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Advice Columns

Venus Envy Advisory: Opening Up Relationships

Hey Venus Envy,

Do you have any advice for someone in a long-term monogamous relationship who wants to open it up? How do I broach this topic with my partner without freaking them out?

Possibly Open to Loving You


My first piece of advice is that you should expect this to freak out your partner. Especially if you’ve never talked about opening up before, this conversation might come as a shock. It’s likely to threaten their sense of security in the relationship and being ready for that will make you better able to reassure them that you still want to be with them, but just want to change something about the relationship structure.

Once they’ve gotten over the shock a little, and maybe in a separate conversation, talk with them about the kind of relationship you’re interested in. There’s a big difference between a relationship where you occasionally hook up with other people and one where you each have multiple partners. Neither style is better, but the important thing is that you both have the same expectations. It’s a great idea to attend a workshop or read a book together to help guide the conversation – Building Open Relationships by Liz Powell is a great resource.

Non-monogamy can be a magical thing, and it will likely involve more communication and processing then you ever thought possible. So if your partner is interested in exploring the idea further, you will need to talk and talk and talk some more. Have a lot of honest conversations about your boundaries, your needs, and how to maintain a sense of security through a period of intense transition. You’ll want to get clear on what’s okay and what’s not okay, and talk about how you’ll navigate a grey area. And don’t forget to talk about what’s exciting for both of you, and how this could help deepen your connection.

It’s common to have stronger boundaries when first opening up a relationship, because you’re building a new kind of trust together. Both of you should remember this as you start to adventure into dating other people – I’ve gone on this date and I texted you at the time we agreed on, see how I’m still here? I made out with a person and now I can’t wait for our next date night, see how I’m still attracted to you? I have feelings for a new person and here are my feelings for you, just as strong, see how I still love you? 

Most people end up relaxing their boundaries over time, but that’s unlikely to happen by ignoring your needs and going faster than either of you are ready. This makes it extra important to only agree to things that you can actually follow through on. People are often tempted to over-promise to make the idea of non-monogamy seems easier, but if you break a promise that’s impossible to keep, you’ll still end up having less trust and security in your relationship than you did before you opened up. 

Through all this, make sure you’re also clearly communicating your boundaries to other people you’re getting involved with, especially if you’re narrowly limiting what’s allowed. Remember that they will have feelings and needs too, and you have a responsibility to be kind to anyone you have a relationship with, no matter how casual.

And on that note, a word of caution: if it turns out that your pre-existing partner is not interested in non-monogamy, do not try and push them into it. It won’t end well. Lots of people just prefer to be monogamous, and your partner might be one of them. 

Changing relationships structures will be unsettling. That’s not at all a bad thing, but it’s also not an easy thing. Make sure you’re enlisting some support along the way and be sure that it’s from people who won’t automatically see your relationship style as a problem. A good, non-monogamy-friendly therapist is worth their weight in gold in this case.

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