Some consider monogamy or sexual exclusiveness as a constraining force that tears relationships. For others, monogamy is a prerequisite to having a trusting relationship.
The opinions are diverse and reflect the individual needs but also, the perceived social pressure and our freedom to liberate ourselves from traditionally imposed values around love, sexuality and relationships.
In some cases, partners are aligned in their understanding of what monogamy assumes and whether they want it. In many others, the terms need to be (re)negotiated.
Such is a situation when one partner wants monogamy and the other one doesn’t.
Is such a relationship likely to end, or is there a hope for the other partner to buy into trying an open relationship?
The relationships are complex and so is the answer to this question.
Let’s look into it, shall we?
Meaning of Monogamy and Open-Relationships
We may have a shared understanding of what monogamy assumes and yet, attribute different meanings to it. Monogamy may mean one thing for you, and something completely different for your partner.
Opening a relationship may seem liberating for one, and threatening for the other.
Opening a relationship may be an expression of trust for one and the breach of trust for the other.
If you find yourselves facing such or other differences, it’s important to start a conversation about it.
The first step before starting a conversation on such topic is to check in with yourself.
Why Do You Want an Open-Relationship?
Before you pin your partner’s resistance to opening a relationship as a problem, reflect on what drives you to consider leaving the “safe” waters of monogamy.
Here are some of the important questions to look into:
- Are you losing sexual interest in your partner?
An open-relationship promises the opportunity to revive the sexual interest while engaging with other partners. The chances are, however, that if your partner detects the lack of sexual desire towards them they are likely to feel insecure about opening the relationship. Too often it can sound like, “I want to stay with you, but sleep with other people”.
- Do you feel unhappy with your sex life?
Your sex life may still active, but not active, vibrant or exciting enough. It’s okay to want more than what you already have. Opening a relationship can indeed enhance your sex life. Still, if your partner takes your interest in an open-relationship as a message “what we have is not enough”, the fear of abandonment or their personal insecurities (“I am not enough for you “) may drive their hesitation to consider it.
- Is an open-relationship the attempt to save or end the relationship?
Opening a relationship can seem like a way to save a relationship, as the partners give each other a chance to meet their needs elsewhere. They may see an open relationship as a way to get the one thing they are missing (sexual pleasure and excitement) so that it can stop affecting the relationship (that is otherwise satisfying and happy). Or, it can be a way to keep themselves in the safe harbor while exploring the open seas (we are still with each other, while seeing other people). If either sound familiar to you, the chances are your partner will see an open-relationship as a way to replace the one that you now have.
- Do you crave the attention of others?
Sometimes, it doesn’t seem enough to be considered attractive by just one person – your partner. Some of us may crave more attention, more sexual friction than what we are having with one person. We may have habituated to the compliments of our partner and want to feel that others are drawn to us. If that is the case, reflect on the reasons behind this craving. Sometimes, it’s the fear of “losing” the power, or the need to prove that we still got it the motive driving this desire.
- Do you fear dependence?
Open relationship may seem like a way to keep yourself protected of becoming too dependent on the partner. By opening a relationship, it may seem as if you are no longer having all your eggs in one basket. If that seems like the case for you, think about the fears the notion on monogamy is inducing for you. What makes monogamy intimidating or uncomfortable? Where does such an understanding of monogamy stem from?
The reason for you to look into your own motives is obvious–to be able to approach your partner compassionately, you first need to be honest with yourself and give yourself the attention and time you deserve to really dig into your own feelings. Only then will you also be able to understand the complexity of your partner’s feelings.
What Is Your Partner’s Take On Monogamy and Open-Relationships?
Open-relationship can legitimately provoke insecurities. It may trigger all sorts of fears, such as the fear of being insufficient, sexually inadequate, undesirable, not worthy of love or attention, the fear of being abandoned and replaced, neglected or betrayed.
These fears may be particularly intense if the idea of opening a relationship comes at the times when a couple is not doing so well.
Wanting someone else is still often misread as not wanting the person you are with. Most people are still used to believing that once you feel you have everything you need in the relationship, you need no one else. Open-relationships are still a relatively new product of sexual liberation.
It’s important to understand your partner’s view of monogamy and open-relationship.
Here are some of the questions that can spark a conversation:
- How would you define monogamy?
- What kinds of open-relationships do you know about?
- Who is monogamy for?
- What kind of people prefer an open-relationship?
- Have you ever met anyone who is in an open-relationship?
- What are the good sides of monogamy/open-relationships?
- What are the bad sides of monogamy/open-relationships?
- How do you feel when you consider us being in an open-relationship?
- How do you feel about me asking you to consider an open-relationship?
Be mindful of what you both are referring to when you talk about open-relationships. There are many types of open-relationships (swinging, polyamory, partnered non-monogamy, etc.) and no two of the same type are the same. The couples have the freedom to negotiate the rules that are at their comfort levels.
Recognize the parts of your conversation that are based on assumptions founded in ignorance. Recognize the space to learn and grow together. Your partner may not be interested into taking a leap of faith right away, but may be willing to look into it (with no strings attached).
How to Discuss Monogamy and Open-Relationships?
Approach the conversation with self-awareness and patience for your partner.
Self-awareness, so that you can observe how you feel about what they are sharing. Patience, because they have the right to doubt, challenge, question, be afraid, hesitant and resistant.
- Take a curious and understanding stance.
Ask open ended questions without imposing answers or passing moral judgement.
- Do not assume that you understand them without checking for understanding.
“I am listening and want to ensure that I really get your point of view. Is it okay if I try to repeat what I think you shared with me? Please correct me if I misunderstood you.”
- Show Empathy.
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. “I understand where you are coming from. I hear your fears.” Your partner might be shy and worried how they will overcome their shyness for swinging. You want to identify and respect their feelings.
- Reassure Your Partner.
Make sure they know you are there to listen and hear them. That you want leave at the first sign of resistance. That you are not going to blindly push them into something they are not comfortable with. That you are not looking to replace them.
- Open up space for questions.
Allow them to ask their questions and answer them with honesty and empathy. They may ask: Why is this suddenly a topic? Why haven’t you mentioned this to me before? Am I not enough for you anymore? What kind of relationship are you looking for?
- Give them the time to think about it.
Though you may have been thinking about this for a while now, the topic of open-relationships may still be new for your partner.
- Propose baby-steps.
Talk to them about the steps they are willing to make with you. Maybe that is researching online, reading about people’s experiences, watching porn, chatting with other couples, meeting with a couple for a date with no sexual contact or consulting a relationship and sex therapist.
Monogamy as a Deal-Breaker
What happens in those situations when a non-monogamous relationship is not an option, and your partner won’t accept opening the relationship?
It’s really up to you to weigh the pros and cons. If you deeply care about your partner and would prefer losing an opportunity to engage with others than losing them, you may consider staying. If living deprived of the opportunity to sexually experiment with others is too high of a price to pay, you may consider leaving.
It is not uncommon to think of monogamy as too constraining even when the relationship with the partner is satisfactory of multiple levels. The experience of being “in captivity” can trigger discomfort that is too difficult to bear and causes some to stray.
In some cases, the partner may not be willing to swing with you, but may be willing to give you a guilt-free pass to see other people. Relationships are however, an emotionally charged field. If the rules are not defined and seen as fair, if the partners do not honestly communicate their discomfort, the hearts are likely to get broken.
Relationships evolve. Most open-relationships start off as monogamous. One partner brings up an idea and the other considers it. Some partners will openly refuse it without giving it a chance, some will consider it with hesitation, and some will welcome the idea and venture into the unknown.
Bringing it up is a risky move. However, is it more or less dangerous or damaging than keeping the idea to yourself and never finding out if it had a chance?
Listen to your partner patiently and provide them the emotional safety to consider this idea. The decision to try the open relationship needs to be consensual if the relationship is to survive. It’s important to know that the open relationship is not a way to mend a broken one, but to further enhance what’s already strong.
It is important to notice how our understanding is shaped by the social influences we were brought up with. What are we taught to believe about relationships affects our choices?
However, if open relationship was not on the table from the beginning, your partner has the right to approach it with the attitude “sorry, this is not what I signed up for.” The notion of bringing someone into the relationship may provoke fears of abandonment, betrayal or idea of being insufficient.