Most of the couples I work with struggle when making rules (I prefer to call them agreements) up to navigate their open relationship.
Lots of people fear feeling controlled or manipulated in the process. Many others aren't sure what they want or need from this kind of relationship change.
I have found these two questions especially helpful when coming up with agreements. Consider them before making your own.
Questions for Healthy Open Relationship Agreements
Question One: What is sacred in this partnership?
One of the biggest areas of struggle for non-monogamous couples comes up around the ideas we have about what's special or sacred in our relationship. I'll give you some examples of each:
Special identity: I want to believe I am the most beautiful person you know. I love knowing I am the best lead dancer you dance with. I trust you enough to be fluid bonded and I want to know that's unique to the two of us.
Sacred spaces: The restaurant we go to every year on our anniversary is really special to me. It helps me to know our home is a space just for the two of us. We moved to Portland to be together and I have trouble imagining sharing this city with anyone else.
Meaningful items: The canoe we made together is really special to me. We share wedding bands and it's important to me you wear it when we're not together.
Rituals and traditions: We have always gone to March Fourth together and I would like to keep that sacred. We pull tarot together every weekend, and I really like doing that together. We have Timbers season tickets and it's important to me we continue going to the games as a pair.
Community connection: Our church community is so important to me I would like to keep it just for the two of us. It's important to me we check in before other partners meet family because family is such a strong value of mine.
Often the challenges couples face are less around sexual activity and more focused on these sacred and special parts of our relationship.
Once we're clear what's sacred and special we can nourish those traditions to strengthen our relationship.
We can also create agreements and understandings about what we're willing to share with others and what we are not.
Question Two: What is private in our relationship?
The other greatest challenge I see couples go through relates to privacy. There are two critical questions to ask yourselves here:
1. What are our privacy agreements in this relationship?
Do you read each other's text messages or check emails? What happens if you overhear something about another partner? Most importantly, what do you anticipate keeping private about other partners, and what won't work for you?
If you aren't clear and specific now it's a great time to get clear- even if you never choose to practice non-monogamy. Navigating consent around personal privacy can be a great area to practice before adding additional parties to your partnership.
2. What information are we each uncomfortable sharing with others?
Some of the couples I work with create agreements like, we won't talk about our relationship struggles with others, or we agree to speak only positively about each other with other partners. And sometimes there are specific pieces of our life or history we don't want our lovers sharing with others like our mental health status, addiction history, sexual fetishes, fantasies, or trauma history.
Think about what kinds of information you would be uncomfortable with your partner sharing with others about your life or your relationship- maybe even make a list and share it well before you start seeing other people.
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.