I’ve been married to my partner for 9 years and he has begun to express an interest in opening our relationship. This really scares me because I don’t want to get any diseases or risk losing him to someone more exciting or adventurous than I have been. What can I do to convince him that this is a bad idea?
While you can’t “convince” your partner to do anything against their will, dear reader, what you CAN do is continue to initiate compassionate, kind, honest dialogues with them throughout this entire process about your feelings, fears, concerns, boundaries, and anticipations. This is a really big question, so at the risk of turning this response into a 2,000 word article, I’m going to provide some “introduction to non-monogamy” tidbits of wisdom. I hope they help! For more information on sustaining non-monogamous relationships, I encourage you to address the archives of my polyamory-specific advice column, “I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!.”
Although I myself have been non-monogamous for over a decade, I never attempt to dissuade people from monogamy. Monogamy is just as legitimate a relationship structure as non-monogamy, and some people are just plain suited for it. That being said, I also believe that human beings are not wired to be monogamous. There’s false cultural narrative permeating how we perceive relationships; this narrative posits that people have always paired off in sexually exclusive relationships since the beginning of history. Author and researcher Dr. Christopher theorizes that before the dawn of agriculture, human beings were actually quite promiscuous - “sexual omnivores,” if you will (you can access one of his many TED talks on the subject here).
In my opinion, this theory makes monogamy more difficult to mitigate because we’re actively working against our omnivorous nature, although I also feel that non-monogamy necessitates more emotional intelligence in order to be successful. There is no one right way to do monogamy or non-monogamy, but there sure are plenty of ways to screw it up! The point of me saying all of this is to underline the fact that regardless of which relationship structure you choose, there are going to be challenges that come with it.
Let’s talk about the challenges that come with feeling jealous. Jealousy is a completely natural human emotion that both non-monogamous folks and monogamous folks experience. It comes directly from a societal socialization that prioritizes exclusive relationships and rewards monogamy at every turn (benefits and tax breaks for married couples, increased social acceptance, continuous monogamous representation in mainstream media, etc). Jealousy isn’t necessarily a negative emotion.
The problem is, most people feel horrified and/or humiliated by jealousy. Our initial impulse is immediately to either shove that jealousy down so we don’t have to deal with it, or to internalize our feelings to mean something negative about ourselves and/or the relationship (e.g. “I just started doing non-monogamy and I’m feeling jealous, so I must not be cut out for this.”). Instead of falling victim to these impulses, I encourage people to form a relationship with their jealousy. Accept it without beating yourself up, sit with it for a while, and interrogate it to see where it’s coming from (jealousy is a secondary emotion that often stems from anger, fear, sadness, and/or insecurity). Then bring that information to your partner and work together as a team to figure out how to move through it.
Our partners deserve agency and autonomy, even in monogamous relationships. When we feel either of those being infringed upon, we tend to act out. You can give your partner agency and autonomy by actively building trust. Trust is built by allowing opportunities for trust to be proven. Without allowing for those opportunities, you’re more likely to stay in that perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety about “possible threats.” To combat and heal through that, you have to do the scary thing and take small leaps of faith. The worst case scenario “what-ifs” are dominating your mind right now, but that’s only because they’re related to the unknown. Human beings fear what we don’t know, so we have to continuously challenge ourselves to choose bravery – and the rewards that often come with it.
Oh and finally, regarding sexual safety and non-monogamy, I encourage you to check out this wonderful Bustle article by Emma Kaywin that excellently addresses the issue! Best of luck to you!
If you have your own questions about sex, love, relationships, or any of the moving parts involved therein, drop Andre a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to use the subject line "Ask Andre," so we know where to direct your thoughtful questions.