open relationship newbies
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Open Relationship Newbies

While it’s very exciting that you and your significant other have agreed that you want to start as open relationship newbies, it can also be pretty intimidating, and the stakes are high. That’s why we spoke to some experts about how to best go about opening your relationship up for the first time. For starters, it’s all well and good setting boundaries, but what if you aren’t even sure what your boundaries are yet?

‘It’s important to both be honest that they probably won’t know what the boundaries are yet! It’s likely there will be “hard” limits – things that are absolute no-nos. ‘For example, one rule could be never to have people round at the house, people they both know etc. But beyond that it’s often about seeing what feels okay and what doesn’t as each situation arises. ‘Rules are important – it’s possible to still “cheat” in an open relationship if a boundary is broken. And being able to honestly say it doesn’t feel right, even if you can’t fully explain why. ‘It’s worth noting that, in non-monogamous relationships, jealousy is often still an issue. Being able to acknowledge this and be able to work it through together is essential.’

‘The good news is that there is a LOT of information and support out there for open relationship newbies – it is encouraged that both partners do a bit of reading, or listen to a podcast about open relationships,’ says Briony Leo, Psychologist and Head of Coaching at relationship self-care app Relish. ‘Some people think an open relationship is simply sleeping with other people, which it is not – if anything, it requires way more communication, vulnerability and honesty than a traditional relationship, because there is so much more to consider!  ‘Once both people have a sense of what this is, they can sit down and discuss certain scenarios and what they would/would not be comfortable with – for example, seeing someone more than once, or seeing someone that both partners know and see regularly… ‘It can also help to talk about emotional and physical boundaries (these are very different), as well as more practical things like safety and contraception.’ Briony also says involving a therapist can be ‘incredibly helpful’ in a situation like this, ‘particularly if there are pre-existing trust issues in the relationship, or if conversations about opening up the relationship are becoming highly conflictual and unproductive. ‘If there are some major issues in the relationship and one partner is concerned that opening up the relationship will worsen things – professional support is recommended.  ‘If you are seeking out a therapist, it is important to find one who is trained in ethical non-monogamy, as some traditional therapists may not understand the complexities of an open relationship, and may be unhelpful.’ Alex says: ‘Having a therapist present may be helpful, but remember a therapist is not a mediator.  ‘A therapist can help you explore what openness means, your history around sex and sexual expression, how your relationship is and how you communicate your feelings. ‘If you do want a therapist, take some time to research the right one for open relationship newbies. Preferably one with additional training in working with relationship diversity. Pink Therapy is a good place to start.’

For people new to non-monogamy, open relationship newbies, it can be easy to worry whether you or your partner has agreed to opening up the relationship for the right reasons. When asked how couples can make sure non-monogamy is definitely what they both want, Briony again says that a therapist or coach can help, as well as doing a bit of your own research. She tells us: ‘Some people may suggest an open relationship as an alternative to breaking up, or because they are unhappy in their relationship – and this never goes well. ‘A coach or therapist can also identify if one person is “pushing” the open relationship and setting an ultimatum, meaning their partner is going along with it out of a fear of losing them – this is another situation that is not going to have a good outcome. ‘As with most relationship issues, clear and open communication is necessary here between both people to identify what they want to get from an open relationship, and how they will go about this in the most ethical and respectful way – with the consent of both partners.’  Alex agrees that couples can ensure they’ve agreed to open things up for the right reason with: ‘More communication! ‘Consent is the key thing, and consent needs to be full, informed and without conditions. There are times that one person will agree to an open relationship in order to “keep” their partner. ‘This is not consent because it comes with conditions – “agree, or I’ll leave”. This is not okay.’

It’s also perfectly natural to change your mind at any point and broach the topic of amending your boundaries or closing your relationship back up again. Alex explains: ‘Changing your mind is okay too – in fact it’s inevitable. As you change as a person, as your relationship changes, your feelings will change. ‘What was okay might not be anymore, and equally what wasn’t okay might start to feel okay. If one person changes their mind, this needs to be accepted whatever the potential impact on the relationship.’ Briony says: ‘It is good to remember that things can always be re-negotiated, and it is likely that things will change and unexpected emotional responses will come up – after all, the idea of an open relationship is non-traditional and will present new challenges and experiences.

‘Keep up the conversation between partners to explore how you are feeling, concerns you have – talking about jealousy, fear and excitement – after all, this is something you are sharing with each other. ‘The idea of radical honesty is helpful – being as honest and authentic as possible with your partner about what is happening and how you are feeling.  ‘If one person changes their mind, it is important to process this and discuss the new boundaries, and how the relationship will progress from here. ‘Emotional and psychological safety is important in a relationship, and having these conversations regularly means that both people will have a good awareness of the needs and emotional state of their partner. ‘Remember – an open relationship requires full consent of both partners – and without that, things are unlikely to go well.’

[Reprinted, with minor alterations, from the Apr.10, 21]

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