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I’ve been married for 5 years and with my partner for 10, since we both got out of high school. I’ve been curious about polyamory and open relationships lately, but in the few times I brought it up my partner has downplayed it and not taken the idea seriously. I think he’s insecure, and I’d love to have a meaningful conversation about it. I don’t know whether a lifetime of monogamy is doable but I don’t want to risk our relationship. What should I do?
Signed, Curious but Concerned
Yours might be the most common question married couples have: is monogamy workable for an entire lifetime? Some relationship pairings are a great fit for monogamy while others are disastrous, some might have one partner who can do it but the other can’t or won’t, and still others may fit into one of those categories now, but change over time. It’s also very important to recognize that these categories are not determined by how much you love each other. Despite what Shakespeare might have you believe, love does not conquer all. In fact, love does more than anything else to keep incompatible people together unhappily.
The two steps to finding out whether monogamy is a good fit for you and your partner, are meaningful introspection and effective communication. The first involves questioning yourself: “Why are you interested in polyamory and open relationships? What would you hope to get out of nonmonogamy?” If you can be honest with yourself, you can arm yourself with the information you’ll need about your own wants and needs.
You mentioned your partner’s insecurity, which in my experience will likely be the determining factor whether your partner will ever consider opening your relationship. If your partner is willing, I’d suggest he do the same introspection in reverse, asking “Why aren’t you interested in polyamory or open relationships, knowing that your partner is? What are your fears surrounding nonmonogamy?” Insecurity and jealousy are triggered by our fears of losing something or someone important to us; if we don’t fear loss then we don’t get triggered. Most of us are raised to treat our partners like our possessions, as if we alone are entitled to their love and affection, but that needn’t be the case. To be clear, even the discussion of opening up a relationship has the potential to destroy it, if the insecurity and/or incompatibility were bad enough. However, I’d bet that if you successfully reassured him that your love and relationship were secure no matter what, he’d be at least receptive to a meaningful conversation on the topic, if not more.
Then the second part: how can you share that information with your partner in a way which makes him want to encourage you to find those answers, without putting your relationship itself on the line? Lee has some great thoughts on what those conversations might look like, so I’ll ask her to offer her thoughts and take over from here.
It appears you have a couple of conflicts within yourself. One of those is whether a lifetime of monogamy is doable, as Leon wrote, and another is not wanting to risk your relationship.
There’s a BIG difference between “I’ve been curious about polyamory and open relationships lately” and “this is something I really want to pursue or do” in terms of how serious your partner thinks you might be. From your letter, it’s difficult to tell where you are on that continuum.
So let’s take you at your word ‘curious’, as it’s a great place to be! What does your curiosity look like and how can it be satisfied? I hope some of it means getting educated by reading some books (ideally together or at least simultaneously), talking to various folks, attending polyamory events, and maybe going to a conference together. While getting this education, it might be helpful to agree that you do all these things together and talk together all along the way. It’s like hiking with a group: the pace needs to match that of the slowest person if you want to stay as a group. If he doesn’t feel pressured or worry you’ll go on without him, your shared adventure might be a wonderful experience for you both.
On the other issue, if you are seriously questioning whether a lifetime of monogamy is doable for you, and you are wanting to move towards “polyamory and open relationships”, then perhaps an introspection of your feelings is in order first, as explained above, before trying to explain this all to your partner. You describe your feelings that your partner is not taking you seriously and your attribution he’s insecure, so you might want to discuss those things as well.
Not being on the same page with your partner regarding your feelings is a problem. This is where some skills in having a Difficult Conversation may be helpful.
Some tools my partner and I use before having a difficult conversation are:
Setting the time and place [must be when both have decent energy for listening]
Sitting on the same side of the table or next to each other, not facing and “opposing” each other
Acknowledging “We’re a Team”
Giving each other appreciation and recognition
Using “I” statements rather than “you” statements
Setting a tone of curiosity about what each has to say even amongst scared feelings
Asking questions from a place of wanting to get to know your partner more fully
Agreeing that if the conversation escalates, that it will be tabled for another time
Thanking the other partner for their time and attention
I see the starting point of your conversation as tactfully and lovingly expressing something like this: 1) you love and value him and your relationship; 2) you don’t feel your questions about nonmonogamy are being taken seriously, 3) express how his response comes across to you as insecurity, and 4) invite him to curiously ask you questions as to how he really sees you and your relationship together, and 5) discuss circumstances under which you might be able to work together to expand your comfort zones, at the pace of the slowest mover.
After connecting on this level you may in fact wind up on the same page, at which point you might move forward – or not – regarding the “polyamory and open relationships” you hope to explore. Ultimately you both need to be happy with the boundaries of your relationship together. Discussing them is a great step to knowing where they really lie, and what you can agree together to do about them.
Hope this helped, good luck to you both!