IF YOUR dearly beloved has just rocked up and uttered the words ‘open relationship’, try not to drop your bundle.
It can feel like the end of the world to even contemplate sharing your lover with anyone else. But trust me, you can contemplate it, and you can get through this, whatever you decide to do.
When it comes to open relationships, the free love of the new millennium, affectionately known as polyamory by the hipsters among us, it pays to dispel a few myths and get some things sorted before you banish your lover for all eternity, or embark on a new life with more than one sexual partner.
Here are some things you need to know.
1. If you’re going to add more people to your twosome, you need to be solid
Like a baby or a wedding, polyamory won’t fix a struggling partnership. It’s not a solution to different sex drive levels, boredom, falling in love with someone else or general relationship unhappiness.
If you’re struggling by two, you’ll find it incrementally harder the more people you add to the picture. If your special someone is suggesting an open relationship as a way to fix your troubles, then you might want to suggest you deal with your problems together before you talk about a lifeplan overhaul.
If your partner isn’t interested in sorting your problems by two, then you’re not likely to find happiness in any arrangement. If they are, but they don’t want to be judged for their free love desires, you can find a list of poly friendly relationship counsellorshere.
2. If you’re going to do the open thing, you have to be good at the talking thing. There is a lot of talking involved. So much talking.
My goodness polyamorists talk a lot. You thought they talked a lot on the L word. That was nothing compared to how much talking is involved in open relationships.
For poly relationships to really work, you need to ask each other some serious questions. How will you decide what kinds of relationships are OK? What rules will you have? What will you tell other people? What about safe sex? How will you deal with jealousy? And on and on and on.
If you and your beloved are not so good at sorting things out now, the talking required to negotiate an open relationship will be kryptonite for you. If you want a little guide to what you need to talk about in an open relationship, you can find ithere.
3. In the world of human relationships, nothing is natural. Nothing.
Just like those sneaky labels on irresistibly bad for you foods, in the land of relating, beware of anyone trying to tell you what’s ‘natural’. ‘It’s not natural’ is really just another way for someone to tell you that what you want is not OK with them.
The fact is, monogamy is not natural. But while it may seem more natural from an evolutionary point of view to have more than one sexual partner, so is jealousy — that ‘natural’ almost universal response to loving someone who’s loving on someone else. And ‘natural’ never helped anyone like anything any better whether it’s polyamory or quitting sugar.
If you can ditch ideas of what’s natural from your discussions about whether you want to be part of an open relationship, it can free you up to talk about what both of you want and what you both value. And there are alternative frameworks to “natural”. You can find some great alternative frameworks to ‘natural’. The bottom line is not what’s natural, but what you want and what you can live with.
Loving is a scary business, and the truth is we never really know what will happen to our feelings in a relationship over time. So if your lover has just dropped the polyamory bombshell, try to go into the conversation with an open mind and an honest heart.
Do your homework and get some support. Every love has limits, and every partnership has deal breakers. This is just another opportunity to get clear on yours.
Zoë Krupka is a psychotherapist and lecturer with experience in relationship-focused therapy. She is the author of The Fine Art of Breaking Up, and you can find her blog at zoekrupka.com.