I have been good friends with my boyfriend for years, we play in a band together, we live together and we love the other so much. Although we love the other, it’s easy for us both to feel unfulfilled by the other because we spend so much time together. As much as I am attracted to him, I also feel very attracted to females and I feel a desire to explore that side of me. I know that he feels afraid of our commitment to each other and I know that at times he craves being with other women sexually. I sometimes feel that having an open relationship would ease and strengthen our very complex relationship. I don’t get jealous at the idea of him fucking another women for a night, as long as he doesn’t become emotionally attached to her. As for me, I crave emotional attachment especially at times when he needs his space. I wish I could find a woman to confide in and occasionally sleep with on the side. Is this cause for a disaster? I don’t want to break up because I see this lasting long-term, but neither of us are completely ready to settle and commit forever and so I worry about it lasting. I’m wondering if an open-relationship could work between two people that have already had a closed relationship. I’m also wondering if you have any tips on what kind of guidelines we could use for starting one. Finally, I’m wondering how I bring this up to him without breaking his ego?
It is certainly possible for a couple who have been in a closed relationship to open things up—it can even be preferable to commencing in an open relationship as it provides an opportunity to establish strong foundations as a dyad.
Non-monogamy can help to expand your range of interactions and experiences and add to your existing relationship. It is not without risks, however. An open relationship requires commitment to each other and commitment to making the relationship work. While opening up can help strong relationships grow, it can also break weak ones.
If you are using other people to prop up a weak or unhealthy relationship, rather than to complement a strong and healthy one, or if opening up is a way to avoid breaking up (or making a full commitment), an open relationship is a recipe for disaster.
Non-monogamy can also trigger insecurities. What does this person/people give my partner that I cannot? What if my partner prefers someone else to me? The irony of these insecurities is that relationship exclusivity does not prevent your partner from developing feelings for someone else, nor finding things in others they do not find in you. It is just that non-monogamy exposes those experiences more directly. In that sense, fears of opening up are fears you may still need to work through.
You say your partner feels afraid of commitment and that he craves being with other women sexually. You also say you are seeking something (an emotional connection) that you would not feel comfortable offering to your partner. Have you and your partner ever talked about what non-monogamy means to each of you, and what it might look like? Are you aware of your fears and insecurities around non-monogamy? Do you have strategies to work through them? Do you feel strong enough to face them? Can you allow your partner equivalent fears and insecurities?
Unless your partner is a robot or has an ego made of steel, telling him you want to be with someone else is most likely going to hurt on some level. On another level it may also excite him and open up a world of possibilities. It is perfectly okay for one or both of you to feel conflicted about opening up.
My advice is to discuss his (and your) fears and concerns, and to work with, rather than against them. Reassure him of your commitment and desire for him, and sell the opportunities opening up brings for the two of you to learn, experience, and grow. Ask him to reassure you in the same way. Accept that it will be challenging, and that it is okay to feel not okay at times. It is about finding a healthy balance.
Some tips I can share on starting an open relationship:
- Discuss your fears with your partner
- Be honest, without blame or judgement
- Be willing to support one another through your insecurities
- Be responsible for your feelings
- Be mutually responsible for the health of the relationship
- Acknowledge and accept your partner’s feelings, but do not own them
- Know what you are comfortable with and where your boundaries lie
- Establish clear boundaries for each of you (these do not have to be the same)
- Don’t establish boundaries so rigid neither of you can ever act on the open relationship
- Respect each other’s boundaries
- Be prepared to renegotiate boundaries equitably
- Treat anyone else involved in your relationship with respect.
There are also some great books and websites on non-monogamy out there. Grab a copy of The Ethical Slut or Opening Up or jump on forums like reddit.com/r/nonmonogamy. I also recommend Esther Perel’s Ted talks on desire and infidelity. As I wrote in a previous post, you may not agree with everything you read or hear, but it might help you start the conversation.
I wish you the best of luck.