As examples of healthy, long-term, non-monogamous relationships become more commonplace in the media and in social circles, more people are beginning to consider it themselves. While for some it may feel like an exciting adventure, for others it can feel very disruptive, triggering insecurity, instability, and anxiety.
If non-monogamy is piquing your interest and you want to bring it up with a partner, it's important to navigate the conversation thoughtfully so as not to trigger fear or anger. Here are some tips for success:
1. Get clear on why you are interested in exploring non-monogamy.
If you are drawn to non-monogamy thinking it’s going to solve relationship issues or to alleviate boredom you associate with your relationship, you may want to address those issues before bringing it up. If there’s existing struggle and tension in your relationship, this conversation is only going to exacerbate the situation.
The best relationships to open up are happy and well-functioning ones. Non-monogamy does not thrive in dysfunction nor does it solve it.
2. If you are actively avoiding it, you must bring it up.
If you have been thinking about non-monogamy for a while but avoid bringing it up, you're probably anticipating conflict. And yes, handled poorly, these conversations can end up in a conflict. But if they go unvoiced, our desires can erode the connection between partners.
Figure out the stories you're holding onto that get in the way of you broaching this subject with your partner. Do you believe they’ll be upset or hurt? Do you think they’ll leave you on the spot? Be honest with yourself. Once you identify these stories, be prepared to address them at the beginning of the conversation and set an intention, such as, "I want to talk to you about something, and I have a story in my head that you'll feel hurt. My intention is for us to discuss it with an open mind, and I want to hear everything you have to say about it as well as sharing my thoughts with you.”
Avoiding an important conversation causes disconnection, which will often be felt by the other person. It’s better to be in active communication than passive avoidance.
3. Start with the concept, not the execution.
Start by suggesting a discussion around the concept of non-monogamy rather than talking about opening up your current relationship and what that would look like practically. Jumping straight into discussing your existing relationship structure can feel destabilizing or threatening, causing your partner to shut down or become defensive. Sharing an article you’ve read or a talk you’ve recently heard to kick off this discussion will eliminate potential tension around this topic.
4. Before you approach this topic, H.A.L.T.
Timing matters. Not only the actual time of day but the condition that you and your partner are each in at that time. H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. These physical and emotional conditions are not conducive to a productive interaction.
Hungry: Lack of food can trigger a dysregulated emotional state. We have all heard people talk about being “hangry” or “hunxious.” Similarly, we know that eating can calm our nervous system. Although excessive comfort eating isn't a good habit, sharing a healthy snack 10 to 15 minutes before an important conversation can set up a calm, relaxed mood.
It’s also worth mentioning that hunger can also refer to an emotional hunger. Hunger for company. Hunger for comfort. Hunger for acknowledgment. Starting a conversation about dating other people with a hunger for attention, for example, is going to set up non-monogamy as a strategy to fulfill that need, rather than a potential exploration. If you have an unfulfilled need that's getting in the way of you showing up for a conversation with a clear mind and intention, addressing these needs will clear the path for a smoother conversation.
Angry: Approaching any conversation from a place of anger is going to get in the way of addressing what needs to be addressed. Exclaiming “I want an open relationship” at the tail end of an argument is not a good way to start this conversation. If you're feeling angry, take some time off, go for a walk, listen to some music, apply some self-care, and (if applicable) handle the conflict at hand before you broach a potentially sensitive subject.
Lonely: We can feel lonely in a crowd, and we can feel lonely in a specific relationship. Loneliness is a physical or emotional isolation, which is not good for the human spirit as we are pack animals. If you are feeling isolated and lonely, you won’t be able to approach a subject from a neutral point. Instead of tackling a tough subject, either schedule some social time for meaningful connections with friends or family or engage in some quality time with your partner.
Tired: Tackling potentially tough subjects after a long day or late at night is not ideal. Tiredness makes it hard to listen and focus, as well as to reason and remain connected. Depending on your schedule, a better time to start this conversation might be on a weekend after breakfast as you sip away at your coffee or tea. Similarly, check in with yourself during the conversation and be prepared to press pause if you or your partner is getting too tired.
A topic like non-monogamy will be never be resolved in one session nor should it be. The ideal way is to have an evolving conversation about this subject starting conceptually and then, over time, focusing on what it might look like in your relationship.
5. Don’t proselytize or evangelize.
Often when people learn about non-monogamy and discover healthy models, they get excited if it appeals to them. When they approach their partner, they bring it up with the tone of “spreading the good word” and only talk about how amazing it is. They only highlight the parts they think are exciting and focus on all the possibilities and opportunities in an effort to get their partner’s buy-in. This can feel very isolating and invalidating to your partner, especially if they have concerns about it.
The truth is, if you have no concerns about a massive relationship change like non-monogamy, it means you haven’t thought about it enough. Just like most ideas, non-monogamy has strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Be honest with yourself and with your partner. Don’t sell the idea, but put forward a balanced, well-thought-out perspective that's open for discussion. Bring up the aspects that concern and scare you as well those that excite and intrigue you.
6. Be kind and patient, and meet your partner where they are at.
The chances are that by the time you're bringing non-monogamy up with your partner, you have been thinking and potentially researching all about it for a while. Your partner probably won’t be where you are at when you first approach the subject. Offer support as they try to make sense of it. Make gentle invitations rather than demands for decisions and actions. Accept that it might take time for them to wrap their head around these new ideas.
Often people make the mistake of going from discussing this potential change into execution, which often looks like starting to date other people. If you are excited about non-monogamy, this can feel like the right step. If your partner is tentative about it, this can seem like a huge jump. Regardless of your excitement level, a good first step after discussion and research is to meet other people who are curious about or practicing non-monogamy for friendship and community before starting to date.
Although non-monogamy is gaining popularity in the zeitgeist, it can still be a touchy topic when discussed in the context of existing relationships. It not only challenges a lot of the norms that are at the core of our society today, it can also challenge fundamental personal belief systems around love, belonging, and self-worth. There is a lot to be gained from having this conversation with your partner, so it is absolutely worth having if it is appealing to you. The key is to take your time and navigate it with a ton of kindness and compassion.
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