A new friend on OKC recently asked me for five tips that I would offer him and his wife, as they are relatively new to poly and their open relationship. After some reflection and discussion with J, here is what I have to offer:
1. Read, read, and read some more
If you are new to the land of open relationships, then you most likely will need some new frameworks for understanding relationships, love, and sex. Even if many open relationship concepts feel familiar, it can be helpful to have some new cognitive frameworks and new language to go along with your feelings. Check out the Resources page for some books, websites, and other blogs that can help.
2. Practice self-awareness
Make sure to figure out why you want an open relationship, what needs you are hoping to fulfill, what structure sounds best to you (at least initially), and what things make you uncomfortable. Figure out what boundaries feel good to you. Notice when things feel good and when things feel challenging. Ask yourself “why?” and treat yourself with gentleness, respect, and curiosity. I think this post and this one can be helpful in getting the ball rolling, if you haven’t looked inward in a while or are out of practice (both also include other good lists of tips about finding health and happiness in an open relationship and mirror this post a bit).
3. Communicate honestly
Open relationships are marked by honesty, integrity, and fidelity (honoring your commitments and promises). Treat yourself, your partner(s), and your relationships with respect by giving honest information about your needs, desires, and boundaries. Expect and ask for honesty in return. Know that open relationships rarely sit on “auto-pilot” (at least in my experience); communication is a dynamic and daily process. Without constant communication, feelings can fester and boundaries can be unintentionally violated. Expect to talk a lot, to listen a lot, and to work on your own communication skills. I highly recommend reading up on nonviolent communication skills, and how to incorporate meta communication into your interactions.
4. Expect to make mistakes and for your partner(s) to make mistakes
Life is messy. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they are stepping outside the bounds of social norms (in this case, monogamy) for the first (intentional) time. Practice self-compassion and be compassionate toward your partner(s). Remember that you have good intentions, and that your partner(s) does too. And, if you welcome mistakes into your life, you also welcome successes and happiness. Mistakes can turn into blessings, as well, and teach you something new about yourself. Take the chance to grow and become the person you want to be.
5. Find support outside of your relationship
This is healthy regardless of your relationship structure, but it is especially helpful when you are transitioning an integral part of your worldview and way of relating to others. If friends and family in your life are not supportive of open relationships, then it is time to build an intentional community of folks who are supportive of them. Find support groups online or in person, find a poly-friendly therapist, and reach out to friends who can support and love you no matter what.