3 Questions To Be Prepared For When 'Opening' Your Relationship

Consensual non-monogamy can be a hurdle for some partners. Expect these three questions in order to overcome it.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 21, 2024

Consensual non-monogamy refers to a relationship structure in which all parties involved agree to engage in romantic, sexual or otherwise intimate relationships with multiple partners with the complete knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It encompasses various forms of non-monogamous arrangements, including but not limited to:

  • Polyamory. Having multiple, concurrent romantic and/or sexual relationships.
  • Open relationships. Sexual relationships with others outside of the primary partnership, while maintaining emotional commitment to each other.
  • Swinging. Romantically exclusive partners seek out shared sexual experiences with other individuals or couples. For instance, they may swap sexual partners with another couple.

Research shows that consensually non-monogamous relationships have similar levels of relationship quality and well-being as compared to monogamous relationships and it is natural to think about exploring them. However, there is still a significant amount of stigma and trepidation around entering such relationships. While bringing it up with a monogamous or long-term partner, you may encounter apprehension on their end or even have some questions about the process yourself.

Here are three common questions or fears that arise when considering consensual non-monogamy and how to navigate them.

1. Is Something Missing In Our Relationship?

Entering a non-monogamous relationship can bring up the question of whether there is something missing in the relationship, or even in oneself, and create uncertainty about a partner's motivation for wanting to try a new arrangement.

However, it is possible to practice non-monogamy while still being in healthy and loving partnerships and the fundamental principle of this arrangement is that all parties involved are aware of the nature of the relationship, have given informed consent and willingly participate in it.

A 2022 survey revealed that two-thirds of Americans report fantasizing about having sex with other people and a third of partnered Americans would ideally like a certain degree of openness in their relationship as long as their primary relationship wouldn't be compromised, highlighting that this desire is more common than we think.

Research shows that desiring consensual non-monogamy does not necessarily signal relationship problems and could instead be related to pursuing individual and relational well-being, exploring one's sexuality or sexual fantasies, seeking personal growth, autonomy and novel experiences. Sex researcher Zhana Vrangalova of New York University explains that the human needs for security and companionship can co-exist with the need for novelty, exploration and experience-seeking, rather than competing with them.

Reflecting on your motivation to explore consensual non-monogamy and communicating it clearly to your partner, along with creating an agreement of boundaries, levels of disclosure about other partners, regular relationship check-ins and mutual relationship goals can create an arrangement that is comfortable and reaffirming for all parties.

2. What Will People Think Of Us?

The fear of being ostracized by others is not unfounded, as consensual non-monogamists might be perceived as promiscuous, making excuses for infidelity, less satisfied in their relationships or immoral.

Research shows that consensual non-monogamists often experience erasure of their identity and have to engage in disproportionate emotional labor to be understood in interpersonal relationships. A 2022 study further highlighted the expressions of disapproval, loss of resources, threatening behaviors, character devaluation and relationship devaluation they face.

Additionally, the external stigma and societal idealization of monogamy can becomeinternalized and multi-partnered individuals consequently struggle with feeling that their desires are unnatural and experience psychological distress.

Researchers suggest that unlearning internalized bias, selectively disclosing relationship configurations in safe spaces and seeking support from peers and allies are all important coping tools to navigate this stigma.

3. Will This Change Our Relationship?

The anticipation of drama, jealousy and relationship conflicts deter people from considering consensual non-monogamy even if they are inclined to it. A 2022 study found that those who are more apprehensive about non-monogamy display more "zero-sum thinking" about relationships, referring to the notion that one person's gain comes at another's expense. These beliefs lead to viewing non-monogamy as diminishing resources within the primary relationship, such as time, financial support and sexual access to each other.

A 2020 study found that consensual non-monogamists could experience greater sexual satisfaction, especially with a defined and mutually agreed upon goal to address their sexual incompatibilities, without affecting individual life satisfaction or relationship quality with their primary partner.

Vrangalova suggests taking baby steps toward non-monogamy when you are starting out and talking about sexual fantasies rather than shying away from them. "Opening up" the relationship also does not have to physically involve another person.

"You can invite what I like to call the 'shadow of the third' into your relationship through shared fantasies, conversations, shared porn consumption, going to 'play parties' but maybe to watch and trying out apps that specialize in non-monogamous connections," suggests Vrangalova.

It is essential to remember that your relationship dynamic is completely up to the two of you and you can set the ground rules together. An honest, open dialogue to address concerns, feelings and needs can help create the experience you both desire.

Wondering if your relationship has space for another? Take this test to understand if the problem is deeper: Loneliness In Intimate Relationships Scale

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