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Dr. Lori Beth, how do I bring up that I think I’m poly?

Dear Readers,

I get so many questions about polyamory, non-monogamy, monogamous relationships, and monogamy hangovers. This week, I’m answering some of the most common questions I regularly receive. 

Have a question I haven’t answered? Let me know in the comments or send me a message over social media.

See yourself in an answer and need help navigating? Send me a comment or dm me. 

1) Is there a right way to bring up non-monogamy to a partner who’s never indicated an interest?

If you know you’re non-monogamous when you meet: The best way is to bring this up at the very beginning of the relationship just as you would talk about your availability, sexual orientation, and marital status. Waiting until there is an established relationship is not ok as the person you’ve become attached to may have no interest. And it’s likely they may feel betrayed when you do bring up non-monogamy because they assumed you were monogamous like them.

If you discover you desire non-monogamy during the relationship, the best way to bring up the subject with a partner who has never indicated interest is indirect. I highly recommend reading Rewriting the Rules by Dr. Meg-John Barker and then recommending it to your partner as an interesting book. It is not specifically about consensual non-monogamy but rather about creating your own individual relationship – so it talks about consensual non-monogamy. If you want to be more specific, choose a book or podcast on non-monogamy and suggest they listen to it. That will allow you to find out your partner’s attitude before a direct discussion. (I have done a number of episodes on my show, and been the guests on this topic for a bunch more shows) 

2) How can I explain what an “open” relationship is without scaring off a potential partner?

First, don’t refer to it as an ‘open’ relationship as this already has lots of connotations from the media. Again, I recommend starting indirectly – listen to a podcast, read a book, watch something that portrays successful non-monogamous relationships. 

As a conversation: Start by reassuring your partner that you love them, and you are committed to them. Then explain that many people enjoy relationships where they can explore intimacy with other partners (either alone or together) in an ethical way. Explain that there are many different types of relationships that are not monogamous – from once in a while sexual exploration together with a third party to committed long-term relationships with multiple people and everything in between. Check frequently as to how your partner is understanding what you are saying so that you can clear up any misunderstandings at the moment.

3) What should a person do if their partner seems willing but is uncertain? 

Go slow! Make sure you both are clear what you are proposing to do: Have a threesome? Date other people together? Date other people separately? Go to a swingers party? 

Once you are both clear, set boundaries: For example: Safe sex with any other partners.  No bringing partners home. No posting pictures with other partners on social media. No relationships with anyone you both know. 

If you are having trouble negotiating a new arrangement, I recommend that you see a coach who is experienced in working with consensual non-monogamy. Bringing in a trained, neutral third-party who can help each person work through their feelings and negotiate boundaries to help create a foundation for success. Don’t be surprised if your partner wants a session or two alone to explore their own feelings.  

 4) What should I do if my partner has no interest in any type of “open” relationship?

If your partner has no interest at all in open relationships, there are still a few options:

  1. a) Negotiate with your partner to agree what you can do outside of your relationship. This becomes a poly/mono relationship and it takes lots of excellent communication and a clear set of rules. You would benefit from seeing a coach that has experience working with poly/mono couples.
  2. b) Decide to stay monogamous with your partner, and explore indirectly using fantasy and solo sex.
  3. c) Decide being monogamous is not for you, end the relationship, and then explore the kind of non-monogamy that works for you.

Having affairs (unethical non-monogamy) is not on the list because betrayal is extremely difficult to get past and more often than not will destroy the relationship. Betrayal is inherently painful for the partner who is betrayed. Starting a non-monogamous relationship with hurt will almost surely equal failure.

 5) How can I have a successful non-monogamous relationship?

Success in opening up an already existing relationship relies on LOTS of excellent communication plus a willingness to go very slow. The pace should be dictated by the person who hasn’t been thinking about non-monogamy. 

Both parties have to be willing to compromise. Both parties have to be flexible as well. Talking is not doing so even though you may have agreed upon boundaries, once you move forward there is a possibility you may need to revisit and renegotiate rules and agreements. 

Sometimes a person finds they cannot manage their feelings of jealousy. My experience as a therapist and coach is to recommend time and patience. Again, this is an area it is helpful to have a neutral third party involved.

Finally, lying (even white lies) is the kiss of death if you are trying to open up your relationship.  In this case, asking permission is far better than asking for forgiveness. It is the lying and betrayal that partners often cannot get past.

Have a question about polyamory, non-monogamy or ethical non-monogamy I haven’t answered? Let me know in the comments or send me a message over social media.

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