People often wonder how rules and agreements fit into the open relationship lifestyle.
To address this, I’m going to lead us through an exercise.
Below, you will find the definition of rule, agreement, and agree. As you read each definition, I invite you to pay close attention to how your body responds to what you are reading. Notice what sensations arise in you, as well as what feelings and emotions begin to stir. Make a note of what thoughts, stories, or images appear as a result of what you are reading. For extra points, consider reading it out loud to yourself or have someone read it to you.
Learn more about my helpful approach to open relationships
Simple Definition of rule (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rule)
: a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.
: a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)
: a piece of advice about the best way to do something
Notice what you notice. Bring your attention to any sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, or stories that arise in you. How do those feelings shift when you consider the practice of ethical non-monogamy and your experience with open relationships? Take a minute to make a mental note or write down your observation.
Now take a deep breath and continue to the next definition.
Simple Definition of agreement (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agreement)
: the act of agreeing (see definition of “agree” below)
: a situation in which people share the same opinion: a situation in which people agree
: an arrangement, contract, etc., by which people agree with what is to be done
Simple Definition of agree (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agreeing)
: to have the same opinion
: to say that you will do, accept, or allow something that is suggested or requested by another person
Again, notice what you notice. What sensations, emotions, thoughts, and stories arise as you read the definitions of agreement and agree? How does your experience of those words change when you consider open relationships and the practice of ethical non-monogamy? Take a minute to make a mental note or write down your observation. Breathe.
Final Part of the Exercise
In reading the definition of the term rule and those of agreement and agree, ask yourself:
- What differences did you notice in how you experienced those words? Was there any difference?
- When you consider your relationship, what word would you say genuinely feels better to you? What feels most aligned?
I understand it’s a question of semantics, and I believe words carry energy. What we say and what we create is based on how we feel about ourselves and each other.
As an open relationship coach, I have a genuine curiosity to know what motivates people to make the decisions they make. Having extensive personal experience in the practice of ethical non-monogamy, I can assure you there is a heightened sense of uncertainty in the lifestyle. People who are in open relationships desire to feel grounded in this uncertainty. Some people want to create structure in their relationship in order to feel safer. Some do so to feel more control. Others want to know that what they currently have won’t be lost (a variation of safety). Still others want to have the freedom to do what they want to do and so create a situation with a certain degree of limitations (a variation of control). All of these things make sense to me. And, I keep coming back to the intention underneath the desired action. I wonder about the energy used to create the kind of life, the kind of relationship, that feels most open, most free, most aligned, most harmonious with ourselves with the people we choose to engage with.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me what you do or how you do it. That’s your choice. What’s important to me is the awareness and intention you bring to what you do in your life and in your relationships.
Speaking for myself, I am an advocate for creating agreements (not rules) in open relationships. In my experience, agreements have more room for people and relationships to expand and grow in ways that seem most supportive of the human experience. Agreements are created with a team focus, everyone participates, and there’s room for them to change over time. In the event an agreement is broken, then another agreement must be made to address it. Again, creating an agreement seems much more engaging to me. Creating an agreement with someone invites everyone to get clear with their desires and to find ways to communicate what they desire in a way that values themselves and others.
In contrast, my experience of rules in the open relationship lifestyle has been akin to something being created from an outside force. It feels like an imposition of something that is put in place in order to keep something a certain way. This may seem safe to someone and be controlling to someone else. Rules tell me what I can and cannot do. There’s little room for freedom and exploration in that for me. It seems to limit growth potential for those who are in the relationship. You either obey the rule or you break it. If you obey it, you’re doing it right and you’re a good person. If you break the rule, you’re doing it wrong, you’re a bad person and you’ll be punished. Of course this may be a bit extreme; however, I think you get the picture.
If you are interested in creating healthy and sustainable open relationships, consider the following:
Authenticity is what drives people to be who they are in their fullest expression. When we bring our authentic selves to our life and to our relationships, we are giving our true selves a chance to show up again. Being authentic asks that we are aware of your experience, that we are honest with ourselves, that we take responsibility for our actions, and we do so in a way that preserves our integrity with ourselves and with others.
Practice Open Communication
Communication in open relationships is essential if you are to thrive in the lifestyle. Without it, the relationship is doomed to fail. That said, “What do you do when there is something you want to share and you don’t want to share it?” You take a deep breath and you share it anyway. I coach my clients to preface things they don’t want to say. For example, “I’m aware that I am feeling jealous. I have a desire to talk about it with you but I’m hesitant because I think it might hurt you, or you may think I may want you to change what you are doing. That isn’t my intention. My intention is to put this on the table so that I can feel more present with you.” Again, communication is crucial. It can be scary to call out the “elephants in the room;” and when you do, you will find there is more space for connection and intimacy.
Put your desires on the table, share your intentions, share your fantasies and your fears. Talk about what feels good to you and what doesn’t. This is where authenticity and communication come together. This is where you and your partners come to an agreement on how you want to practice ethical non-monogamy. This is where everyone is seen and heard, scenarios are considered, and action steps are taken. By action steps I mean, “Now that we know [insert information here], how do we want to proceed? What do we want to do?” This is where I encourage my clients to go slow. I suggest they take a small step in the direction of their goal rather than jump off the deep end.
For example, say a husband and wife want to open their marriage and they are both interested in being sexual with other people. Rather than find any random couple to have sex with, they might consider going to a lifestyle club to experience that scene first. They can decide ahead of time what they feel comfortable with and make some agreements on how the night will play out. They may agree to socialize with other couples and only play with each other. This gives everyone a taste of what’s possible with the security of certain parameters. This pace can be very comforting to someone who is new to the open relationship lifestyle.
When we slow down, we get to see there are lots of possibilities available to us. Going slow doesn’t mean you don’t get what you want. Going slow does mean you follow your desire while staying in connection with those around you. Of course, each scenario has its own set of agreements that you create each time. It keeps things present, alive, and real.
Make a “Yes” list and a “No” list
Again, this is where you bring everything together. Ask questions and get clear on your answers. This is where you check in and check in again on what’s okay and what’s not okay. Keep in mind this may change from situation to situation. The idea is to have something in place that gives everyone the freedom to follow their desires in a way that supports the relationship they are in. Here are a few examples:
- How do we handle dating other people?
- How much information do we agree to share with each other and how do we share?
- What are the parameters around having sex with others?
- At what point do we discuss STI’s with others?
- How do we want to practice safe sex? Do we agree to use condoms with others?
- In the event there is a red flag about anything, what is the best way to share this info?
- Can we have sex with another in our home and in our bed?
- How can we best own and share our feelings without taking away our freedom?
Get to the root of why you do what you do. What fuels your fire? What drives your intentions? If you are genuinely curious about being in a healthy and sustainable open relationship, then, by all means, explore the lifestyle with the utmost of integrity with yourself and with other people. Consider the things I listed above, and have fun!
If you are wanting to explore ethical non-monogamy to get something for yourself and leave someone behind, then don’t call it ethical non-monogamy. Please consider what I have written in this post and take the appropriate action to be more clear with what you want and how to get it in a way that nourishes connection.
Lastly, if you are in an open relationship because your partner wants it (and you don’t really want it), please be honest with yourself and with your partner. You don’t have to be, do, or tolerate anything you don’t want to. There is an edge (and a learning curve) to this lifestyle. That edge can bring up a lot of emotions. It’s okay to embrace and move through the emotional turbulence when it comes up. It’s okay to say “no thank you.” And, it’s okay to say “Yes. I’m interested and I’m willing to learn how to do it in a way that feels good to me, too.”
We always have a choice. Please choose wisely. Be respectful. Be honest. Be transparent. Practice open communication. And last but not least, enjoy the ride.