open relationships

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!

Are We Ready to Open Our Relationship?

ready for open relationship

Over the last ten years I've seen hundreds of couples through deciding when and if and how they want to open their relationships.  I do believe almost anyone is capable of managing an open relationship with a little training- if they want it.

But not every relationship is ready to dive in right away.  Lots of folks have co-created dynamics that need to shift to support a consensually non-monogamous relationship.  Plenty of people need to work on changing perspectives and gaining or fortifying skills before an open relationship will suit them well.  

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to self-check your own readiness for an open relationship.

What kind of time, energy, financial, and physical resources am I willing to share?

Love is limitless, but resources (time, money, and physical energy for starters) are not.  For example, I once had a client who ran two successful businesses, started full-time graduate school, was training for a marathon, and was considering starting a relationship with a third partner.

I'm not saying it's impossible to do all those things at once.  But her energy for all those things was going to be compromised.  And in order to practice ethically its important she is up front with her current and potential partners about just how much (or little) she has to give.

Take stock of your resources and your willingness to divide them even further.  

How do my current partner and I handle and resolve conflict?

You will hit bumps in the road if you decide to open your relationship.  It's inevitable.  There's just so little good information and social support in our society for folks building relationships outside cultural norms, and you're up against a heap of bad relationship advice we often take as truth. 

Those bumps don't mean there's anything wrong with your relationship, but if you have little or no solid practice working through things together (without one of you feeling slighted, or someone avoiding the issues) it's going to be difficult to start when emotions are running high and you're trying something so brand new.

I recommend hiring a professional to give your relationship a little tune-up when it comes to conflict so you're better prepared for the bumps you're going to face when you start seeing more people.

How do I currently manage my emotions?  What happens when I experience severe anxiety, fear, jealousy, or insecurity?  

Even the most even-keeled clients have told me starting to practice non-monogamy brings out the most unpredictable and surprising reactions in them.  That's totally okay.

How you handle those emotional reactions however can have huge implications for your well-being and the long-term success of your relationship.  Feeling intense emotions is no excuse for being unkind or disrespectful.  

Take stock of the skills that help you manage intense reactions with care. Review the self-care practices that help you stay balanced (and bolster them to help anchor you).  Again, hire a professional to talk through these if needed, you won't regret using care when starting out.

Where can I find support for a polyamorous lifestyle?

When starting out in non-monogamy lots of folks feel alone because they perceive the monogamous community around them as pretty unsupportive.  It can be really difficult for people to find supportive polyamorous or open community.  

And going it alone with your partner creates a vacuum for the two of you to incubate unhealthy polyamorous dynamics if you've got any brewing.  You need outside voices to support your learning and growth in this process.

Start looking for folks you can talk with well before you start taking action steps toward non-monogamy. You can find communities online via fetlife and facebook or support groups in your community to talk through your questions and concerns among others who get it.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list.  I'm happy to give you a more tailored list of considerations (specific to your situation) just give me a call.


open relationships online counseling

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, 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.  

ASK ME ANYTHING: IS IT TOO SOON TO OPEN OUR RELATIONSHIP?

Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a retired couples therapist turned couples retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all sorts.  

Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here.  Or Read more Ask Me Anything here.

 

This week's question: Do we need to be together longer before we open our relationship?

Here's the full question: I feel excited and terrified at the thought of opening up my relationship. I've been with my partner for 3.5 months and the topic came up a few times. Before meeting him I was curious about open relationships but when he brought it up, I was totally freaked out and felt very insecure.  Two weekends ago he had a panic attack and it ended with him breaking up with me.  Soon after I connected with another man. Two days later my partner came back.  We talked things through and decided to be together.

My questions are: is it a good idea to establish our relationship more, get to know and trust each other better, and again, before exploring an open relationship? Or better to have the early foundation of our relationship be that of an open one? 

I found you through your don't ask don't tell article. I don't know if I'm ready to kiss and connect with others (our agreement is that when we aren't together we can kiss others). I don't know how to talk to him about kissing someone else, I don't want to hurt or lose him, and I don't like the idea of hearing about him kissing someone else... But ultimately I'd love to feel good sharing things and being open, honest and happy for each other. Is it just too soon?

Are we not ready or is this just something we have to force ourselves to go through so we can learn from it and get to a place where we can be open and share experiences?

 

I'm so glad you wrote me!  I know it's a hard place to be in, but I'm hoping it helps to hear you are far from alone.  The tension you describe between being curious and terrified at the same time is all too common among people who are first starting to think about openness.  I meet with lots of couples who say trying to open their relationships felt like a wild emotional roller coaster ride (articulated in your panic attack/break up example).  

There are a couple phrases you used in your message that I want to point out to help respond.  You asked "is it too soon for us" in a number of different ways.  I find a lot of people get stuck on that question  because their individual truth is "this is too soon for me."  Check in with yourself- does that resonate?  Is it too soon for you?  

There is no exact right or wrong time to start negotiating openness in a relationship for the first time.  There are plenty of reasons it can be a struggle when you're just beginning with a new partner and I've seen lots of people struggle to open previously monogamous relationships as well.  

But a couple things you said made me think you might want to put on the brakes a bit for now.  First, hearing that the conversation about openness lead to panic attacks and break ups tells me you might want to ease in more gently and have stronger resiliency support around you both.  You also want to commit to working together instead of threatening break ups.  I would recommend sorting out those things for now, so your conversations about openness can feel less dramatic.  

Finally, your word choice "is this something we just have to force ourselves..." is really telling to me.  I often tell clients "you can't force anything good" and ask people I support to reconsider the "have tos" in their lives.  Relationships function better with want tos instead of have tos.  This more than anything tells me it's time for you to slow down.  

Please understand by slow down I am not saying you should stay monogamous now or forever- you can (and should) revisit this conversation often and with each new partner you build relationship with.  I'm saying it sounds like things have progressed more quickly than either of you may have anticipated and it's time to pause for more reflection before taking more action.  

It's not about how long you've been together, it's about the way you're being together dear one.



Gina Senarighi Oregon Couples Retreat Polyamorous Couples Retreat

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 codependecy
  • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns 

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).

Polyamory Vocab Lessons: Polyamory

Polycule | Portland Poly Counseling | Polyamory Counseling in Portland

Dear readers, 

I work with so many couples who are considering open relationships and so many of you have asked for some basic facts in polyamory, nonmonogamy and open relationships.  

I decided to start breaking down some of the most commonly used terms in the wide field of nonmonogamy.

Of course, every individual and relationship is different, so it is important to get clear with people about what they mean by these terms (especially if you're considering an intimate relationship with them).  

You could ask any of the following questions:

"Lots of people use that term, what does it mean in your relationships?"

"I know that can actually mean a lot of things, wow does {term} actually play out in your life?"

These conversations will also help you get clear about what to call your own relationship.  

I'll keep adding more terms over time so check back time to time to learn more.  

This week's focus: Polyamory

As we know, non-monogamy is an umbrella term that includes lots of different kinds of relationships.  Polyamory or poly community is one of the possibilities that falls under the umbrella of nonmonogamy.

Some basic general information on polyamory:

Most basically, polyamory means many loves. But because the word love means different things to different people polyamory is different in each and every relationship.  

Polyamorous people live in all parts of the US (and the world), identify as many different genders and sexual orientations, and participate in all sorts of relationship arrangements.

Some polyamorous relationships include shared partners, community and friends making a large web of supporters and chosen family.  

Some, but not all poly people participate in BDSM and kink community.

Some, but not all poly people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  

Many members of poly community are straight and are legally married, but have additional lovers and/or partnerships.  Some choose to live together and parent with individual or multiple partners.

 

One of the best things about being polyamorous is the freedom to create and tailor the relationship structure(s) that best serve you and your partner.  

Polyamorous relationships also often include more understanding and agility for relationship change, growth and development over time.  

Polyamory Resources:

Openingup.net

My favorite resource for all my nonmonogamous couples.  This site covers the full range of possibilities in open relationships and the book dives into many scenarios outlining how specific couples create polyamorous networks that work for them.  

Morethantwo.com

For couples considering more romantic or emotional connections with partners, More Than Two is my go-to resource to find balance and maintain connection while incorporating other people into the relationship.  More than two focuses mostly on polyamory.

Poly in the Media

This resource tracks news and events related to all things polyamory.  If you're ever feeling alone as a poly person you can easily find information on others living a polyamorous life here.

Lovemore.com

The only nationwide magazine dedicated to polyamory, Love More also hosts conferences and poly events throughout the country.

Polyamory On Purpose

One of the better practical blogs of poly-related information for oply families, legal issues, financial stressors and more.

Poly Weekly

A podcast about polyamory and the people who choose this kind of open relationship.

If you are considering opening your relationship give me a call for a consult.  I am happy to help:


Sex Counselor Portland | Portland Couples Counseling

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).

Two Kinds of Jealousy

Kinds of Jealousy | uncommon Love Open Marriage Counseling in Portland

The most common question I get (as a therapist who works with open relationships and non-monogamous marriages) is how I help people work through jealousy.  

Although jealousy takes many forms in these diverse relationships, there are two sources driving most of our conversations on the topic.

Most of the time, jealousy is based in fear.  It is an incredibly common emotion, and is important to acknowledge as a natural and healthy occurrence- when handled with integrity. However, when jealousy gets out of hand, it can be incredibly destructive to the foundation of any marriage or partnership.

All too often jealousy results in worried and distrustful behaviors (like snooping, spying, and interrogating).  It seems to impact relationships regardless of demographic- everyone experiences some bitter envy from time to time.

The first kind of jealousy worth noting is reactive.  

Reactive jealousy happens when you are experiencing an actual threat to your relationship.

Reactive jealousy is painful, but due to its specific focus, it can appear easier to problem solve (by addressing the threat openly, and lovingly).

On the other hand, suspicious jealousy can be very difficult to resolve.  Suspicious jealousy is not based in fact or evidence, no commitments have been broken and the relationship isn't at risk.  

Instead of being driven by a real threat, suspicious jealousy originates in one partner's insecurities.

Insecurity can come from any number of life experiences or current situations in a partner's life and in the course of a relationship it is only natural either partner will feel some insecurity rise from time to time.  Regardless of its cause, insecurity, it is important the couple work together to prevent damage that can be caused by this kind of jealousy.

Here are a couple simple but effective strategies you can work on when the green-eyed monster attacks your relationship.  

If you want help moving past jealousy in your relationship call me for a free consultation to see fi I can assist you.

 

poly counselor | polyamory couples counseling | open relationship threapist

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).

 

Why People Open Their Relationships

One of the questions I am asked most often by friends and colleagues is why people choose open relationships.  

There are a lot of paths to choosing nonmonogamy and each is uniquely personal.

Many of my clients come to an open relationship model for different personal reasons, but here are a few:

  • We don't believe in the traditional monogamous married formula for relationships.

  • I like watching my wife have sex with another man.

  • My partner is bisexual and I want him/her/them to be able to have relationships with folks of a gender different than mine.

  • I am interested in a specific kink that my partner just doesn't like.  She wants me to be able to explore this fantasy.

  • We don't believe people are naturally monogamous- look at the 66% infidelity rate among monogamous marriages in the U.S.

  • It's exciting to flirt with other women with my husband.  We often have similar taste in women, so it made sense to date them together.

  • I don't believe it's possible for one person to meet all of another's emotional and physical needs.

  • Legal marriage isn't our definition of relationship success.

  • My partner is physically unable to participate in certain activities I really enjoy.  Because we're poly I can do those things with other partners.

  • I wanted to start a family and my girlfriend did not but we really loved each other.  Having an open relationship allowed us to create a different relationships structure and now I am also partnered with my daughter's mother.

  • I have always loved multiple people- finding polyamory meant I could talk more openly about it and be honest with partners.

  • I cheated on a lot of my previous partners and didn't want to have a dishonest relationship anymore.  Now I am up front and clear with partners.

  • My boyfriend is into a lot of hardcore BDSM play and I want him to be able to play while I build my play skills for safety.

  • We both have fluid sexual identities and want to be able to grow our commitment to each other as our sexualities grow and change.

  • I don't want the pressure of meeting all my partner's emotional and sexual needs.

  • I don't believe in valuing one relationship over all others.  

  • My husband is gay and we have a child.  We decided to stay together but have other partners because we love each other and want our family to stay in one home.

If you are thinking about opening your relationship and need help set up a free consultation to see if working with me is right for you.


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).

Myths of Non-Monogamy: Polyamory is so Gay!

One of the myths of non-monogamy I face regularly is that open relationships and polyamory is a gay thing.  That straight people are basically monogamous naturally, and gay people for whatever reason aren’t.

 “There is no societal or religious pressure, no relationship archetype or historical expectation for a gay man to be monogamously coupled. Unlike heterosexual relationships, gay relationships form simply because two people want to be together.” – Tyler Curry

One of the best parts about being a part of the LGBTQ community is that because we don’t have set models for relationships we get to be creative when we decide to build them.  LGBTQ couples build all sorts of beautiful relationships outside traditional norms, sometimes we move in quickly together, other times we decide never to cohabitate, some of us embrace this freedom to date more freely (which can be a form of non-monogamy, and some of us embrace the opportunity to create intentional open relationships.  Although this great creativity allows us to experiment more and sometimes we are more likely to create open relationships this is not a universal truth.

More specifically, the commenter on my last post seemed to believe the stereotype that all gay men have open relationships.  Often this myth is used to dispel the validity of same sex male-identified couples and has been a controversial topic in the gay marriage debate.  Gay men do opt more frequently for openness than other populations, but that cannot be stated as a norm- there are plenty of monogamous gay men.

The flip side of this myth leaves out the thousands of mostly straight and completely heterosexual couples who fall somewhere in the open relationship, swinger, and polyamorous spectrum.  Plenty of straight-seeming and hetero-identified couples date other couples, share partners, swing, or play with other partners.  These fabulous straight poly people exist throughout history and research and invest long-term in making complex loving relationships work.  They have children, own homes, pay bills, love and commit just like anyone else.  Don’t leave them out by believing a myth.

Side note: I received some of these comments on a professional site for LGBTQ Therapists.  It is especially important for LGBTQ couples to seek help from providers who really understand our partnerships instead of stereotypes.  Use this guide to help find a provider near you.


Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, 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).

Why Do People Have Open Relationships?

People have open relationships for all kinds of reasons.  Just like monogamous relationships people choose this relationship model for healthy and unhealthy, informed, and unenlightened reasons. 

In my years working with non-monogamous couples, I have heard quite a range of reasons people choose open relationships.  Here are some of the reasons I commonly hear from fabulous individuals in varied polyamorous arrangements:

  • We don’t believe in the status quo.
  • There is greater security outside the confines of a two-person relationship.
  • My partner and my sex drives are out of alignment.
  • I have spent my whole life in polyamorous community and prefer to stay in the community I know and love.
  • I am bisexual and my wife is straight.  She doesn’t want me to lose connection to my queer identity.
  • Why not?
  • I enjoy the communication and honesty necessary for long lasting open relationships.
  • I believe open relationships require higher personal integrity.
  • Having multiple income streams in one household can make for greater financial abundance and sustainability.
  • We enjoy sharing play partners.
  • Polyamorous relationships require greater self development, introspection and have pushed me to grow as a person.
  • I enjoy watching my partner connect with other people.
  • I like the challenge.
  • I am not willing to sacrifice one relationship for another. 
  • Sex with one person for my whole life would be boring.
  • My partner has a fetish or kink I am not into, and I want to support her in getting her needs met.
  • Trying to meet all of my partners needs on my own would put a lot of pressure on our relationship.
  • I like more than one kind of person.
  • My life is richer with more than one partner fueling my emotional intimacy needs. 
  • I don’t want to limit my partner’s personal expression or have mine limited by her.

Open relationships only work when both parties can consent to their boundaries and be honest when they renegotiate their agreements.  Consider your own reasons for choosing a monogamous or an open relationship.

  • Which model works best for you and why?
  • How do you define the boundaries of your monogamous or open contracts?
  • How do you communicate expectations about intimacy with others with your partner?
  • How have your beliefs about monogamy and non-monogamy changed over time?
  • What beliefs do you have about other relationship models? 
  • How do you know which model is best for you?

Remember, no one is born poly or monogamous, these are relationship models we choose.  Neither option is right or wrong when made honestly and intentionally.

 

If you're thinking about opening your relationship and want help talking about it with your partner give me a call for a free consult- I'm glad to help.


Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, 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).