"1. Understand your relationship contract
We all enter into our intimate relationships with expectations. Unfortunately, we don"t always discuss these expectations clearly with our partners. This can lead to confusion, disappointment, or hurt feelings. It is important to discuss our expectations and come to agreements with our partners in any relationship. If you"re interested in opening up your relationship, this is especially important! You are going to be creating a new relationship contract that includes the understanding that you will involve other people in your relationship.
A relationship contract is just an agreement between you and your partner(s) about what your relationship is okay and not okay for your relationship. A relationship contract does not have to mean lots of rules! It simply means agreeing on expectations. Those expectations could be allowing each other complete autonomy. Or maybe your contract allows for casual sex with others, but not dating relationships. The content of the contract will vary from relationship to relationship, but what is important is that there is clear understanding of expectations.
If you feel the need to create a lot of rules, it is important to consider why. Perhaps you want your partner to follow a strict set of rules because you are afraid of being abandoned by them. Or maybe there was a betrayal in your relationship in the past, and you feel like you can"t fully trust them. It is crucial to openly communicate about those difficult feelings and address them together.
Your relationship contract may change as you navigate the dynamics of your open relationship. It is common for folks to start out with lots of structure and rules, because it feels safer. But then, as they feel more comfortable exploring connections with others, the relationship contract may feel like it doesn"t work anymore. It is important to have awareness of when you feel like it isn"t working and to bring those feelings to your partner(s) so that you can decide how to move forward.
2. Identify your relational values
We are all socialized with relational values. We are given messages about what relationships should look like and how they should feel by society, our spiritual or religious beliefs, and our cultural backgrounds. With all of these messages coming in, it can be hard to identify your own values. It"s also common for us to assume that other people have the same values we do. For these reasons, it"s helpful to define your relationship values and communicate about them with your partner(s).
So, how do you identify your relational values? A great place to start is by asking yourself the following questions:
How do I define a successful relationship?
How do I define love?
What is my expectation around commitment?
What is my personal understanding of non-monogamy and how I want it to be integrated into my existing relationship? (i.e. maybe you want your existing relationship to remain "primary" and for new connections to be "secondary").
What are my thoughts about break-ups?
What does trust mean to me? What would break my trust?
What are my expectations around communication?
What does consent mean to me?
Once you have a clearer understanding of your own values, check in with your partner(s) about theirs and notice where your values align or differ. Understanding your values can help you create boundaries in your open relationship.
3. Set aside time for check-ins
As you open your relationship, you and your partner may have a lot of feelings come up. These feelings may be challenging, like fear of abandonment or jealousy. Or you may have feelings of excitement and joy. No matter what feelings are coming up, it"s important to set aside time to regularly check in with your partner(s). During these check-ins you can celebrate the joyful feelings and find ways to support each other with the difficult ones.
If you"re not sure where to start with check-ins, consider asking each other some of these questions:
How are you feeling about our relationship?
What"s feeling good for you & what"s feeling challenging?
When have you felt connected or close to me lately?
When have you felt disconnected from me?
How are you feeling about our open relationship?
Are there any boundaries you want to revisit or set?
What is something you"re really enjoying about ethical non-monogamy and what is something that"s feeling hard about it?
How can we continue to prioritize our relationship?
Check-ins also help you to feel more emotionally connected to your partner(s). If you"re setting aside time to focus on each other and to listen to each other"s experiences with compassion and openness, you are going to feel closer. And feeling more emotionally connected leads to more relationship satisfaction! It"s a win-win!
4. Reach out to a relationship therapist who is affirming of ethical non-monogamy
It can be difficult to have these conversations, and having a therapist who is aware and affirming of ethical non-monogamy can allow you and your partner(s) to have more successful conversations. A therapist can help you with:
understanding your relationship values in a deeper way
co-creating a relationship contract that feel good for both of you
navigating conflict that may arise as you explore connections with other people
creating space for deeper connection between you and your partner(s).
So, how do you find an ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist? A great way to get a feel for if a therapist is knowledgeable and affirming of ethical non-monogamy is to ask them questions! Here"s some important things to ask a potential therapist:
What is your understanding of ethical non-monogamy?
Have you worked with ethically non-monogamous folks before?
Have you had any additional training around ethical non-monogamy?
What are some things you think would be important to consider when working with ethically non-monogamous clients?"
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