So You Want to Open Your Relationship, What Next?
I had read all about New Relationship Energy (NRE) before diving in to polyamory. Those new, shiny feelings that happen when you first start dating someone. When your partner feels NRE for someone new, it can be deeply terrifying. Especially when you’re new to polyamory and in a relationship that was previously monogamous and not yet Poly Road Tested.
Pack a lunch, baby, you’re in for a long ride.
Here are a few things you can do before setting out to make the journey a little less perilous.
Are You on the Same Page?
Before you set out into the wilds of non-monogamy, take a second to check in with each other. You don’t have to have the same answers to these questions, but knowing where your partner is coming from (even if it differs from where you’re coming from) can help stave off nasty surprises.
Things to Ask:
- Why do you want to do this? What are you hoping to get out of the experience? People have a variety of reasons why they open relationships.
- What values are important to you when it comes to relationships? What role do those play in your current relationship? How do you ideally see them playing out in new relationships? Generally speaking, of course, since new partners will bring their own values as well.
- How actively will you seek out partners? Will you make a concerted effort to seek out new relationships through conventional means, maintaining multiple dating profiles, reaching out many times with clear propositions? Or will you take a more passive and less direct approach, coming out as poly to people you know, making new friends in poly communities, and seeing if anything develops naturally?
Set a Relationship Agreement
Once you’ve discussed your motivations, values, and desired approaches to seeking out partners, it’s time to come up with a relationship agreement. I’ve outlined the best practices for negotiating polyamorous relationship agreements in this post. Briefly, be specific, clear, and comprehensive. If you don’t understand what the other person means, about anything, ask them. And many people find it helpful to write their agreement out once it’s been decided so they have a reference.
But as you write up your relationship agreement, please bear in mind that it’s very common to find that your relationship agreement works out differently in practice than it did in theory. And when this happens, it’s important to check back in and discuss. Even renegotiate the terms. This is especially true when you’re brand new to polyamory, and it’s your very first relationship agreement. You will almost certainly find that something needs to be tweaked once you’ve road tested it.
Talk About Exit Strategy
It might sound weird to talk about the end of something at the beginning — but when you set up an agreement is a perfect time to talk about its end.
How often will you revisit the agreement? Is it one and done? Do you have an “out clause?” Is one party able to unilaterally end things at any one time? And if you do, what does that look like?
This can get really tricky, especially with other people in the picture (here’s a post about the perils of veto power).
Build in Check-Ins
As you navigate unfamiliar territory, it’s invaluable to check back in and discuss what’s going on. As you’re setting out, make a commitment to check-ins. These are great for processing and for making sure that you’re setting enough time aside for reconnecting with one another.
Your ideal check-in setup will likely revolve around your schedules and how complicated (or uncomplicated) your love lives are. And how much you’re comfortable sharing and when.
But as one example, Skyspook and I had the wine pledge. At the time we opened up, we had a subscription box that brought us 4 bottles of wine every month. We made the commitment to drink those 4 bottles together. If we simply couldn’t make that time for one another, we’d know we were doing something wrong and that it needed to change.
Plus, Skyspook and I have a tendency to try to “out-nice” each other a bit, and in our consideration for one another’s feelings, we can tiptoe around issues to the point where nothing gets said.
Wine had a twofold purpose here — first, it turned us both into Stage 5 blurters so that the truth was even spoken, and second, it dulled the sting of whatever unpleasant thing was said.
It Helps If You Have Polyamorous Friends
When I first tried polyamory many years ago, it was because I discovered friends of ours had been discreetly polyamorous for a couple of years. Before them, I’d never even heard the word.
I was really lucky in a lot of ways. It was invaluable to watch those friends and learn and discuss things through them. A few of my earliest rules with Seth were inspired by fights we had witnessed our poly friends having. For example, we developed a convention that when one of us had a guest in the bed we shared (whether for sex or co-sleeping) that we would surrender our side of the bed to the guest and slide over to our partner’s side. This came about because our friends had a giant fight about a guest spending the night in the bed without any heads up.
This fix was one of many Good Roommate Standards that we established. Other examples of the GRS:
- “If your girlfriend or boyfriend is cold, you can lend them a piece of your clothing, not your partner’s.”
- “If you want to lend something to the new flame and it’s your partner‘s, ask first. And drop it if they say no.”
- “If you mess up the kitchen cooking for a date, clean up after yourself. Don’t expect your partner to do it.”
It really helps to have polyamorous friends — a bit like watching videos of a driver going around a racetrack before you attempt it yourself.
But if you don’t have real-life poly friends, don’t sweat it. The Internet isn’t a bad place either to observe poly dynamics. However, being able to have a baseline level of behavior for the people you’re corresponding with helps a lot to gauge what’s actually going on.
If you can, find a local poly group (Meetup.com and Fetlife.com have many) that meets in person and make some friends there.
Get Tested for STIs and Read Up on Sexual Health
Make an appointment to get tested for STIs. You can go to your regular healthcare provider if you want, but I’ve had great success with Planned Parenthood. They are really non-monogamy friendly.
And read up on sexual health issues and safer sex measures. Don’t just read one thing. Read a lot.
Trust me, it’s better to get educated on this stuff before you’re in complicated situations than trying to figure it out as you go along.
Believe it or not, PornHub has great resources.
My new book is out!
A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching: Advice for Couples Seeking Another Partner