Are you in a situation where your partner wants you to give them all the stability and also all the freedom? However, you’re now wondering if you can be the dream partner they’re seeking, someone whose love is unconditional. Monogamy can’t stop anyone from falling in love. Again.
Is there a healthier strategy if this happens? Usually, the desire for adventure versus the desire for stability and connecting with a partner comes in waves. So a person has to ask if it’s wise to ride this wave with them.
Who exactly is the person that wants this – and why?
If a person wants to open up a relationship, it obviously means that they have needs that are not met in an existing relationship. There are a few reasons for this: they have a natural capacity and interest for more than one relationship (high capacity for intimacy and the existing relationship is already very good), or they might have low capacity for intimacy and want several non-committed relationships. Often people in a relationship become distant over time and experience scarcity of affection and romance. This can be the result of an inability to overcome inevitable developmental issues in a relationship. Sometimes people simply have incompatible desires, for example a wish to have a child, or simply different sexual preferences.
Obviously, opening a relationship is easier with some people than with others – if possible at all. Your partner might need to become more reliable, caring and trustworthy before you could even consider their proposal. Have they had successful experiences with open relationships or perhaps polyamory?
What is your relationship like?
First, take a look into how you both relate to one another. The most important question in every relationship is probably: how do the two of you deal with inevitable ruptures and repair them? Does it appear that you had progress and growth within relationship – or not?
Here are the some questions to help you clarify this:
- Did you learn to not escalate in conflict, to stay on topic and either solve the issue or agree to disagree and sometimes let each other be right?
- Did you learn to clearly express your needs and not expect each other to read minds and get angry if expectations aren’t met?
- Did you learn to self-soothe and self-regulate?
- Do you need constant validation or do you feel safe with who you are, regardless of what others say and feel towards you?
- Are you able to start from a place of empathy and curiosity whenever your partner thinks differently from you?
- Do you engage in controlling behavior?
- Are you able to notice your own toxic behaviors and work on outgrowing them?
- Do you stick with your goals and get the necessary stuff taken care of even if you don’t like doing it?
- Do you have to spend all free time you have together? (Well, aside from quarantines…)
Work on your own differentiation.
Connectedness without self-regulation is called emotional fusion. Yes, the couple is surely together, but things are not going well. A happy relationship, monogamous or not, requires differentiation which is the ability to balance our needs for autonomy and attachment. It means being independent of other’s emotional states, but not distanced or less connected. It means discovering and enjoying new aspects of yourself outside of your relationship – without either of you feeling threatened by it. You simply cannot open a relationship successfully without first mastering this.
It really pays off to improve how you relate to yourself and to your partner. Learn to internally self-reflect and define what you want, think and feel; but also to express that freely without blaming and engaging in controlling behavior. Work on any issues that you have brought to this relationship. You can’t expect to change another person, but you can change yourself and inspire them in the process. Becoming more differentiated and independent is also very sexy! Desire thrives on novelty and in the space between you two.
Differentiation can lead to a variety of positive outcomes:
- You improve your behavior and make your relationship harmonious. Your partner figures out that they can meet most of their needs in an existing relationship with you.
- Your relationship operates on a desire to meet and explore each other, and not on duties and demands followed by disappointments when those aren’t met.
- You improve your interactions and start feeling safe enough to explore open relationships.
- You have more self-confidence and you know your boundaries.
- You are able to end a relationship if you both indeed have opposing needs. You don’t stay in such relationships out of fear of being alone or because you believe you don’t deserve a more compatible partner. If you have kids, you have better skills to navigate your parenting schedule.
Where is your growth zone?
If you’re in a relationship and it’s the first time that you’re enforcing your boundaries, it probably won’t be a very comfortable change.
Choose wisely. Take your time to explore your boundaries and to discover where exactly your growth zone is. Adapting to a partner is a skill and it can certainly facilitate growth, but only to a certain extent.
We all have a comfort zone, and the growth zone is just outside of it, a place where magic can happen.
YET… further outside are fear and re-traumatization. It’s not a place of growth – it’s a place of survival and of sacrifice of personal truths and emotions just to secure the experience of belonging and being loved.
If you want to have an open heart connected to the world around you, stumbling far outside of your growth zone is not a good place to be and risks turning you into a high-functioning codependent. Sooner or later you will end up chronically unhappy and exhausted. This could happen much faster if you open up a relationship.
Developing the ability to articulate your desires clearly to somebody else without collapsing or abandoning yourself in the process may not be an easy task, but is an essential part of emotional maturity.
Becoming a more stable person with integrity and having more self-esteem, clear boundaries and values is essential! It will allow you to surrender to the outcome in those hard moments, even it means a break-up. If being with someone just isn’t meant to be, at least you’ll know you did your best, that you’re bringing a better version of yourself to the next relationship and that someone else could be a better fit for you.
Time for self-exploration
Ask your partner to give you time for your self-exploration. Also, ask them to do their own exploration and improve how they react/respond. One of the biggest misconceptions about open relationships is that by meeting needs elsewhere, a person doesn’t have to change anything except find new partners who tolerate everything you don’t. Absurdity. Opening a relationship isn’t a pressure release valve that makes difficult relationships work better – even if your partner proposes an elegant, the least triggering, solution: for example, just a few one night stands or play parties at least 100 km away.
Counselling can help you determine your level of differentiation, which basically translates to how well can you deal with inevitable issues that show up in each relationship. Here is where you learn emotional skills which improve your daily interactions. If there’s an issue with a sex-desire discrepancy, we would take a look at that as well. A therapist examines which needs are not yet met in your existing relationship and identifies what can be improved. Exploring jealousy is also important. If you’ve already “replaced” many partners (or witnessed that in your parents’ relationship), fear of replacement might be the main issue.
Things we discuss in sessions:
- We look at your perception of monogamy: are you perhaps intellectually open to non-monogamy but not quite emotionally there?
- Is your small level of openness the result of pressure to conform to your partner’s wishes or do you really see something positive for you in this life style?
- Do you believe it’s absolutely necessary that you’re “the one and only”?
- Do you feel your partner deeply cares about you as much as before bringing up this topic and that it would stay constant regardless of other partners?
- We explore societal beliefs about the stay together / break up binary and look for alternatives to keep the connection with someone you care deeply about.
If any sort of opening up is out of question and you expect your partner to not see others – which is probably a big sacrifice on their side – what can you do to make their life better if after all they agree to monogamy? There has to be a balanced effort from both sides to continue a relationship.
No, there’s no clear map at this stage; however you may learn to be comfortable just in the act of exploring. You get to know yourself better and you get to develop and grow. If at the end you conclude that you really are monogamous, this is the crucial characteristic that helps you prevent endless serial monogamy and to find stability in one long lasting relationship, whether with your existing partner or with someone new.