Why We Went Back to Monogamy (Part 3)

In twelve years supporting open relationships, polyamorous folks, and consensually non-monogamous couples I’ve seen an amazing variety of options play out.

Over and over, I see that folks who stay together are share three common traits:

  1. They are highly invested in staying together, listening to each other, seeing things from the other’s perspective, and slowing things down to a pace that’s liveable for all.

  2. They have a little humility about the mistakes they make and are self-aware enough to hold themselves accountable apologize to impacted lovers and to do better in the future.

  3. They’re willing to adapt their non-monogamy practice to their relationships’ needs over time.

It’s that third option we rarely hear about in polyamorous communities. Many folks think about negotiating non-monogamy as if once you decide to open things up you can never go back. But that all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t create enough room for most couple’s to be creative.

Just because you start a conversation about open relationships doesn’t mean you have to act on it. And just because you tried dating other folks once doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever.

Just like just because you “tried polyamory once and it didn’t work” doesn’t mean it could never work in your life again.

Conceptualizing your agreements are a temporary working document (one you make amendments to over time) helps alleviate a lot of the stress couples face when they talk about opening up.

Today I wanted to add to the case studies I’ve shared before adding a couple stories from couples who decided to go back to monogamy after practicing polyamory and/or an open marriage for a few years.

Sandra & Martin*

Married, 17 years, Monogamish 14 years, Lawyer & Real Estate Agent (47 and 42), living with 2 cats in Portland, Oregon (USA), and 3 children from previous marriages (27, 23, and 20 living on their own).


When we completed our work together that second time I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hear from them again. They were, after all, a really loving very connected couple with great communication skills and a strong commitment to their marriage.

So I was surprised when I heard from them four months later. This time, they said, they were looking to take a break from non-monogamy altogether and they wanted my help transitioning to monogamy and repairing the damage they felt it had done to their partnership.

When we met we looked back at the initial intentions they had for opening their marriage (I revisit intentions often in my work with clients- even monogamous ones). I wanted to make sure they had ways to meet their needs for sexual exploration, sexual diversity, intimate relationships, autonomy and independence, and adventure in a more monogamous framework.

Stopping seeing other people wasn’t going to resolve those needs. And it wasn’t going to necessarily bring them closer. So I wanted to get really clear about why they were ending things with their now more serious relationships with lovers. Here’s what they said:

  • The good wasn’t outweighing the bad.

  • They felt they’d met their needs for exploration.

  • They learned a lot in the process and enough.

  • They felt they’d given it a really solid try with support and solid tools.

  • They’d made some great friends, but not the really strong connections they’d hoped for.

  • Ultimately it was causing more problems than it was serving them.

I wanted to focus our time on the repair they desperately needed. Over the course of their two-year journey both of them had unintentionally caused hurts and broken trust and both of them had said hurtful things in heated conflicts that needed attention.

So we spent our time doing serious repair work. Both of them needed to own and apologize for hurts they’d caused (whether intentionally or unintentionally) and recognize the impact their behaviors had on their spouse. And even though they weren’t going to see other people, we needed to create clear plans to avoid getting into nasty low-blog arguments if things ever got heated again.

Which we did, and as they reminded me, they hadn’t had high conflicts like that before they started seeing other people. They are both highly skilled communicators and they do navigate challenges really well as a team. For them an open marriage brought up conflict too tender to manage even with all their skills and efforts.

What they learned

Finally, we focused our last sessions on all the learning that had come from their years of open marriage. Here’s what they said:

  • We loved getting out and meeting more people.

  • We loved building independent friendships.

  • Having more sex with each other and others people was fun.

  • Building structures to make sure we prioritize our relationship really helps us stay connected. We have to stay committed to them.

  • Learning tools for self-soothing and managing emotional reactivity helped us in many areas of life (not just our marriage).

  • Going through a truly vulnerable experience brought us much closer together.

  • Getting a therapist and a coach onboard for relationship support saved our marriage.

  • Building independent outlets and social circles still brings us lots of joy.


So we worked together to create meaningful ways to bring their other relationships to a close. They wanted to honor the connections they’d made with these really fantastic people and to respect the vulnerability of their other partners in the process. And (if possible) they wanted to maintain friendships with their lovers veen as they transitioned to monogamy.

They made agreements about how they would come together when new attractions and crushes came their way in the future and what the boundaries of their monogamy would look like moving forward.

And they agreed if they ever wanted to open the door to consensual non-monogamy again (which, they might) they’d get support right from the start well before starting things up with others.


Summary

I offer this case study to normalize the fact that while open relationships are great for many people and can really work well, they are not the best fit for every couple every time. Even folks with strong commitment, love, and communication skills can find it just doesn’t work for them.

Don’t be afraid to take a step back, or to take consensual non-mongamy off the table if you need to. It might not be the right fit for you right now.


*Many of the hundreds of clients I work with in my practice share similar stories. I’ve combined the experiences of many of them who’ve shared a journey back to monogamy here to articulate the central themes. I’ve changed identifying details to protect their anonymity while preserving some of their words for emotional accuracy.


Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

Madison Alternative relationships
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 

  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts

  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty

  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online. 

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.  


Why We Went Back to Monogamy (Part 2)

In twelve years supporting open relationships, polyamorous folks, and consensually non-monogamous couples I’ve seen an amazing variety of options play out.

Over and over, I see that folks who stay together are share three common traits:

  1. They are highly invested in staying together, listening to each other, seeing things from the other’s perspective, and slowing things down to a pace that’s liveable for all.

  2. They have a little humility about the mistakes they make and are self-aware enough to hold themselves accountable apologize to impacted lovers and to do better in the future.

  3. They’re willing to adapt their non-monogamy practice to their relationships’ needs over time.


It’s that third option we rarely hear about in polyamorous communities. Many folks think about negotiating non-monogamy as if once you decide to open things up you can never go back. But that all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t create enough room for most couple’s to be creative.

Just because you start a conversation about open relationships doesn’t mean you have to act on it. And just because you tried dating other folks once doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever.

Just like just because you “tried polyamory once and it didn’t work” doesn’t mean it could never work in your life again.

Conceptualizing your agreements are a temporary working document (one you make amendments to over time) helps alleviate a lot of the stress couples face when they talk about opening up.

Today I wanted to add to the case studies I’ve shared before adding a couple stories from couples who decided to go back to monogamy after practicing polyamory and/or an open marriage for a few years.

Sandra & Martin*

Married, 17 years, Monogamish 14 years, Lawyer & Real Estate Agent (47 and 42), living with 2 cats in Portland, Oregon (USA), and 3 children from previous marriages (27, 23, and 20 living on their own).

Read about the beginning of our work here.

When they originally started with me they had taken a three week break from seeing other people to reconnect, but Sandra had plans to see other guys again and Martin was still actively connecting with women online.

They knew something had to change to shift them out of these intense negative conflicts they were in. We began by clarifying the agreements they’d set out about communication and personal boundaries with other people. At that time they settled on two foundational agreements:

  1. Only having casual relationships with others. Which for them meant not exploring love and deep emotional intimacy, long-term romantic plans or futures, and not sharing holidays with other partners. They also planned not to have sleepovers, gifts, travel or dates where other partners came to their house.

  2. Limiting contact with other partners to twice weekly, and limiting their communication with other partners to a specific schedule. This also meant saving certain nights of the week “just for them” where they didn’t respond to messages from other lovers.

We focused most of our time together on clarifying agreements, managing conflict with more skill and helping Martin learn tools for self-soothing with intense emotion came up.

In two months they were feeling much more deeply connected, fighting far less and working through conflicts more quickly. Having regular date nights helped them feel reassured, and working to empathize and take each other’s perspective helped shift from rigidity in conflicts. And, as it turned out, both Martin and Sandra benefitted from self-soothing techniques when they started actively seeing other people again.

So they moved on from our work feeling confident and grounded with a full toolbox.

Starting again

I heard from them again ten months later when they began experiencing another round of intense conflicts and reactivity. This time, for the first time ever, Sandra had brought up the possibility that they should divorce. This shocked them sober, knowing neither of them really wanted to split up, and believing there had to be another path forward.

Over the months since we’d last met Martin had met two women he was really enjoying connecting with, and while he assured Sandra they in no way replaced her, she felt incredibly insecure. They had switched roles. Now Sandra was losing sleep and deeply worried about the stability of their union.

Sandra didn’t know if they should continue practicing non-monogamy, and Martin was really enjoying connecting with other women. Right around the same time Sandra had two dates ghost her and she was very suddenly dumped by the one guy she really had a good time with. She was experiencing a dry spell dating and feeling sad about the break up while Martin was finally experiencing a sense of ease and having a lot of fun.

We revisited the self-soothing and jealousy management tools Martin had employed months earlier with Sandra and some of them helped. She also realized some of what was coming up was related to watching her parents experience infidelity and a traumatic divorce. A very young part of her was constantly worried she and Martin could be headed for divorce and seeing him connect with others was really challenging that part inside her.

Meanwhile Martin was having a hard time empathizing with her experience, while he remembered how it felt to be in Sandra’s shoes, a part of him felt sort of justified in his earlier reactivity and he was no longer concerned about their relationship’s stability- that is, until Sandra brought up divorce. He was shocked and a little blindsided worrying she might leave him very suddenly.

We realized quickly that a lot of what was showing up in this iteration of their work centered on some early life relationship role modeling they’d each had. This personal work is often supported with attachment therapy, and I connected them each with excellent trained attachment therapists to support their individual processes uncovering what they’d learned in their families.

A Note About Therapy

I refer almost everyone I work with to individual therapy at some point. it’s such an important support for working through the deeper issues that come up in almost everyone who tries consensual non-monogamy after a lifetime of monogamous relationships.

Often clients I work with have very few friends or family they can really talk about non-monogamy with (without facing judgment). Having a therapist helps them have a space to get clear on their own and alleviates some of the pressure on their primary partner to be their only source of emotional support.

If you want to find a therapist and you want to focus on consensual non-monogamy, I recommend asking the following screening questions before setting up an appointment:

  • How many consensually non-monogamous, open, or polyamorous relationships have you supported professionally?

  • What professional training or education do you have in the practice of consensual non-monogamy?

  • Do they have any personal lived experience with polyamory or non-monogamy?


Continuing Our Work

As a couple there are a lot of ways folks can work through issues of attachment that come up together (that’s usually where they come up). Learning to better understand the default settings both partners have (based on their early life) and the ways those manifest as adults is a starting spot. This helps couples identify and correct course when these kinds of challenges come up.

Sandra and Martin needed to learn to better balance when one of them needed space in a conflict, and the other wanted closeness. We created safe ways for them to ask for more space and/or connection without rushing to a catastrophic conclusion like “we’re going to get a divorce.”

Sandra also wanted to revisit their agreements. She now agreed with me that they needed a tune up. Her training as a lawyer showed when she detailed very specific agreements with an appendix and addendum. The specificity was a little overwhelming to Martin, but he agreed they needed more clarity. We worked together to find a compromise that was clear and functional (though much longer than their first set) for both of them.

They had also realized that in the excitement of dating they’d once again de-prioritized spending quality time together. We created some structures to help them keep their connection strong and invest in sharing adventure and spark even while adventuring with other partners.

In a few weeks they were feeling grounded again with better tools and a new set of agreements. They were both dating casually and enjoying connecting with each other and other people. Again they decided to take a break from our work moving forward with confidence.


*Many of the hundreds of clients I work with in my practice share similar stories. I’ve combined the experiences of many of them who’ve shared a journey back to monogamy here to articulate the central themes. I’ve changed identifying details to protect their anonymity while preserving some of their words for emotional accuracy.


Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

Madison Alternative relationships
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 

  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts

  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty

  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online. 

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.  


Why We Went Back to Monogamy

In twelve years supporting open relationships, polyamorous folks, and consensually non-monogamous couples I’ve seen an amazing variety of options play out.

Over and over, I see that folks who stay together are share three common traits:

  1. They are highly invested in staying together, listening to each other, seeing things from the other’s perspective, and slowing things down to a pace that’s liveable for all.

  2. They have a little humility about the mistakes they make and are self-aware enough to hold themselves accountable apologize to impacted lovers and to do better in the future.

  3. They’re willing to adapt their non-monogamy practice to their relationship’s needs over time.


It’s that third option we rarely hear about in polyamorous communities. Many folks think about negotiating non-monogamy as if once you decide to open things up you can never go back. But that all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t create enough room for most couple’s to be creative.

Just because you start a conversation about open relationships doesn’t mean you have to act on it. And just because you tried dating other folks once doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever.

Just like just because you “tried polyamory once and it didn’t work” doesn’t mean it could never work in your life again.

Conceptualizing your agreements are a temporary working document (one you make amendments to over time) helps alleviate a lot of the stress couples face when they talk about opening up.

Today I wanted to add to the case studies I’ve shared before adding a couple stories from couples who decided to go back to monogamy after practicing polyamory and/or an open marriage for a few years.


Sandra & Martin*

Married, 17 years, Monogamish 14 years, Lawyer & Real Estate Agent (47 and 42), living with 2 cats in Portland, Oregon (USA), and 3 children from previous marriages (27, 23, and 20 living on their own).

Sandra and Martin came to my practice after one year of practicing some forms of consensual non-monogamy. They’d been together 15 years and were very much in love but for a few reasons wanted to expand the intimacy in their lives. These included:

  • Wanting more sexual diversity and experience (Martin had only had sex one prior partner)

  • Needing more independence and autonomy in their lives

  • Craving personal growth through relationships with other people

  • Hoping to renew desire between them

  • Wanting more intimate friends and community


Starting to Open Up

They’d been to a few sex clubs in town together and had met a few other couples online for dates. However they ran into a very common issue for couples who try to date together: often they’d find a partner one of them found attractive, but not the other. Or, in many cases, no one they really had chemistry with.

So they began thinking about seeing other people individually. They created online dating profiles and talked about their agreements. Very quickly Sandra started to hear from men through OKCupid, but Martin wasn’t hearing back from anyone.

Side note: in nearly every cisgender heterosexual couples I’ve seen the male partner struggles to find dates far more than the female partner. This often creates pretty intense jealousy for guys- you’re not alone if that’s you.



When They Came to Couples Work

So when they came in, Martin was dealing with all the intense feelings that come with jealousy, insecurity and typically the first year of practicing consensual non-monogamy (for most folks). This meant his stomach was upset, he was having trouble at focusing at work, and he was having really intense feelings of panic and embarrassment.

I should mention here that Martin is a really mild-mannered well-spoken guy. He’s done a lot of personal reflection, has strong communication skills, and is a really nice guy. But for him, like many people, when his reactivity showed up he was struggling to use the skills he used everywhere else in his life.

Meanwhile Sandra was having fun meeting other people but kept trying to comfort Martin- she wasn’t leaving, and there wasn’t anything to fear. She was confused and overwhelmed because truly, as she put it “I could take it or leave it” about polyamory.

So they were caught in a cycle feeling like one moment they were aligned and connected and trying on a new adventure together and another they were arguing with an intensity neither of them had seen in the 15 years prior.

Let me stop there and say these dynamics aren’t unique to these two - far from it. Most couples I work with (even those who have talked for years about opening their relationship) are within the first two to twelve months of actually dating and/or sleeping with other people and they are facing really intense highs and really really low lows.

Often they say they’ve never felt so much intensity, and most of them say the emotions and conflicts are really overwhelming.



*Many of the hundreds of clients I work with in my practice share similar stories. I’ve combined the experiences of many of them who’ve shared a journey back to monogamy here to articulate the central themes. I’ve changed identifying details to protect their anonymity while preserving some of their words for emotional accuracy.


Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

Madison Alternative relationships
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 

  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts

  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty

  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online. 

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.  


Navigating the Holidays for Open Relationships

I was so honored to be interviewed on the Hearts and Other Sex Parts Podcast last week specifically because we focused on one of the biggest topics of conversation in my practice this time of year: how to manage holidays when you have more than one partner.

For most people certain holidays carry real meaning- and Valentine’s Day is often a romantic holiday for couples (monogamous or otherwise). When you have more than one sweetie it can add pressure to plan for holidays because while love is infinite, time, money and energy are limited. And when scarcity arises often anxiety isn’t far behind.

Listen in to my conversation with podcast host Keely Helmick for a few tips on navigating the holidays with more than one partner and leave a comment on my page if you’ve got advice to share about managing multiple partnerships over holidays form your own life. I’d love to hear from you!

An Accurate History of Marriage?

I spend lots of time in sessions talking with folks who wonder why some of the most common ways we do committed relationships doesn’t work for them.

Why do we do marriage for love, and what is love anyway? What happens when love changes over time?

And why do we split household tasks the way we do? How can we create a more egalitarian breakdown than whatever our families modeled? How do we keep equality erotic?

How can we break out of these normative partnerships?

How do we build something intentional instead of defaulting to practices we know don’t work?

One of the first steps in intentional change is growing awareness, and WOW do I have a great resource for you this week. Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedantam, recently covered the history of marriage and it is FULL of great information about how we ended up with many of the cultural norms about marriage that we currently practice.

Taking a closer look at the ways we practice love and commitment, the practices we consider “normal” helps us use discernment about if and when we want to choose them today.

Listen here:

And let me know what you think. How does knowing this history change what you want to practice? How does it affirm the practices you’ve already chosen? Which parts of this hostory apply to your relationship experiences?


How to Spot a Relationship Expert

relationship expert open relationship coach polyamory coach nonmonogamy

GAH! Here I am trying to eat between sessions and I run into yet another set of terrible relationship advice by some online "expert!"

Folks giving out awful advice and opinions abound online, here's what you need to know to find someone who can actually help you.

BOUNDARIES

When you're seeking advice consider the source.  If you want ongoing support for your relationship you need someone who understands clear boundaries, expectations, and communication.  If they can't do it in a professional setting, be sure they can't help you learn to do it in a personal one.

Find someone with clear professional guidelines they follow. This helps them be sure they can support you without getting tangled up in your (or their own) shit.  

I outline my boundaries on my website, in contracts, in initial sessions, screening calls, and by following the ethics codes of two professional organizations.  If you're hoping to work with someone ask them about the boundaries of their work.

EXPERIENCE

Find someone with lived and professional experience related to whatever topics you want to focus on.  Lived experience helps them have empathy and deeper understanding.  Of course, if they have solid boundaries they're not going to use your time to go into great detail about their own stuff- but you can ask if they've experienced similar struggles.  

At the same time be sure they don't ONLY have personal life experience, but also PROFESSIONAL experience to back up their work.  There are far too many opinionated "experts" who just want to teach you the way they do relationships who don't actually know what they're talking about, or how to help you. Hire someone trained. 

You can ask them about their experience- or better yet, ask them how many folks they've supported (professionally) who are working on the stuff you want to focus on.  If they haven't had much experience hire someone else, you're not here to train them.

EDUCATION

Lived and professional experience is critical, but they are two of three critical pieces of this work. You also want someone who has studied or read a few things to back up whatever they're selling you.  Ask them what books, teachers, research, and training they draw from when they work with people.  Be sure you hire someone who knows what's up.

PROOF

Ask to see proof their work actually, well, works.  Do they have testimonials or data that shows they're good at what they're doing?  You don't want to hire someone who over-promises in an inauthentic program, but you need to know what to expect.  Ask how they measure success in their work.

NON-JUDGMENT

Finally (but probably most importantly) it is essential you find a professional who takes a non-judgmental approach.  Far too many therapists, coaches, and healers come to the table with their own biased agendas that will compete with your needs.

Are they pushing non-monogamy? Do they believe monogamy is the best path? Are they really shame-free about sexuality? If they've got hang-ups in these areas they're going to carry over into your work.

If you can't say things to them for fear of judgment, shame, or criticism, please please please hire someone who can set all of that aside and meet you with clear presence.

Thanks for reading through my rant.  I get protective of my clients and see far too many people who've had negative experiences with couples therapists, marriage counselors, and sex educators along the way.  It's super risky to reach out for help- I hope this helps you discern a solid fit for your vulnerability work.


Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

gina senarighi polyamory coach open relationship coach
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon. 

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.  

Example Polyamory Rules (Agreements for Healthy Non-monogamy Part 6)

I started writing a blog about open relationship boundaries and recommended rules for polyamory for newly open relationships and got so into it I wrote a book. I’m going to break is down into a series so you can more easily dip in and out as you need.

Read the whole thing here.

There are many kinds of agreements couples sort out to make consensual non-monogamy work for them.  Because they are often one of the first things new clients ask about I wanted to outline the main ones here to help all of you wondering the same things. 


POLYAMORY RULES & NON-MONOGAMY AGREEMENTS: MANAGING PERCEPTIONS

These are some of the most difficult boundaries to clarify. ALL OF US enter into and navigate relationships with some expectations and some tender spots that require consideration. ALL OF US attach meaning to certain behaviors we share with other people. 

VERY FEW OF US are clear about those expectations, tender spots, and meaningful behaviors within ourselves- let alone with our partners. And the more we can get clear about these for ourselves, the better we can communicate them to partners. And the more we can navigate them without feeling as though we're walking through a minefield.

IMPACT/PERCEPTION-BASED AGREEMENTS, EXPECTATIONS, & CONSIDERATIONS

The other tricky component of these is how much of them is based in perception- which can lead us straight into judgment of a partner without any input from them. I can imagine any of these are part of my partner's experience and grow resentment without ever checking in with them. This is a trap (and a surefire path to relationship troubles).

Usually sharing these meaningful actions are part of deepening intimacy in couples. That’s also why some of them have such deep impact when we start sharing them with others. We start thinking we and/or our relationship is less important, meaningful or special.

Checking our assumptions, stories, and perceptions in these areas will bring you closer, and help you stay out of hurtful misunderstandings. I ask you to consider the most common tender spots I've witnessed among my clients and notice which topics resonate with you.

The areas I’m sharing are often ways we measure our importance in another person’s life. Notice if any feel especially meaningful, special, or precious to you in your relationships. 

COMMUNITY, FRIENDS & FAMILY

Often when we’re in a long-term committed relationship we meet each other’s family, close friends, and build shared community. This is an important part of deepening intimacy. However, these elements carry different weight in every relationship and with each partner. 

Here are a few agreements clients of mine have discussed in the past: 

  • "We meet each other’s new partners before they meet our shared friends or family."
  • "We don’t date people from our church or work."
  • "Our other partners don’t meet our children until further notice."
  • "I'd rather we don't share pictures of our kids online."
  • "I love being on the dodgeball team with you.  I want to avoid drama or complication by avoiding romantic or sexual connections there."
  • "Please let me know if you think you might introduce your new girlfriend to your best friend."
  • "We are only out about being polyamorous to [friend or family member]."
  • "I want to go to this family wedding with you, and no other partners."
  • "We’ll tell our family about our other partnerships when we’re both present."
  • "I want to check in before we tell anyone about being in an open relationship."

SPACES, EVENTS, RITUALS & HOLIDAYS

In the typical relationship trajectory couples ultimately build a shared home.  If you’re building an intentional relationship you know this is optional, but it may still be meaningful. Many of us attach meaning to special days and events. 

Knowing which of these are meaningful to you will help you communicate compassionately to create open relationship agreements with your partner. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • "I’m not ready to share space with your other partners."
  • "I’d rather we use the same overnight guest processes we use with out of town friends with our dating partners: two weeks notice whenever possible, we still sleep next to each other, they sleep in the guest room, we don’t share a bathroom."
  • "You’re the only person I want to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve."
  • "Can you make sure our messy closet is closed when you have people over?"
  • "Let’s leave that restaurant/club/park/city just for us."
  • "It’s important to have us both present opening gifts on Christmas morning."
  • "I’d rather you don’t see that movie/show/band without me."
  • "Even if we celebrate your birthday differently, it’s important to me we spent the actual day of your birthday together."
  • "Let’s not date any neighbors or anyone from the kid’s school."
  • "We’re very involved in the Timbers Army.  We’re not going to mix in drama by dating others in this community."
  • "My bedroom is my sanctuary.  I’d like to know anyone before I share a bed with them, and that includes you inviting anyone else into our bed."
  • "When I hear the news about [exciting thing I’m anticipating] I want to call you right away."
  • "I’m not looking to trade wedding vows with anyone else."
  • "I would never get a tattoo or piercing with another partner."
  • "We make mac n cheese every year on our anniversary. Silly or not, I’d rather not share mac n cheese with anyone else."
  • "We planted this garden together and I’m not ready to share it with other friends."
  • "We lift together every day, so we have agreed not to date anyone from the gym."
  • "I want to be you’re only wedding date."
  • "When we have an emergency we’re still each other’s first call."

OBJECTS & GIFTS

Many of us cherish special jewelry, photos, mementos, or gifts because they are unique and/or meaningful to the relationship. They remind us of a special time, event, or interaction.  And because they carry meaning it can bring up tenderness to share them with others.

I’ll share some examples to consider, notice which spark thoughts about your own relationship.

  • "Please don’t loan anything from our house to other people without checking in with me."
  • "I bought special desserts for the event tonight, please don't eat them."
  • "We have a “leave no trace” policy, where we don’t bring anything (even carry out or receipts) home from other dates."
  • "I’m not ready to trade wedding bands with anyone else."
  • "I know you like sleeping in my t-shirts, but I’d rather they not go on sleepovers to your other date’s houses."
  • "I save ticket stubs to events I go to with special people.  I’ve decided not to co-mingle my collections from different relationships."
  • "I’ll have too much trouble with comparison if you tell me the gifts you get other partners. I don’t want to know that piece."
  • "I’d prefer you not wear the special perfume I bought you on dates with other people."  

LANGUAGE, STORIES, & WISHES

The language we use, stories we tell ourselves and others and the dreams we share all carry deep meaning in most relationships.  It can be upsetting to imagine expanding these to include other people.  Many partners start wondering what their role is now, and the words we use to tell our relationship stories really matter.

Here are a couple examples to spark your own inquiry:

RESPONSIBILITIES & ROLES

  • “I’m not interested in sharing a pet with anyone else.”
  • “Part of how we keep our relationship light is avoiding shared responsibilities or obligations. Those feel like more commitment than we want here.”
  • “I like knowing we’re the primary consult partner for each other in all major life decisions.  Of course, we talk about things with other people, but we’re the only ones who share decision-making authority.”
  • “I’m fine with him seeing other women as long as it doesn’t mean he slacking around the house.”
  • “We have an agreement not to disrupt out kid’s lives with our additional dating life.”
  • "I like being your only dance lead. Can we talk about formal dancing with other people?"
  • “I just don’t want to play babysitter while you’re seeing other people.  When either of us goes on a date with someone else it's their responsibility to find a sitter so the other can go out or have personal space too.”

LABELS & FEELINGS

  • “I’m not ready to use terms like girlfriend or partner we’re just friends with benefits.”
  • “We don’t use the word ‘love’ in other relationships.”
  • “I like being called you’re ‘lover’.”
  • “It’s important to me that we call each other ‘primaries’ and have a set of boundaries to enforce that role behaviorally.”
  • “I prefer to describe us as polyamorous and I know he tells people we’re in an open marriage.”
  • "I'd like to know you're in love before you tell someone else."

DREAMS & FANTASIES

  • “We’ve been dreaming of going to Paris for years. It would really hurt me if you started building that dream with another partner.”
  • “Let’s check in about our future visions if and when they start including more partners.”
  • “We’ve agreed not to share fantasies that involve other people because it’s too triggering for us emotionally right now.”
  • “It’s hot for me to hear about the sex you’re having with other people. Will you check with them to make sure it’s okay to tell me all about it?”
  • "I know you want to be a father and I don't want to be a parent.  Maybe there's a way to find another partner who wants to co-parent with you?"
  • “I’ve been really open and vulnerable with you about my new crush, but I feel so sensitive about it I’d prefer you not tell anyone else about it for now.”
  • “Can we keep this dream between us for now?”
  • “We’ve been imagining living on a large community farm with lots of loving friends and partners living on the land for a long time.  I know we want to invite others when we feel close to them but can you and I check in first before we start talking about that dream with other people?”

Wanna talk about healthy boundaries or opening your relationship? Give me a call.


Gina Senarighi POlyamory Coach | Open Relationship Therapist | Open Marriage Therapy

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon. 

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.  

Example Non-Monogamy Rules (Agreements for Healthy Open Relationships Part 5)

I started writing a blog about open relationship boundaries and recommended rules for polyamory for newly open relationships and got so into it I wrote a book. I’m going to break is down into a series so you can more easily dip in and out as you need.

Read the whole thing here.

There are many kinds of agreements couples sort out to make consensual non-monogamy work for them.  Because they are often one of the first things new clients ask about I wanted to outline the main ones here to help all of you wondering the same things. 


OPEN RELATIONSHIP RULES & POLYAMORY AGREEMENTS: SHARED RESOURCES

RESOURCE AGREEMENTS

I'm often quoted by clients for saying "love and attraction are infinite, but time, money, and energy are not."  Because these are limited in quantity they lead to lots of conflict in couples practicing polyamory and non-monogamy.  It can be very important to create agreements around them.

Lots of folks build relationships based on assumptions that the ultimate goal is to share all our time, all our money, or all our energy with just one person.  While that may be the right plan for some relationships, defaulting to this assumption without intention leads many to misunderstandings.

Shared resources are also often a way we measure intimacy, demonstrate priority, or evaluate importance in relationships.  For couples practicing hierarchical non-monogamy (where one relationship is deemed more significant than others), it's essential to get clear about the weight these carry in your relationship.   

TIME

If you read anything about polyamory you'll see this is the number one area of conflict for folks navigating open relationships. Folks often attempt to measure time in quality and in quantity. Typically agreements reflect this. Here are a few examples:

  • "We know to put things on hold if our family schedule is disrupted."
  • "It's hard to see you spending quality time with other people when we spend so little together.  Can we set up some special time just for us?"
  • "We try to go on more dates with each other than other people."
  • "Our weekends are just for us."
  • "I'm open to seeing folks any night, but our Sunday morning sleep-in sessions are important to me. Can you make sure nothing interrupts those?
  • "We make our travel plans before making plans with other partners."
  • "We only see other people on Fridays."

MONEY

Because our society emphasizes money, and for many of us it represents stability, it brings up intense feelings of scarcity, uncertainty, and/or personal worth when it's connected to relationships. Here are a few agreements couples have made to help navigate those feelings.

  • "We only share finances with each other."
  • "We check in before loaning anyone more than $50."
  • "We don't give gifts to other partners."
  • "We need to save up for the new roofing project.  I'd like to hold off on expensive dates for a while."
  • "I don't care how much money you spend on your dates or gifts for other partners."
  • "We shop for Christmas gifts for our partners and give them together."
  • "We created separate accounts for our private dating lives."
  • "We have a household budget for porn and leather supplies."
  • "He funds his own travel to see her."

ENERGY

This resource is often overlooked in our over-busy over-committed society, but there is a limit to personal energy. I once had a client suggest she could run two businesses, be in graduate school, train for a marathon and add a third high-intensity partnership to her life.

Yes, you can do all the things, but you cannot do them all at once. 

So I often think about physical energy boundaries as a far more personal boundary to set. How will you maintain the energy needed to maintain and manage multiple relationships? How will you reserve the energy needed to do your own emotional work as you open your relationship? What indicators can you watch for that will let you know your tank is nearing empty?

Here are a few ideas from my clients:

  • "I know I'm out of balance when I start skipping the gym."
  • "If I am complaining I'm tired two days in a row I need to refocus on sleep.
  • "I can't take on another partnership until I complete my dissertation."
  • "One of my partnerships needs a lot of care right now, I'm not going to pursue any new relationships until this one has stabilized."
  • "I feel out of touch with myself. I think I'm too caught up in new relationship energy."
  • "I know this is taking up too much energy because I'm not getting any alone time."
  • "I feel overwhelmed by the response to my OKC profile. I didn't do this to add stress. I'm going to limit how often I check the account."

Wanna talk about healthy boundaries or opening your relationship? Give me a call.


Gina Senarighi POlyamory Coach | Open Relationship Therapist | Open Marriage Therapy

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon. 

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.  

Example Polyamory Rules (Agreements for Healthy Non-monogamy Part 4)

I started writing a blog about open relationship boundaries and recommended rules for polyamory for newly open relationships and got so into it I wrote a book. I’m going to break is down into a series so you can more easily dip in and out as you need.

Read the whole thing here.

There are many kinds of agreements couples sort out to make consensual non-monogamy work for them.  Because they are often one of the first things new clients ask about I wanted to outline the main ones here to help all of you wondering the same things. 


POLYAMORY RULES & NON-MONOGAMY AGREEMENTS: CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING

SITUATIONAL/CONTEXTUAL AGREEMENTS

Many clients come to me with a singular focus as their intention in beginning non-monogamy. These often are:

  •  There is a specific person one or both of them want to build an ongoing relationship with
  • One partner is bisexual or pansexual and wants to explore their sexuality with a different gender
  • One partner has a specific kink or fetish interest that isn't shared by the other or they don't want to share in their current relationship
  • One partner travels for work often or for long periods of time and they both get lonely
  • There is a specific inspirational or stimulating event where they imagine they might connect with other people

These focused conversations in non-monogamy often center the conversation on specific interactions. They are often layered with other types of agreements and support the inevitability in polyamory that relationships need to evolve with the situations, opportunities, and contexts that arise.

Here are a few sample polyamory agreements or open relationship "rules" to consider:

  • "Enjoy the bachelorette party this weekend. Please go ahead and do what you want, but use protection."
  • "Just for tonight, while we're at the club lets try to meet someone to join us at home, but let's check in before we make plans or get their number."
  • "We've been talking about exploring with other people at Burning Man. Let's come up with a different set of agreements just for that week to help us make the most of it."
  • "We don't date members of the opposite sex, but since he's bisexual every other weekend he hooks up with guys on Grindr usually at their homes.  I just like him to let me know where he is and use protection so I know we're safe."
  • "Go ahead and make out with all the other women you want.  I think it's hot."
  • "Look, since we both agree Joe Manganiello and Sofía Vergara‎ are the hottest couple alive. If either of us ever has a chance with either of them I say we go for it."
  • "While you're away at your 3-month European internship I'd like to date other people.  Can we agree to limit connections to that time frame?"
  • "Please feel free to find a fuck-buddy or a bed-warmer who can keep you company while I'm on assignment out of the country. If I have space amid this project, I might hire a sex worker to fill my needs too."
  • "I know you're going to see your long-lost-love at this event. If you feel connected to them and want to be physically intimate, will you just text me so I have time to work through my feelings before you get home?"
  • "You have always been inspired by colleagues at {conference in another city} if something comes up there please enjoy it, but know I will be uncomfortable if it continues beyond the conference."
  • "I can't stand the idea of her being hurt, so I don't want to go to the dungeon with her.  But I help her get dressed and pick out outfits. I know it's not a sexual thing even though it's arousing for both of us."

Wanna talk about healthy boundaries or opening your relationship? Give me a call.


Gina Senarighi POlyamory Coach | Open Relationship Therapist | Open Marriage Therapy

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon. 

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.  

Example Polyamory Rules (Agreements for Healthy Non-monogamy Part 3)

I started writing a blog about open relationship boundaries and recommended rules for polyamory for newly open relationships and got so into it I wrote a book. I’m going to break is down into a series so you can more easily dip in and out as you need.

Read the whole thing here.

There are many kinds of agreements couples sort out to make consensual non-monogamy work for them.  Because they are often one of the first things new clients ask about I wanted to outline the main ones here to help all of you wondering the same things. 


POLYAMORY RULES & NON-MONOGAMY AGREEMENTS: THE BOTTOM LINE

Often when I work with folks new to non-monogamy they are looking for a clear-cut set of immutable rules they can hold tight to. Unfortunately, that philosophy comes from the world of default monogamy, and human relationships are far too complex for one simple set of rules to apply for all- or for a lifetime.  

That said, there are often a small number (3-5) of agreements that are foundational sort-of guiding principles or clear triggers a couple will agree to avoid- and these may not change at all (or they may not for many years).

HARD NOS & ABSOLUTE YESS

One way to think about bottom line agreements is to come up with your individual hard nos and absolute yess.  These are things you know you don't accept or seek in relationships in general.  Most of us have a few of these that guide our romantic and sexual interactions. 

The other end of the boundary spectrum is to think about what you're inviting or requesting. Many people come to non-monogamy seeking something specific.  The more you can be upfront about what you're looking for, the more you can connect with partner's who share interests, and the clearer you can be with any original partners who want clarity about your process.

The clearer you are about these individually, the clearer you can be with your partners about what you already know you're interested in.  

Here are a few examples of these hard nos:

  • "I don't date liars."

  • "I don't tell anyone my last name until we've met twice."

  • "I'm only available after 7:00 PM on Weeknights."

  • "I don't want to sleep next to anyone else."

  • "I only want to play, not have sex."

  • "I'm not interested in relationship maintenance or emotional labor."

Here are a few examples of absolute yess"

  • "I'm looking for funny, smart people to build a social network.  I might be open to more sexual or romantic connection after we've met a few times."

  • "I'm really just looking to flirt, share pics, and message online."

  • "I'm interested exploring in rope bondage and suspension play."

  • "I've always wanted to have a threesome."

  • "I'd like to find some hot who'll be okay with me watching them fuck you."

  • "I want to find a friend I can fuck casually."

 

BLANKET/FOUNDATIONAL AGREEMENTS

Every couple has a different set of these, but some of the most common ones I hear (again, not shared by every couple) are:

  • "We'll always be honest with each other."

  • "We don't share bodily fluids (other than saliva) with other people."

  • "We get STI tested quarterly."

  • "We don't give out our home address."

  • "We'll never to go (favorite restaurant) with a date."

  • "We only see other people when traveling."

  • "We started Prep."

  • "We only do (specific sex act) with each other."

  • "We won't use the word "love" with other people."

  • "We don't plan to share finances, children, or a home with another lover."

  • "We only sleep with other partners together."

Wanna talk about healthy boundaries or opening your relationship? Give me a call.


Gina Senarighi POlyamory Coach | Open Relationship Therapist | Open Marriage Therapy

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon. 

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.