After helping hundreds of couples decide to open their relationships with integrity five critical themes keep showing up over and over. These are the most common issues couples struggle with in their first years of open relationships.
If you're thinking about shifting to more monogamish relationship practices, give these a review and talk them through with your sweetie in advance to proactively work them out.
1. Time Sharing
Any online polyamorous community will tell you time is the #1 issue non-monogamous couples face (even those practicing a long time). Couples fight about time in two specific ways:
Quantity of time - the actual number of hours or days a partner spends with a partner vs other partners
Example: We spend Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday night together but you spent every morning with your live-in partner... so they got more time.
Example: Amount of time spent together communicates preferential relationship status to me, so I might ask you to spend only one evening a week with other partners.
Quality of time - the value of the time spend with one partner vs other partners
Example: We spend weekday nights together doing laundry and bathing children, but you spend both your weekend evenings out dancing with another partner. I wish we went out more- so I have envy of those weekend nights you spend with the other partner- meanwhile, the other partner may wish for more casual time with you, like what we share.
Example: Your other partner lives in a tropical location so you use most of your vacation leave from work to travel to see them. I envy getting to travel to tropical locations with you.
The other way time can become an issue is common in both monogamous and nonmonogamous relationships. Lots of people believe when they are in a committed relationship with someone all free time by default should be spent together. I call this default togetherness.
This can bring up tension when making plans with other friends and lovers (or on your own) as someone with that default togetherness. I highly recommend talking this belief through with your partner (no matter your level of openness) because it will be important to create a clear communication process so you both know when to expect time together (and when you'll be nourishing your own individuality).
2. Privacy Concerns
There are a number of common privacy-related concerns that arise when couples start seeing other people. Most of them center on being outed, keeping secrets, and sharing information. Here are some to consider and discuss:
Lots of people worry about being outed as non-monogamous (what happens if you're on a date and you run into my mom/coworker/boss/the kids...?). Talk with your partner about the folks who concern you the most can create a plan for when and if they cross paths with someone you know.
(Truthfully, this happens far less frequently in reality than in most folks anxious minds).
Keeping Secrets vs Having Boundaries
This is a tricky one. As you start building more independent lives there will be some things you won't share with each other and sometimes that can feel threatening. Many couples I see are used to sharing EVERYTHING with each other- and that doesn't usually work in ethical non-monogamy.
Criteria to help you determine when to ethically share:
- You're not breaking a privacy boundary for another partner - you have their consent to share information about them***
- You're not contributing to any form of comparison
- You're not using one partner to sort through issues or feelings about the other
- It's helping you build or deepen connection and understanding with the person you're talking to
*** I see a lot of folks consider their primary/original partner's privacy when sharing information but not the new partner. Please check in with prospective and new partners about if they're comfortable with you sharing their photo/profile/name or a review of your time together with your original partner. Ethical non-monogamy requires consent all around.
Look, it's only natural to be curious about what your honey is experiencing without you, but sharing details about connections really can make things tense in the early stages of openness.
Before you start grilling your partner, or really, before you ask anything about their dating experience with other people I urge you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do I want to know? How will this information help me?
- Is this something I would want someone asking me?
- How will this information bring me closer to my partner?
If you aren't certain the questions you want to ask will help you or will move you closer, wait. You can always get clearer and ask later- there's no reason to rush. If you sit with your curiosity it might start telling you something. For example:
"Is she prettier than me?" Might mean I want more reassurance about my own appearance/attractiveness. Or it might tell me I want to invest more energy in feeling attractive on my own.
I often see clients become what I call the Sneaky Detective. They bypass sharing their curiosity directly with their love and try to get answers on their own and without consent.
Some things the sneaky detective might do:
- facebook/online stalking/sleuthing
- read somebody else's emails (or mail)
- listen in on conversations
- read through texts or messages without permission
Unfortunately the sneaky detective BOTH breaks trust between you (when it's most important) and consistently leads to misunderstandings (I've yet to see this lead anywhere good- and I've seen a LOT of it folks).
3. Physical Energy
I see a lot of people overlook this one. Maintaining a healthy relationship requires energetic investment. Sometimes we just don't have the energy for lots of relationships.
Questions to ask yourself to assess your energy reserves:
- How will I know if my self-care is out of balance? What will I compromise in order to prioritize my self-care?
- How will I know if my original partner and I need to spend more quality time together? What will I compromise if I find I need to keep this in balance?
- What kind of boundaries will help me maintain wellness even when investing energy in more people?
4. Shared Resources and Authority
One of the ways we communicate our commitments in this culture is our decision to share resources and/or decision-making authority with a someone we love. Lots of folks who start opening their relationship quickly realize these areas are more important than they previously realized.
Review the areas below and notice which resonate with you as areas that have value.
- pet responsibilities/meeting pets
- spaces (restaurants, church, venues etc)
- shared vehicles (boat, bike, motorcycle, car etc)
- sharing a home
- homemaking responsibilities
- business ownership
- giving/receiving advice
- shared information (who do you tell important stuff to first?)
- sharing a calendar
- vacation time
- making future plans
- sharing financial responsibility
- making financial decisions
- giving gifts or investments together
- community identity (think of roles you might share in community spaces)
- meeting family
- co-parenting/meeting children
Then ask yourself what behaviors support these areas of value. I highly recommend talking about them with your partner before you start potentially sharing them with others.
Last but certainly not least, I see lots of folks struggle with issues about "feeling special" to their partner as they begin opening up.
There are lots of ways we communicate what's special to us. The most important (and sometimes hardest to identify) is where we devote our attention and emotional presence. It's really easy to envy new partners who receive your sweetie's full attention if you're not getting enough quality (read: distraction-free fully present) time with each other.
I highly recommend you start by building in regular time and events where you are fully present with one another. Even if you never practice non-monogamy.
Being special also shows up in other actions. Consider the possibilities below and notice which carry meaning for you.
- sharing special holidays
- honoring birthdays together
- giving/receiving thoughtful gifts
- giving/receiving expensive gifts
- offering acts of service (laundry, dishes... acts that make your partner's life easier)
- holding specific roles (partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, soul mate...)
- sharing certain kinds of physical affection
- sharing certain kinds of sexual activity or play
- using specific words (date, love, forever...)
- honoring anniversaries together
- sharing rituals (commitment ceremonies, religious and spiritual practices)
- sharing meaningful tokens (saving ticket stubs from dates, wearing rings)
- shared history and stories
- creating future plans/dreaming together
Ask yourself what kind of specific behaviors support that feeling of "specialness" for you. Again, I highly recommend talking about them with your partner before you start potentially sharing them with others.
If you want to talk more about any of these I'm here for you. It's always easier to try to think through opening up in advance (proactively) rather than after an issue or hurt arises (reactively). Call me.
Hi! I'm glad you're reading. Let me know if I can help you:
- reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
- rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity
- manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
- resolve sexual dysfunction & disconnect
- change communication & codependent patterns
- open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).
Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.