Your partner just sat you down and asked for an open marriage. Or was it the other side of the coin and you are seeking an open relationship? Either way, what happens now?
First of all, many people are unclear about what it means to be in an open marriage. Wanting an open relationship does not mean you selfishly want to sleep with other people without losing the convenience of a primary relationship. This can be the case, but if you do an open marriage correctly, it doesn’t have to be.
Honestly, if it’s the right choice for you and your spouse, an open marriage can be pretty hot and exciting. It’s a new way to explore your limits both as a couple and as individuals. You can grow in ways you may never have known were possible—it can even make you closer to your spouse.
The number one requirement: it has to be something you both want. The only way an open marriage can work is with total transparency, regular check-ins on emotions and feelings, and radical communication. Both partners need to commit to total honesty and cultivate a bond that allows for regular reassessment of the arrangement based on each person’s comfort levels. The option to walk away has to be omnipresent.
Whether this change is right for you or not, here is what to do if your partner (or you!) want an open marriage.
Find the root of the request
Ask yourself the following, depending on which side of the coin you're on: Where is this coming from? What is the real reason I’m being asked to open our marriage? Why do I want an open relationship?
Here is the truth about the open marriage discussion: It could be indicative of larger problems within the marriage itself. Before you can delve into your personal feelings on the matter and decide how you’d like to proceed, you must figure out the why. There is nothing wrong with an alternative marriage style if it’s what both partners want, but before proceeding any further, you need to have total understanding. You owe that to each other as partners.
Underlying issues do not have to be the reason people seek an open relationship, but it is a possibility, and therefore this needs to be acknowledged and laid to rest. If you or your partner are asking to see other people due to unhappiness or dissatisfaction with the marriage itself, agreeing to an open marriage will not fix those problems. An open marriage is not a Band-Aid for intimacy issues.
Approach your partner with empathy
Let’s be real here—your initial reaction to an open marriage may not be forthcoming and brimming with delight. Likewise, your partner may be caught off-guard should you approach him or her with such a request. It can be shocking to learn that your partner wants to change your relationship in such a fundamental way. Anger is a normal emotion. It’s OK.
Think about where your partner is coming from. Whoever is asking for this chat came forward in order to have an honest discussion, and that took some guts. The response: empathy.
No one cheated. Trust was not broken. Neither you nor your partner is required to be on board with this arrangement, but both of you do need to be flexible enough to listen. That’s what marriage is about.
Consider what this means for you as an individual
Take some time to yourself and figure out exactly how you feel about the prospect of opening your marriage. Don’t rush into a decision.
The fact is, in certain cases, open relationships are the byproduct of one partner wanting to sleep with other people and the other partner agreeing so as not to lose their spouse—guaranteed, this will end in disaster.
Remember: You can always change your mind. Relationship dynamics alter as you grow over time—the only way this kind of relationship can succeed is with a willingness to compromise and have honest discussions.
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Assess how this change will impact your relationship dynamic
If opening your marriage is going to make one or both of you a jealous, needy mess, it won’t work out. Above all, you need trust. You and your partner are the only people who can choose what is best for your marriage. You understand each other and your relationship in a way no one else can.
Sit down, hear each other out, and figure out what each of you want in the short and long term out of your partnership, and move from there.
Gigi Engle is a sex educator and writer living in NYC. Her work has appeared in Elle, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Allure, Marie Claire, and Bustle.