Most the couples who seek me out to help them open their relationships are eager to start setting up rules and agreements right away. Maybe 75% of the questions I get in my free calls center on these rules/agreements.
This is a perfect reaction to the chaos and uncertainty that often swirls about after you start discussing an open relationship. Often folks have been operating under an assumption of monogamy-forever (even if you mentioned you might be open to non-monogamy one time many years ago).
So when the idea of polyamory comes into focus most people are surprised and have very little information on the topic. It can be really unsettling and you're likely to look for something solid you can agree on to help you get some clarity and certainty.
That's not entirely a bad thing. However, jumping to commitments and agreements too soon and without careful consideration will likely lead you to more conflicts. There's no reason to rush this.
Many new clients want me to ham a list of recommended agreements to start out. Unfortunately, no one set of rules works for every relationship, so you really do have to move slowly with consideration in order to custom tailor agreements to work best for you.
In addition to moving through the conversation slowly, there are a few well-researched basics to keep in mind as you begin considering the which agreements are best for your unique partnership.
It is really important you come to the table with clarity, a positive mindset, and strong self-care to help soothe your reactions when you start these conversations. Read more in-depth about how to get in the right headspace for these negotiations here.
Having a rough idea of how you'd like to handle conversations and conflicts about this in advance can really help you when emotions get heated along the way.
Sometimes it's too easy to let this conversation take over your everyday interactions in the beginning. Think about how you can contain the conversation in a healthy way so it doesn't overwhelm you.
I also see plenty of folks get carried away with urgency. This usually results in feeling rushed or forced to change course. Remember, there's really no reason to rush into this. You can't force anything good.
Some of my clients save the conversation for our regular meetings. Others set certain times of days or locations where they refuse to check-in on this topic.
Finally, remember having more relationships requires more relationship maintenance. Some people are really uninterested in taking on more work in that area. If that's you non-monogamy may not be the best fit right now.
Consider the following:
How often am I willing to talk about this topic?
How can I set up check-ins about our non-monogamy for success? How can I ensure I'm in a solid energetic place or mindset when we talk about this?
How open am I to input from my partner about who/when/how I am connecting with other people?
How will I slow myself down when I start moving too fast?
What happens if we disagree?
At what point will we seek professional help?
Rules, Agreements, and Considerations
As I said earlier, lots of people are searching for certainty when they start trying to create agreements. However, research has shown that creating hard unmoving "rules" doesn't often work in polyamorous couples favor long-term.
Often folks try to make up rules to protect themselves from discomfort. These rules rarely last and are often traps for other partners because they can't know for certain when a partner will experience discomfort.
Instead I recommend founding agreements in your shared core values and to address them from a positive headspace. It's also important to connect them to the specific direct impact on each partner.
Meaning instead of: "I can't even think about you being intimate with someone else, it makes me so uncomfortable."
Try: "My health is very important to me. I want to figure out agreements that will help protect my health."
Or: "I want to know you prioritize our time together above others. Can we agree to check in about our date night plans together before committing to plans with other partners?"
Couples who thrive and stay together are far more likely to have just a few simple "rules" that rarely if ever change and a LOT of agreements and considerations. Read on to learn more about each.
Rules that work have two important facets: 1) they are simple and stated very clearly worded and 2) they rarely (if ever) change.
Common examples of "rules" might include:
We don't share bodily fluids (other than saliva) with other partners
We don't co-parent with other partners
We won't marry other partners
When thinking about your "rules" consider the following:
How can I phrase my non-negotiables so they are easily applicable?
How can I honor my partner's connections with others while stating my needs?
What is our process for if one of these rules needs to be adjusted?
Agreements are negotiated and more temporary. These are where we focus most of our time in proactive work before couples start connecting with other people. They are renegotiated in a check-in conversation and are usually either time-limited or situational. Often they expand upon the less-malleable rules.
I often see couples get tripped up in what seems "fair" or even when creating agreements. But it's not possible for both of you to be equally comfortable with all the same things and it is incredibly unlikely the same opportunities will present themselves to both of you.
Polyamory isn't fair. At times, it'll feel extraordinarily unbalanced. But everyone having the same thing isn't the goal, the goal is everyone experiencing love/sex/joy while staying connected.
Common examples of agreements might include:
When you attend [conference/festival/convention] I know you might have sex with other attendees.
We'll talk to each other in person before any other partner's come to our home.
When we are out with other people we won't interrupt each other's time.
Sleeping together is especially important in our relationship. Let's agree not to have sleepovers with others until we check in about this again.
When thinking about your "agreements" consider the following:
How will you respect the different needs you and your partner may have?
How will you know when to re-assess your agreements?
What happens if an agreement is broken?
Considerations boil down to one simple phrase: you can be considerate of your partner's feelings without being responsible for your partner's experience.
If you are interested in trying out open relationships because you want to see other people without prioritizing your partner's experience that is completely valid. However, that is not an open relationship. That's solo polyamory (being your own primary partner).
Choosig an open relationship structure means a much greater willingness to consider the impact on others around you, and hold space for their emotional journey in this process.
I ask clients to anticipate possible areas of tenderness as they start opening their relationship. These might include:
I know you feel really nervous about me connecting with other femmes.
I know you want to try rope bondage with me, but I would prefer to try it with other people.
I know you feel really insecure about your income right now.
Having awareness of these tender spots doesn't mean I never connect with other femmes, try rope bondage, or date rich people. But it means I use extra care bringing this up with my partner and I may hold extra space for them to adjust.
There are two main issues with this part of clearing up considerations:
1) I can't truly anticipate every area of consideration for a partner. I'm not a mind reader and even if my partner is really forthcoming about their tender spots, there may be some we never think about until they are happening in the moment.
2) Walking the line between being considerate and over-compromising is a very delicate balance. It may take a while to moderate and find a healthy balance.
- How will I work on reassuring my own insecurities instead of expecting my partner to do this work for me?
- How can I clearly articulate areas of concern while holding space for the discomfort that comes with rubbing up against them?
- How can I remain open to my partner's concerns even when they impact things I am very excited about?
Call me if you want to dive deeper into these. I love walking folks through the agreements-creating process.
Hi! I'm glad you're reading. Let me know if I can help you:
- reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
- rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity
- manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
- resolve sexual dysfunction & disconnect
- change communication & codependent patterns
- open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).
Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.