How to Ask Your Partner for an Open Relationship

Asking for an open relationship can be tricky business. Even if your monogamous setup is genuinely no longer working for you, bringing the idea up can be nerve-wracking. You want to broach the topic in a way that’s reassuring to your partner, but also want to make it clear that you’d like to connect with other people. But when exactly is the right time to present the idea and what are the right words to use so your partner doesn’t feel insecure? “The key to beginning an open relationship is to start an open conversation,” says Dr. Tammy Nelson PhD, sex and relationship expert and author of Open Monogamy: A Guide to Co-Creating Your Ideal Relationship Agreement. That means the first step to an open relationship is transparency, so you enable your partner to make an informed decision. Find more tidbits on how to ask for an open relationship from Dr. Nelson below.

This One Word Is a Relationship Destroyer, Say Experts

how to ask for an open relationship true north
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1. figure Out Your “true North”

Aligning your core values is important when it’s just the two of you. So it’s perhaps even more vital when you want to bring other people into the mix. These things are what Dr. Nelson means by “true north.” “Talk about your shared values, the standards that are crucial to the connection between the two of you,” she explains. “Some examples might be, ‘our partnership is primary,’ or ‘our love is central,’ and ‘the two of us always come first.’” With these in mind, you can go mingle with other people knowing what your partner expects of you and vice versa.

Remember, even if it’s not about opening your relationship, figuring out your true north anchors your relationship. So it’s always good to have those values established way before. “You don’t have to change or compromise any of these values just because you want to open your relationship [either],” Dr. Nelson tells us. “Decide what is the main mission of your relationship and you will always have this to come back to.”

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2. be Strategic With Your Timing

Psst, the time to let your partner know you want an open relationship isn’t directly after an argument. That’s an express ticket to disaster town. Instead, find a window when things are going well, when you’re both feeling connected and are open to exploring new avenues within your partnership. “Sit down and talk about what you appreciate about your relationship and what’s currently working,” says Dr. Nelson. “Then you can decide how expanding your relationship into new, more open territory might be exciting.”

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3. think About The Big 3: Curiosity, Fantasy And Action

“Fifty-nine percent of members in traditionally monogamous relationships on the married dating site Ashley Madison have never brought up the idea of an open marriage to their partner,” reveals Dr. Nelson. “One of the prominent reasons why they avoid the topic is they just don't know how to start the conversation; many of them would ask for a more fluid agreement if they knew how.”

To begin the conversation, there are three categories to talk about when opening your relationship—being curious, talking about fantasies and taking things into action. “If both of you are curious about opening things up, or have fantasies about what it might be like, use the ‘what-if’ style of talking,” she explains. “Start with, ‘what-if this happened?’ You might never be ready to move to real action, and that’s just fine, but having that dialogue can help you both consider any potential consequences before you take things into action.”

Remember, this should be a light and fun conversation, says Dr. Nelson so don’t feel like you have to be super serious when bringing it up. Besides, couples rarely agree on everything so if you’re having trouble, it can help to find a therapist to help manage any questions that come up.

how to ask for an open relationship restrictive language
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4. Avoid Using Restrictive Language

We’re all adults here and the last thing anyone in a relationship wants is to feel like they’re under some parental guardianship where they have to follow stringent guidelines. If your person seems malleable to the idea of opening the relationship, don’t then ruin the conversation by laying down the law and doling out ultimatums.

“Sometimes using the word ‘rules’ can actually be triggering. It can feel like you are creating a parentified relationship, one where rules are made to be broken,” Dr. Nelson advises. “It's fine to set up boundaries, parameters for your [partnership] that give you both comfort. But if you create ‘rules’ that are too restrictive, then breaking them will lead to one or both of you being in a position to be the punisher, and that can lead to shaming.” No bueno.

“For those who want a more open, transparent agreement, it is important to have guidelines, but guidelines can include anything on the monogamy continuum which is fluid. It flows from totally closed—meaning no interaction or connection with anyone outside of your relationship––to having physical or sexual relationships with people besides your primary partner,” she explains.

how to ask for an open relationship get uncomfortable
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5. Be Ready To Get Uncomfortable

Again, asking your partner for an open relationship can be scary because you don’t want them to feel like they’re inadequate. However, repressing or sugarcoating your needs can create tension, which can blow up in your face in the long run. No matter how uncomfortable things may get, if this is important to you, it’s best to just have the conversation straight up. A simple solution? Put a time to have this discussion on both of your calendars. This way, you force yourself to bite the bullet, but you also set aside space to give your desires some oxygen—and even more importantly, for your partner to digest what you’re saying. That said, the conversation is exactly that, a conversation, not a decree or ultimatum. Keep it light and familiar.

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Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...