This question, right here, is the question that has been asked over and over again, when a person discovers non-monogamy for the first time. They ask it in earnest, as if, there is some magical answer that will allow them to keep their spouse and start sleeping with other people immediately. And it is the most frequent query I personally get when advertising my relationship coaching business. But for a long time, it was the most difficult one for me to maintain composure and give a thoughtful, well crafted response. So, I decided to put into writing the best answer I can give, which I hope will encourage any of you asking this question to make healthy decisions and not ruin your current relationship because you discovered something shiny.
First things first, you have to know your partners communication style. And if you don’t, don’t worry, most couples don’t, but they figure out very quickly what not to do over the course of a relationship. Finding out both your own and your partners way of thinking, processing and talking is something that is necessary if you want a healthy non-monogamous relationship, because you are going to be talking, and communicating a lot! If you think a relationship with 2 people takes work, just imagine what happens when you bring new dynamics into the mix. You need a solid foundation whereby you can talk about safe sex, mistakes, wants, needs, and time management, and do it in a respectful and loving way. A relationship is a partnership, and your success in non-monogamy will depend on your foundation.
Second, you have to have an idea about what you want in non-monogamy. Be it simply physical connections (Swinging), dating other people (Open Relationships), or even exploring new relationships (Polyamory). And here’s the big one, once you figure out what you want, you have to be willing to discuss, and even negotiate (in a healthy way) a relationship norm that will actually suit both of you and fit into your current lifestyle. For example, if you have 3 kids, work 80 hours a week and barely see each other as it is, jumping into a polyamorous relationship may not be feasible.
Third, research, network and more research. When I first discovered non-monogamy on date one with my current partner, I felt like I was plopped in a foreign world and I made every mistake one could possibly make. It wasn’t until I started reading books on the subject, in my case open relationships and non-monogamy, and finding online resources that I began to understand it. Shortly after I started blogging as a way of sorting out my thoughts and emotions and sharing the research that I learned along the way. And I think it was at about year 4, that I started building a little bit of a community of more open minds. Friends that I could talk to about what was going on. And that was when the real turning point was for me. Once I stopped feeling alone, had done enough research and figured out what I wanted out of non-monogamy our relationship was able to blossom. So don’t overlook the background and research step, as it may save you many headaches.
Fourth, time. Let’s say, you have read the book, Sex at Dawn, and you are pretty convinced that humans are non-monogamous by nature, and this is now something that you need in your life. Perfect, the seed has been planted. You’ve researched, soul searched and you are ready. But what about your partner? An all too common thing I see, is someone rushing home excitedly to tell their partner about this amazing new lifestyle they want to explore and expecting the other person to jump right on board with the new adventure. And, it almost always ends in disaster. Why? Because, we are raised in a society of monogamy. Flipping a person’s life upside down can take a lot of time to process. Without getting too much into the coaching side of things, it is an emotional roller coaster for the other person, and often they feel blindsided or worse when presented with the notion the first time. While non-monogamy may have made perfect sense to you, it often does not immediately resonate with the partner. And this is where you have to put your own relationship above the needs of your libido. Giving time, space and allowing the person the opportunity to research, and build their own network of support if this is a direction that they are open to.
And if you get a resounding, Hell No! from the get go, put it on the back burner. If your relationship started in monogamy, and those were the initial terms that you agreed to, then you may have to accept that that is how it will remain if you stay with your partner. And remember, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Non-monogamy is work, yes of course it’s play too, but especially at the beginning it is a lot of hard work and takes an emotional toll at some point or another.
Fifth, do not go into non-monogamy to fix something. And by this I mean, fix the problem first, talk about it, address it, etc. Do not, I repeat, do not, expose other people to your relationship issues or use them as Band-Aids. The goal is to be ethical to yourself, your partner, and all the outsiders that you interact with. Non-monogamy is not the same as cheating. It is not a way to get your needs met on the sly, and it is certainly not an easy way to avoid having the tough conversations. It things aren’t repairable in your relationship, end things before you start swinging or dating together. Do unto other’s and all that jazz. No one wants to be used, or find out they were a quick fix, or simply along for the ride in your relationship drama.
And finally, don’t think you have to do it alone. Many couples on online forums seem to feel all the blood, sweat and tears is more of a badge of honor that each relationship should go through on their own in order to be non-monogamous. They went through all these mistakes, and you should too. No shortcuts allowed. Well, I am here to tell you that if coaching, podcasts, blogs, etc. were an option when I was first introduced to non-monogamy I would have taken that up in a heartbeat. Learning from other’s mistakes can be as valuable as making them on your own, if you are willing to listen and really learn. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to ask questions, during your exploration and encourage your partner to do the same. Sometimes all it takes is a little mentorship, or even just an ear to bounce your uncertainties off of to gain the insight you need to move forward.
So have fun out there, practice safe sex, and remember no always means no.
If you want to learn more about my non-monogamous coaching services, or would like some reading recommendations please check out my site, www.breakingawayfromrelationshipnorms.com.