Polycurious? A Parents’ Guide To Opening Your Marriage

Advice on how to bring up the topic with your partners and how to keep it safe (and fun) for everyone involved.

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Are You Open?

There’s a sizable group of people who will learn about open relationships and ethical non-monogamy and think “I could never,” and then there are those who will find themselves intrigued but with no idea where to start. Well, you start here, with advice I give anyone who wants to open their marriage.

1. Start slow.

The decision to open a marriage is going to require extreme care and consideration. Most couples I know who are successfully navigating open relationships started with frank conversations about other people who turned them on. They then used those feelings in their sexual experiences as a couple. (Working through feelings of jealousy and insecurity is a lot easier when it’s all hypothetical.) But pursuing an open relationship is not always about sex; for many couples, it is about desiring more in the way of life experience. For others, it’s about seeking out something a primary partner is unable to give and recognizing that one person does not — nor should they be required to — check all the boxes.

Perhaps you are looking to experiment with flirting without feeling guilty for it. Or maybe you are queer in a heterosexual marriage and would like to know what it feels like to be with someone of the same gender.

There are so many different reasons people open their relationships and limitless ways to do so. Flirting with the idea of non-monogamous exploration outside of your partnership can be a huge turn-on, and acknowledging that can be a first step in the direction of a potential future that includes other people.

2. Ask questions.

Imagine your partner with someone else. Does this turn you on? Scare you? Make you angry or sad? Ask yourself and each other these questions regularly and see how your feelings are changing or evolving. Regularly talking about the way you’re feeling and what turns you on, as well as what makes you feel uncomfortable or apprehensive, will be foundational to the happiness and satisfaction you feel in your marriage once your focus expands to people outside your relationship.

3. Be ready to unlearn as much as you learn.

You may think you know your partner, but opening yourself to new experiences, while empowering your partner to do the same, is going to be a challenge. Prepare yourself for difficult conversations, awkward admissions, and inequitable experiences. (It’s a lot easier for women in open-marriages to get traction on dating apps, for example, than it is for married men.)

Stay open to challenging feelings about the changing dynamics within your relationship. Ask yourself why monogamy was the default before and why it remains the default for most relationships. Who does it serve and why? And how will exploring non-monogamy open you up to experiences beyond sexual exploration?

Check in with each other regularly, stay patient, and do not put pressure on your partner or yourself to do anything before you are ready.

4. Establish the rules (and when you can break them).

Most people who open their relationships do so with certain ground rules. Some couples will want to know about their partner’s outside experiences; others will not. Some couples will require emotional boundaries. Some will identify as polyamorous and be open to loving more than one person, while others will be open to physical connection only. Some couples would rather have sex with other people only as a couple in a group, while others will prefer to “play solo.”

Some questions you might want to ask yourself and your partner include:

  • Are you open to sleepovers with other partners?
  • What happens if one of you develops feelings for someone else?
  • Will you keep your open relationship a secret from your kids? Friends? Family? Why or why not?
  • Are there certain physical acts you want to keep for your marriage only?
  • What about opening your marriage scares you?
  • What about opening your marriage excites you?

You’ll also want to check in with each other regularly as ground rules often change to fit new scenarios.

5. Remember: Safety first.

Make sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to sexual safety, protection, and regular screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Testing regularly and sharing your stats with new partners as well as having protected sex (yes, that means condoms) with partners who are not primary is standard protocol.

6. Find a community.

If you are new to non-monogamy, you may not have anyone to talk to about it — or you may not be ready to tell your friends and family. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find new friends. Instagram accounts like @shrimpteeth offer peer support sessions and non-monogamy courses, and @hashtagopen provides a community for those “interested in exploring open relationships, non-monogamy, swinging, and more.”

In my experience, there are groups that meet in person all over the country, as well as local events, dinner parties, and even sex parties that you can attend without partaking. Just showing up to a gathering like this can be a good way to dip your toe into non-monogamous waters without going all the way.

7. Explore the apps.

Consensual non-monogamy has exploded on dating apps over the past five years, and almost any app — including the big three: Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge — will have some options for non-monogamous people. But if you’re married and would rather keep the fact that you are in an open relationship private, I recommend choosing an app like Open or Feeld, where you can be more discreet and interact solely with those who are looking to date or be intimate with those in open relationships.

8. Don’t forget: Nothing is permanent.

If you find that opening your relationship doesn’t work for you and your spouse, there’s always the option to close it again. And you can take pride in knowing that you chose monogamy, rather than defaulted to it. And while the reasons we want to explore often differ, for a lot of us it’s the very act of leaving — of experiencing different sights, sounds, and smells — that makes us excited, if not relieved to come home.

Godspeed, astronauts.

Rebecca Woolf writes Romper’s Sex & the Single Mom series. She has worked as a writer for more than two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: From Wild to Child and All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. You can subscribe to her newsletter, The Braid, for more. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.

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