open relationship

Is it about polyamory or do you just want to leave?

polyamory counselor portland polyamory couples therapy

So your long-term monogamous partner just told you they want to open your relationship up.  Odds are you've wondered if they really want an open relationship, or if they're looking to leave you.  

This is one of the biggest fears people face when their partner brings up open relationships.  

It's a valid question, in ten years of working with couples opening up, about 30% ultimately decide they want to break up.  Lots of folks start dreaming of non-monogamy when what they're really dreaming about is escape or change.  

But that leaves nearly 70% of the couples I've seen who do want to stay together- and somehow add other people to the mix.  I want to emphasize that the majority of folks I see want to (and ultimately do) stay together.  

But how can you determine which group you fall into?  Here's what I look for when I work with newly open relationships.

Do you still have emotional energy to invest in this relationship?

All relationships require some emotional energy and maintenance work.  One of the simplest indicators of your interest to stay in a relationship is if you are willing to invest emotional energy in the relationship.  

If you're not willing to keep improving your current relationship and learning to love each other better this can be a pretty clear message you are ready to leave.

How will you continue to cultivate connection with your original partner?

The difference between typical dating and being in an open relationship is that there is a relationship in the picture.  If none of your dreams about life post-monogamy include your relationship this could be an indicator you want to leave.  

I'm not saying you have to include threesomes or shared partners in your vision of the future.  But if you can't think of tangible ways you will work to stay connected to your original partner it might be time to leave.

Are you still open to the input of your original partner?

There's been plenty of research on successful couples showing that accepting your partner's influence is critical in long-term happiness.  Here's what that actually means:

  • Do you care how your partner feels?  
  • Are you willing to talk with them about their emotions and experiences?
  • Will you take their input into your decision-making process?
  • Are you willing to really consider their perspective?  

Many of the couples I see in that 30% group want to pursue an "open relationship" where they each "do whatever they want" without talking.  It is extremely rare for that kind of open marriage to work out because it is not essentially an open relationship, it's likely dating or solo polyamory.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to date or practice solo-poly, but moving in that direction is usually in direct opposition to having an ongoing relationship.  Think about how much input and influence you really can be open to moving forward.  

Accepting influence from a partner is one of the cornerstones differentiating consensual non-monogamy from infidelity, dating, or solo-polyamory.

Why choose a relationship with this specific partner now?

This is the big one.  Every day you are in a relationship you choose to stay in it.  You have the power to chose to leave, to chose a single life, or to choose other partners- but for some reason you've chosen this partner right now.  

It's shocking how many times I ask this question and people can't identify a specific reason why they're staying with this person.  They tell me they're sure they love this person- but when I ask why they can't give me a reason. 

Or often the reason is outdated.  Maybe they used to love something about this partner and they're hoping that something will return.  Or they've changed over time but haven't updated their reasons to stay in this relationship with that personal growth.  

If you can't look at the person you're with and list clear and specific reasons you're choosing to commit to a relationship with them today, it's a good time to invest in some relationship work.  

Successful long-term couples work to stay curious about one another.  It's not easy, but staying invested in learning about your sweetie is another well-researched critical piece of relationship health.

Notice how interested you are in getting to know your partner again.  Are you curious about them?  Are you open to learning how they have changed in time?  There are lots of great ways to strengthen your partnership and reconnect (whether you decide to open things or not). - I help a lot of folks with this.  Call me if you want assistance.

A real lack of interest in getting to know your partner more might be an indicator you're moving in different directions.  

Next Steps

I hope these questions help you get some clarity about your interest in staying together.  I made a simple reflection guide to help you dive deeper into these questions.  

Download the relationship worksheet by clicking below.

If you want more personalized attention call me for a consultation.  I'm happy to talk with you about your relationship goals.


polyamory counseling online couples therapist for non-monogamy

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

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move beyond jealousy, insecurity or codependency
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns 
  • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care

Call me for a free consultation to rethink your relationship.

 

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

You Asked, I Answered: Questions About Polyamory

open marriage poly questions | polyamory advice | nonmonogamy | open relationships

I get asked a lot of great questions about my work- especially my work with polyamory and non-monogamy.  Here's a short list of the most commonly asked questions about open relationships.  

Read more of the most frequently asked questions by my clients here

poly questions | polyamory advice | nonmonogamy | open relationships

Do you believe polyamory or monogamy is healthier?

I don't think relationship health is determined by the number of partners involved- but I do believe it can be measured by the level of communication, empathy, trust, and connection experienced by partners.  

For some people open relationship structures are overwhelming.  And for others monogamy is stifling.  I don't think you always have to choose one or the other, but I want all my couples to be able to openly discuss these with kindness and ease.

How did you learn about open relationships?

I became interested in couples work when I was in graduate school studying couples counseling.  I was fortunate to study in a holistic program that emphasized non-traditional therapeutic styles.  I was also really lucky to intern at the Gottman Relationship Research Institute when I finished school and really learn about strengthening trust in relationships.  

I wrote my final research on non-monogamy in couples therapy and have only expanded my research and education since then.  I left the profession of mental health therapy in 2016 to focus on coaching this population.

Does non-monogamy really work?

Absolutely.  If you define "working" as being together a long time, I will tell you I've supported couples who are married or who have been together for 14, 17, 22, and over 40 years while practicing many forms of nonmonogamy.  

If you define "working" by being generally satisfied with your relationship, supporting one another's growth, feeling empathy and desire for your partner I will tell you I've supported couples who are married and/or who have been together for 4, 17, 22, and over 40 years while practicing many forms of nonmonogamy.

But to make non-monogamy work, you need to be willing to do some work.  That's where I can help you.

Do you work with monogamous couples?

Even for clients who choose monogamy, it can be important to know this is a specialty of mine. These clients love working with me because I apply the same open non-judgmental approach to my work with all couples.  

I love all kinds of love - monogamous love too!

What about affairs in polyamorous relationships?

Affairs happen in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.  I work with couples to rebuild trust and overcome jealousy every week in session.  I have helped hundreds of couples move forward after an affair.  (Read more about my work with infidelity here)

I can to help you build and repair trust no matter your relationship structure. Schedule a consultation to get started with me here. 

Are you poly/open/non-monogamous?

Yup.  But I won't give you a lot of information about my relationship structure beyond that because if we're going to work together I want to keep the focus on you.  


sex counselor in portland sex therapist | couples therapist portland sexuality counselor

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
  • open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship

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).

Before you talk about opening your relationship talk about this

open relationship | prepare for open relatoinship

Every nearly-non-monogamous couple I've worked with has missed this one critical step and I just can't go one without addressing it.  

We can't start a conversation about non-monogamy without understanding monogamy. 

I know you think you understand it.  Almost every couple I work with thinks they have a working definition of monogamy.  But so far, NONE of my couples have ever talked about specifically what monogamy means in their relationship.  

None.  Zero.  Zip. 

We walk through life in partnerships with this (pretty big) gap in clarity about what we expect from each other.  This is a problem.  

Most of us assume we mean the same thing when we say we're monogamous- but all too often we don't.  Here are some of the many areas I have seen people face extreme misunderstandings about monogamy.  

What does "monogamy" mean to you?

Check out the questions below to start examining your own working definition of monogamy.  If you haven't talked about these things in your relationship, please do before talking about opening things up.

Kissing

Plenty of folks will say kissing other people is off limits.  But many of them make exceptions for same-sex kissing (if they are straight) r opposite-sex kissing (when they are gay).  They tell me it "doesn't count."

There are also plenty of cultures where kissing is the norm.  Not just international cultures, but friend circles, families, and spaces based on tradition can be the norm.  Kissing cheeks, hands, faces, or lips... it "doesn't count" because it's not erotic.  

Which may be the case, but how do you know when kissing is and isn't erotic for someone?  When is kissing okay in your relationship?  When do you share it with others?

Touching

This is the big one where I see people get into trouble.  Some of my couples don't touch other adults- ever.  But most hug friends, or might hold hands with friends.  

Some even snuggle with people they care about and I've seen it become a problem for partners- when it hasn't been discussed.

I'm always surprised when I bring up dancing with other people.  Some folks are very sensitive about sharing intimate dancing with others.  Others love to grind on a dance floor with strangers but would never dream of slow dancing with anyone but their partner.  

If you've never talked about what monogamous touch means to you, now's a great time to start.

Emotional Intimacy

Are there special secrets you share with others?  Do you have certain closeness or fondness for people outside your romantic relationship?  What do you do when those feelings and friendships arise?  

Are there certain pieces of information you want to keep private between you and your partner?  Odds are, there's something they know about you that you'd prefer kept between you.  How can they meet your privacy expectations if you don't tell them?

Spacial Intimacy

Many of the monogamous couples I work with have unsaid expectations about spaces they share with people outside their relationship.  Do you enter a bedroom alone with a friend's spouse?  Will you travel alone with people your partner might find threatening?  

If we're not clear about what kinds of spaces or behaviors indicate intimacy with our partners it becomes very easy for them to misstep.  

Sex with other people

This seems like the most obvious topic to cover, and is usually where people begin to define non-monogamy.  But many of the people I've worked with have sex with other people and still define their relationships as monogamous. 

Some of them have shared partners and experiences.  I once had a client say, "If we're all present, then it's within the confines of our marriage bed."  

And similar to kissing (above) many of them have caveats for non-emotive sex, or sex with people of other genders.  I've had many straight couples tell me they don't view lesbian sex as threatening or "real sex" and therefore it "doesn't count."

I'm not suggesting one definition of monogamy should (or could) work for everyone here.  But I am certain clarity about your own and your partner's definitions is a helpful discussion to have before exploring non-monogamy.  


gina senarighi | poly counselor portland | polyamory portland

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

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
  • open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship

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).