to see me they unanimously say they want to stay connected while opening their relationships, they really love each other, they want to stay together.  But they fear polyamory, swinging, or opening their relationship will be "too hard."  

They want a DADT policy because they think this will make nonmonogamy easier.

Here are the major pitfalls of the DADT agreements in relationship.

DADT Issue Number One: You never know what you don't know. 

All too often I see DADT backfire because it is assumptive in nature.  We assume we are on the same page- but how do we know we are without checking?  All too often I see folks make assumptions about what is okay and because they’re not supposed to “tell” they unintentionally do something that hurts their partner.

DADT Issue Number Two: Renegotiation is essential. 

One of the keys to healthy long-term open relationships is the ability to renegotiate.  Most of the couples I see who manage long term open relationships go through a range of different styles of relationship over time (the time where you were dating someone new, the time we were monogamous because we were trying to get pregnant, the time I was heartbroken after being dumped etc). 

If your agreement is not to talk about ANY of the other relationships in your life you are limited in your renegotiations and it’s hard for your relationship to grow and change with time.

DADT Issue Number Three: Not knowing can be torture.

All too often people who are new to open relationships get stuck in self-defeating thoughts.  They start wondering about their partner’s dating experience and begin torturing themselves with their own insecurities.  They worry the person is funnier or smarter or the sex is better.  Sometimes knowing a little bit of information can help quiet these concerns because it helps you know the other person is human (both wonderful and imperfect, just like you). 

The other way I see people torture themselves with a DADT is being afraid to ask for reassurance.  They take the “don’t ask” portion too far and forget to nourish their connection.  They forget to turn to connection because DADT is inherently disconnected.

DADT Issue Number Four: You are keeping secrets.

This if by far the biggest problem I see for couples who tell me they want to stay together and connected.  If you want connection, why are you turning away from one another?  You are missing an incredible opportunity for trust building and growth if you try to avoid conflict with a DADT policy.

There’s also a logistical factor here.  Your partner may not need to (and frankly, shouldn’t) know everything about your other relationships, but they need to know some things. 

A list of basic questions you need to be able to answer:

  • When will I see you again?

  • How will you keep safe?

  • Under what circumstances can I interrupt you?  If this happens, how will I contact you?

  • What are our agreements about sharing body fluids with each other and other people?

  • Is there anything I need to know to stay out of your physical space?

  • Do you need help with transportation?

  • How will this connect to our shared finances or home?

  • How can you stay present with me even if you are excited about someone else?

  • How will we reconnect in a way that feels great for both of us after we've spent time apart?

Yes, couples who are practiced in nonmonogamy, or who aren’t interested in a deep emotional connection are able to maintain DADT- but that’s not who we’re talking about here. 

Until you’re clear about what information you want and don’t want, how opening your relationship plays out logistically, and how you’ll maintain connection DADT just doesn’t work.  

If you want help opening your relationship call me, I am happy to talk with you about your relationship's health:

Sex Counselor Portland | Portland Sex Counselor | Couples Counselor

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).