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I’m in a monogamous long-term relationship with my wonderful partner, and we’re very happy together. We have a great sex life and I can’t ask for a more loving and supportive partner. But I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to open our relationship.
We’ve talked about it in passing but never too seriously. We both expressed that we’d have a hard time coming home to each other and looking each other in the eye and kissing each other after one of us hooked up with someone else.
We also both have jealous tendencies, so I don’t know how good we’d be at keeping those in check. Honestly, I worry about my own jealous tendencies acting up. I hate the idea of them being intimate with someone else, but I like the idea of me being able to be intimate with other people. Maybe that’s weird or selfish, but that’s how I feel.
It’s something that I’d definitely consider because I’m still attracted to other people and I’m sure they are, too. I just worry that I wouldn’t be able to manage my jealousy or we’d somehow destroy this great thing we have going right now by opening it up.
Is it possible to have an open relationship when you have jealous tendencies without ruining it? If so, what do you suggest we do to make that happen? And how do I even bring this up after so much time of us being exclusive?
Dear Opening Up,
Jealousy has a bad reputation as a “negative” emotion. But jealous tendencies are super common within all types of relationships, including monogamous and non-monogamous ones.
And although monogamy is often the default relationship style in Western culture, it may not be the ideal dynamic for everyone.
I recently came across a Tweet about a 2022 survey that showed around 15% of American adult participants prefer non-monogamy over monogamy. What’s more, a 2020 poll showed that one-third of millennials say their “ideal relationship” is non-monogamous.
Other research from 2016 suggests that more than 1 in 5 adults in the United States has been in a non-monogamous relationship at some point in their life.
Despite the prevalence of non-monogamous relationships, many people in monogamous ones wonder how to navigate jealousy. You might think that non-monogamous people don’t get jealous, but this isn’t true. People in open relationships can (and do) get jealous, too.
“The difference between monogamous and non-monogamous people is not so much in whether they experience jealousy — it’s in how they approach their jealousy,” says Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, adjunct professor of Human Sexuality at New York University and creator of the free non-monogamy online course Open Smarter.
According to Vrangalova, most people are just like you in that they like the idea of themselves being intimate with others, but don’t want their partners to do the same.
“Overcoming that fear is the work you need to commit to if you want the benefits of an open relationship,” Vrangalova says.
What you’re feeling right now is totally natural. And no, you’re not selfish or weird for wanting to open up your relationship in a way that works for you. It’s possible to have a healthy and happy open relationship, even when you and your partner get jealous.
Vrangalova adds that the only obstacle to having an open relationship is being unwilling to face your own jealousies or support your partner through their jealousy.
If you’re up for the challenge, here are a few skills and strategies that can help you navigate the conversation and any jealousy that may arise within your new relationship dynamic.
Talking about non-monogamy with a partner you’ve been monogamous with for a while can be challenging.
When starting difficult conversations, Vrangalova says the following 5 things are key:
- mental state
- the issue
- the goal
But before bringing it up, you’ll need to figure out what your needs and wants are.
To do this, Vrangalova recommends asking yourself questions like:
- Why do you want to open your relationship?
- Which new relationship dynamic do you want to explore? (e.g., swinging, polyamory, monogamish, don’t ask-don’t tell, etc.)
- What do you hope to accomplish from this conversation?
Once you know the answers, you can initiate the conversation in a comfortable setting when you and your partner have the time, energy, and bandwidth for it.
Buckle up: This will be the first conversation of many. When you open up your relationship, you can expect to have ongoing check-ins about your needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings.
Assuming your first conversation about opening up goes well and you both agree to the terms, it’s time to move on to the next step: how to manage your jealousy.
Here are Vrangalova’s tips for navigating jealousy in a non-monogamous partnership:
- Start slowly by dating as a couple (not on separate dates), then go home and process the experience together.
- Control your external jealousy triggers by agreeing to rules and boundaries about what you and your partner will or won’t do with others.
- Increase your self-esteem and sense of lovability.
- Develop emotional regulation skills to better handle jealousy when it pops up.
- Work together to boost the quality of your relationship and the sense of being loved by each other, and provide the reassurance each partner needs in order to feel safe.
Most importantly, you’ll want to try your best to lean into jealousy rather than be scared of it.
“There are so many lessons and opportunities to grow in jealousy,” Vrangalova says. “Walk toward your jealousy (at a pace that’s comfortable for you, that you can handle), and see what it can teach you.”
Vrangalova adds that non-monogamous people can use experiences of jealousy to:
- learn more about themselves, their partners, and other people
- find healthy ways to deal with the emotion
- apply lessons learned from it to deal with and avoid similar issues in the future
“By doing the work, you’ll grow stronger as a person and as a couple, and you’ll experience less and less jealousy as time goes on,” Vrangalova says.
If you do decide to open up your relationship, I want you to try to keep a word and goal in mind: compersion. It’s defined as finding joy in your partner’s (sexual or romantic) relationships with other people.
According to a 2021 study, people in polyamorous relationships report feeling less jealousy and more compersion with their partners after living through these experiences over time.
Of course, it may take a lot of effort to get to this point. But try to have hope that successfully managing your jealousy and finding joy within an open relationship is possible — because it is.
If this sounds doable and the potential benefits of non-monogamy seem appealing, you may wish to consider taking that leap.
Bringing up this desire can be scary after being exclusive for so long, and I know that you don’t want to risk ruining the wonderful relationship that you have right now.
But maybe you won’t destroy anything.
Instead, you and your partner could open yourselves up to a whole new world of love, happiness, and possibilities for you to explore and enjoy together.
With love and pleasure,
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