Discussing relationship dynamics can be really intimidating. Sex Therapist Aleksandra Trkulja shares the communication tools needed to dip your toe into a consensual open relationship.
Certified Sex Therapist & Clinical Counsellor
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Often, the only relationship visible to us in Western society is a heterosexual, monogamous one. Anything outside of this is seen as immoral, or taboo; despite the fact that non-monogamy has existed for a long time.
Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) is an umbrella term used to describe having more than one consenting sexual or romantic relationships.
It is not cheating. ENM is mutually agreed upon by all parties involved.
Editor's note: We've explored the concept of ethical non-monogamy previously on youtime, speaking to people engaging in this relationship dynamic. You can read about it here.
ENM is becoming a more common relationship presentation in private practice. The term ‘ethical’ in ENM is a good example of how deeply entrenched our judgment of non-monogamy really is. To counteract the stigma of open relationships, we’ve labeled it as ‘ethical’, despite there being many ‘unethical’ monogamous relationships that exist.
People who explore ENM could be married to a partner, be sexual with some but not all partners, be romantic with some but not all partners. They could be heterosexual, queer, kinky or vanilla. There’s no one way to look or be when exploring ENM.
Discussing relationship dynamics can be really intimidating.
So here are some suggestions on how to discuss ENM from a relationship therapist working with all kinds of relationship dynamics.
This conversation will look different depending on your relationship context. Whatever situation you’re in, communication is essential.
If you’re single and dating, you may want to communicate early on that ENM is something you’re looking to explore. This helps to manage your potential partners expectations, and find people who are willing to explore with you.
If you’re in an existing monogamous relationship and wanting to open the relationship up, you will likely need longer conversations, and potentially some external support.
Initiate conversations about ENM by sharing articles you’ve read, referring to tv shows you might be watching together, or sharing content you’ve come across on social platforms.
When you’re ready to have a more focussed conversation, consider the following:
+ What makes you want to shift the current relationship structure?
+ What needs will opening the relationship help you to fulfil?
+ What desires will it help you to explore?
When I hear reasons like “We’re not having enough sex, and I want more” from clients, my alarm bells go off. Consider whether ENM is a bandaid solution to a relationship lacking connection.
What type of shift are you looking for?
For example, do you want sexual relationships without romantic ties? Or do you want both?
Some of my clients might identify that ENM offers them a place to explore their sexuality with people of different gender identities. Some might just want the excitement of dating again.
It’s important to give your partner a heads up that you’d like to have a relationship or sex life conversation.
Pick a time throughout your week that allows you both to relax into the conversation- “would you feel up to a relationship check in over dinner tonight?”
Communicate with compassion, respect, and honesty.
Using “I” statements centers your experience, and emotional needs.
“I’m feeling a bit nervous bringing this up, but I wanted to talk about ethical non-monogamy. It’s something I’ve grown more curious about, and I’d love to discuss it with you if you feel up to it?”
Opposed to using “you” statements which is accusatory and defensive- “you never want to have sex anymore, so I think we should open the relationship up.”
Jealousy is a completely natural emotion, and it will come up. Learn how to make space for it in your relationship, and care for one another when it arises.
Practicing ENM can be really fun, but there are always hurdles. Your communication, and mutual respect for each other’s needs will carry you through those bumps.
Opening up a relationship will take more than one big conversation. Likely, it will take many.
It may even require listening to podcasts, reading articles, reading books, and attending relationship therapy to make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable and heard changing the relationship structure.
Communicating, educating, and collaborating to discuss what a relationships structure change might look like will take time.
But your partner may not be open to it from the get-go, and it’s important to respect this.
Never pressure someone into changing the relationship structure, especially in the form of an ultimatum.
And never agree to opening the relationship if you don’t feel safe saying ‘no’ to certain suggestions your partner offers. This might be you fawning out of fear of losing your partner, and is an unsteady foundation upon which to open a relationship.
Certified Sex Therapist & Clinical Counsellor