How to Propose an Open Relationship
“Don’t bring it up during an argument,” says Terri D. Conley, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who studies sexuality. If you’re in a monogamous relationship and want to explore making it nonmonogamous, raise the topic gradually. Conley doesn’t drink, but she thinks these exploratory conversations might benefit from the loosening effects of alcohol. Start hypothetically. For example, ask your partner to name the most attractive famous people. “You could then say, ‘Oh, that person is so hot, if they propositioned you, I’d be fine if you had sex with them,’ ” Conley says. If your partner looks horrified at the suggestion, it doesn’t bode well.
Once you decide to make your case outright, be explicit about what you want, and say it clearly. Listen carefully to what your partner wants. To make what sex researchers call consensual “extradyadic involvement” work, you need to be willing to communicate often and with empathy.Monogamous couples move into nonmonogamy for all kinds of reasons— unmet sexual desire, boredom, illness, curiosity. Open arrangements tend to work best for couples with lower inclinations toward jealousy and, in the case of heterosexual pairs, less rigid gender norms. Just the suggestion of romantic permutation can be stimulating. The psychotherapist Esther Perel has found that when monogamous couples discuss the possibility of nonmonogamy, it often increases sexual desire between them. “You’re asking yourselves, ‘What would our relationship look like if it changed?’ ” Conley says.
If you can afford it, take this negotiation to couples’ therapy. Be sure to choose a provider who is amenable to the notion of open relationships; Conley’s research suggests many are not and that some core psychology theories of attachment, commitment and psychosocial development presume monogamy as the ideal. Since Conley first began publishing academic papers on nonmonogamy more than a decade ago, she has been attacked by other researchers in the field. Their anger confused her. “It was like I shot their dog,” she says. Her methodology wasn’t the problem, she says; it was that she’d dared to suggest that nonmonogamous relationships could be healthy and satisfying.
If both parties appear willing to try an open relationship, give yourselves a trial period. “If your partner is still miserable after two months, it’s probably not going to work,” Conley says. “In which case you need to decide if you’re going to stay with that person and be monogamous or leave.”
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