Dear Gigi,

I’ve been with the same person for the last four years; dating for three and married for one. I’m bisexual and have recently been wanting to explore the possibility of dating and sleeping with women again. My partner and I are very open with each other. When I spoke to him about this he was communicative.

We’ve decided we’d like to open our relationship up. I’d like to be able to have emotional feelings, but my partner is only comfortable with sexual relationships outside of the marriage. I’m OK with this. I’m happy he is even OK with any of it! My question is, how we do get started with an open relationship? We’re both kind of freaked out, but excited too!

Thanks!

M

Hi M,

Thanks for writing in! I love a good question on open marriages. I wish more people would consider them — we’d probably have a lot less divorce in this country (not to mention cheating).

Now, monogamy is cool and everything. Monogamy is the primary way we form relationships, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way — or even the right way. Monogamy works for many people, but it just isn’t the preferred lifestyle for many. And that’s OK! We’ve got to stop shaming people for having alternative-style relationships. Who the F cares what someone else is doing if they’re happy and fulfilled?

That being said, open relationships are not without their complications. All forms of relationships, monogamous/poly/swinger etc. come with their own set of difficulties. I’m sure you’ve considered the most obvious: jealousy.

The only way you can make an open marriage work is through communication and total honesty. It takes negotiation, negotiation, more negotiation, constant negotiation. It is, ironically enough, a group effort. Not only do you need to check in with your outside lover, but you have to check with your primary partner about how they feel about your lover. It’s a lot of talking and figuring things out.

If you lose the openness and communication, you’re doomed. It’s not to say that jealousy will be absent from your relationship or outside relationships. We are human beings. Jealousy is a naturally occurring emotion. Don’t push it under the hood. Talk it out and get to the root of these feelings, together. If something isn’t working for you, speak up. If something is bothering you, say something. Making an open relationship work means being comfortable enough to voice your needs. You must be able to say no if something doesn’t feel right.

So, I totally get that you both are freaked out. This is a big step. There is no sense in being cavalier about it. Open relationships are largely uncharted territory. These forms of relationships a rarely given any attention outside of the occasional article in mainstream media.

First things first, do some reading. Always read a few books on the subject before attempting anything at home. I’d recommend reading Tristan Taormino Opening Up. It answers crucial questions about different aspects of swinging and polyamory that I’m sure would be helpful.

An open relationship, like any relationship, takes careful planning and understanding. Don’t do anything until you’re both set and concrete in the terms. You must be on the same page, and sure that you’re on the same page. And the page changes with time. Remember that.

Do you want to know everything that happens in a sexual encounter? Do you want a don’t ask/don’t tell policy? Do you want to check in once a week? Once a month? Are you having sex separately or together? Some of both?

Have these questions (and I’m sure there are many others) answered before you go out and look for someone new.

As far as getting started (after careful preparation), I’d recommend apps. Apps are the way to go with threesomes, open relationships, and polyamory in this modern world. You can check out apps like Feeld and Match.com (there’s a website and an app!) be open and honest about what you’re looking for. Have it all there in the profile. Don’t be shady. It isn’t cute. Decide if you want to have a joint account or separate accounts and proceed accordingly.

Remember, the key to all of this is communication and understanding. Check in and make sure both you and your partner are comfortable with everything that’s happening. Address issues as they arise.

This isn’t some fantasy movie where everything is going to be perfect and sexy all the time. This is real life and real life gets messy. Be prepared to deal with drama. There is always drama in every relationship – even monogamous ones. These principles apply to all forms of relationships, including monogamous relationships. No relationship arrangement (monogamy/polyamory/swinging/ etc.) is a panacea. Relationships take work, regardless of the arrangement.

Talk it out. Love yourself enough to set boundaries.

Best of luck!

XOXO

Gigi

Gigi Engle is a feminist writer, sex educator, and speaker. A book with St. Martins Press is forthcoming.

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