Swinging and other forms of consensual non-monogamy can be exciting, rewarding, and a lot of fun for both partners. People who are into swinging are generally more sexually open-minded and freer in their expressions of sexual desire. But swinging requires good teamwork, which means working together and looking out for each other’s wellbeing. Sometimes difficult topics or issues will come up – as they do in any relationship – and it’s best to tackle them as a team.
Discussing rules and boundaries before embarking on the swinging journey is always smart, but it is also a good idea to revisit these discussions periodically because sometimes things come up as you go along. It’s very much a learning curve, so you won’t necessarily know from the beginning exactly what kinds of things you want to explore, what you’re okay with, and what you might find uncomfortable.
Here we share some tips on how to discuss difficult topics with your partner. They will help you communicate what’s on your mind and help you be a better listener when your partner shares what they are feeling with you.
Mark and Jasmine are a couple who have been swinging for a few months. They’ve been to parties and met great people along the way, and it’s brought a new spark into their own relationship. On their most recent playdate, Mark felt a strong attraction to a man, and he’s fantasized about men in the past. But he doesn’t know how Jasmine would react if he told her that he thinks he is bisexual and wants to explore having sex with a man.
Just be open and honest – it’s that simple, right?
Talking to your partner about difficult topics can be challenging, and many of us avoid it, thinking the problem might just blow over or disappear. But avoidance (not dealing with something we don’t like or find difficult to process emotionally) has exactly the opposite of the desired effect: the stress piles up, and we never actually face the issue until it chips away at our own wellbeing as well as the happiness of our relationship. Dealing with something as it comes up might be uncomfortable in the moment, but it will be much more beneficial for you and the people you love in the long run. And besides, you don’t know what your partner is thinking or feeling until you’ve actually asked them about it!
So how do you approach difficult topics? How do you talk to your partner in a way that will firstly communicate what you actually mean and, secondly, not hurt the relationship? And, just as importantly, how do we listen to what our partner is saying without reacting in a way that is unhelpful or even damaging?
Let’s say the person talking is ‘the sender,’ and the person that’s listening is ‘the receiver.’ Then there’s the message, which can be verbal or nonverbal. The message is encoded by the sender and decoded by the receiver. In other words, our thoughts are transformed into language, and the receiver then interprets the information.
The thing is, we are not computers, so our emotions and different ways of seeing the world will naturally come into this. The sender has their own way of explaining things and will communicate with their own agenda. The receiver will interpret the message and decode it within their worldview and with their own biases. So there’s certainly space for things to go wrong!
Communicating about difficult topics
Now that we’ve explored how communication works ,let’s consider how to tell your partner about any doubts you may have, the new territory you might want to explore, or issues you want to raise.
Considering Jasmine and Mark’s situation, what kinds of things should he consider before telling Jasmine? It’s a good idea to think about and/ or write down some thoughts beforehand like ‘what does being bisexual mean to me?’ or ‘how do I feel about my realization?’ or ‘how do I see my bisexuality playing out within this relationship?’ or ‘what outcome am I hoping for?’
Thinking deeply about your own feelings first will help you understand them better, and it will help you compose your thoughts and feelings for when you are ready to discuss them with your partner.
It is also important that you not presume to know how your partner will react. Avoid saying things such as ‘I know you must be angry’ or ‘I’m sure this is a shock.’ Instead, communicate that you care about their feelings and maintaining your relationship with phrases such as ‘I am not saying this to hurt you’ or ‘I worry that you will be angry with me’.
- Find the right time
It’s probably not the best time to broach a difficult topic when you are in the queue for the cinema! Finding a dedicated time when you can sit down together and talk freely without feeling stressed about what you have to do next or having kids running around is best. Some privacy and having these types of conversations face-to-face will help you to have a productive conversation. Importantly, don’t throw these things out there during an argument! You want your partner to receive what you are saying in a positive way – not when you’re both feeling tense and upset with each other.
- Be clear, honest, and sensitive
Let’s say you’re having doubts about the swinging lifestyle and feel you want to quit swinging or take a break. That can be scary, especially if you feel like your partner isn’t on the same page. Talking about something can actually be the release we need and can often be helpful in letting go of our fears. You might find that your partner has or had similar feelings, and you can discuss them together and support each other. In any case, consider the following:
- Be clear about what you feel and what you want (but keep an open mind)
- You don’t need to apologize for how you feel – you are just being honest!
- Try not to be defensive, answer any questions they may have, and give them time to process
- Show affection and concern for how your partner is feeling
Have you ever felt that what you were trying to say was misunderstood or taken in the wrong way?
Listening is a skill, and it’s one of the most important aspects of good and effective communication. People often listen while already thinking of what to say next or only hear what fits in with their own interpretation of the situation; others daydream and think about what they should have for dinner rather than giving the other person their undivided attention.
Here are some tips for effective listening:
Be mindful of your body language
Communication between people happens largely in a nonverbal way – that means body language is vital in the process of communication! We give out subconscious signals during conversations, so open body language is important – this will show that you are listening and paying attention in a non-threatening way. Turn your body towards your partner and keep your arms open. Maintain eye contact and try to keep an attentive expression on your face.
We can fall into the trap of thinking we’ve heard it all before and know what our partner is about to say or what they are thinking. But people in happy relationships keep a curious mind and continue to learn about their partners and how they see the world. We can never fully know every aspect about another person. So if they tell you they are having doubts, find out why; find out what their fears are and where these might be coming from.
Try not to judge
Instead of jumping to conclusions, try to listen with an open mind – what are they actually saying or trying to say? Ask open-ended questions, leaving your own agenda at the door. Avoid absolute statements and leading questions. The more you can talk openly and understand each other, the more you will connect on a deeper level, and who doesn’t want that? You’re not in this alone – you and your partner are on this adventure together, and you’re a team!
The aim of talking to your partner is to find a resolution. Changing rules, wanting a break, or trying new things are all common themes that come up in a swinging relationship. Rules and boundaries can be fluid and evolve as your relationship grows, but it’s also okay to say ‘no’! Know where your own boundaries are and share those with your partner.
If something comes up that you don’t feel comfortable with, there’s no harm in saying it – just be mindful of how you say it. It doesn’t mean you have to stop exploring the lifestyle; you can just use it as a learning experience or a platform to build trust, honesty, and respectful communication. And remember that holding something inside is probably more damaging to your relationship, so honor your partner with the truth and allow yourself to be vulnerable.