Opening up a marriage: what are our known unknowns?
October 5, 2021 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Spouse and I - mid 30s - have been married for a few years and have been monogamous. We are deciding to experiment with non-monogamy, have communicated a lot and agree on we want but we would like to learn more.

If there are additional books, podcasts, blogs, and online communities, that would be great. Resources that have less emphasis on swinging and polyamory are preferred.

So far, we've found the books The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and the Jealously Workbook, have been quite helpful as overviews and and would like more information along those lines: terminology, guided exercises to facilitate communication and establish boundaries/rules between us, and with non-monogamous people. Reading about others' experiences would be helpful; we do not know anyone in real-life who is non-monogamous.

If it matters: we're in a medium sized city (500,000) in the USA. Wife is bi-curious, husband is hetero. Childless. throwaway610533028 at

We looked at Fetlife and aren't interested to join or participate at the moment: we're relatively vanilla and our local online forum there is not welcoming.

(Please do not discuss whether this is a good decision for us).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Polysecure is making the rounds in my circles and is well-reviewed.
posted by lloquat at 10:33 AM on October 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

My husband and I recently opened up. I also strongly recommend Polysecure, which has some actual research behind it. It does focus heavily on polyamory and not other kinds of non-monagamy. I did not like Ethical Slut, which seems heavily anecdotal and focused on the authors' own experiences. It also spends a big amount of its set up gently explainsing the concept of non-monagamy and I think you are beyond that.

We've found some success with Feeld, which is advertised as a "the threesome app for women" but it's more broad than that--it draws a ENM crowd and I've found most of the people I've met on there to be on the same page as me. One thing that has been helpful is, through someone I met on Feeld, I joined a ENM chat group (with real life meet ups as well, although those have been rarer over the past 18 months) that has been a great source of comradery and conversation. It's interesting to hear other people's perspectives and experiences, and to get feed back when I've shared things as well.

Happy to chat with you via MeMail as well.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:46 AM on October 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

So my partner and I were open for the first couple years of our relationship and just recently decided to take a break and close for awhile because Reasons, but I found the ENM, swinging, and polyamory subreddits to be especially helpful in terms of reading and understanding lots of other people's experiences. (I know you said less emphasis on swinging or poly, but they have a lot of overlap and there is a lot of breadth and variety in how people define poly for themselves, so there was still quite a bit of valuable info within.) The books are good but pretty high-level and spend an irritatingly long time explaining the cultural history and backstory of non-monogamy dating back to the beginning of time, and important concepts like boundaries or jealousy can be pretty nebulous until put to the real-life test. So it was really interesting and eye-opening to see tons of real-time examples of how other people were discovering, struggling, navigating, or celebrating various ENM milestones and opportunities. It was helpful to be able to show a post to my partner and be like, "Hey, remember that thing we were talking about earlier, this person is going through basically the same situation and explained how I'm feeling better than I was."

Agree that The Ethical Slut was considered the gold standard for a long time but that there are now way better options out there for books. It's also really sex-focused and neglects the emotional and relational component in my opinion. I liked The Jealousy Workbook a lot.

Having a good ENM-friendly therapist on hand is also a good idea; even though we both thought we had talked everything to death beforehand and were well-prepared mentally, we quickly found there's still going to be landmines you just can't anticipate or expectations you didn't realize were wildly misaligned until you step directly on them.

People we met on OKCupid or Feeld, etc. were also good resources in sharing their experiences and pointing us to other online communities, and asking questions and hearing about people's different paths and histories were great ice breakers even if we didn't end up dating them.

Good luck!
posted by anderjen at 11:47 AM on October 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

First suggestion: if, like many married people, you spend almost all of your free time together, stop doing that. Each of you go out and do stuff on your own BEFORE you begin meeting potential new partners. Like, every week, at minimum. This gets you out of the habit of feeling like you are entitled to all of your partner's time, and it gets you into the habit of doing your own thing at home while your partner is off doing something potentially more fun, before adding possible sex into the equation which is more fraught for a lot of people. And don't ask for a play-by-play when your partner comes home, as a reminder that your partner has a private life that you don't need to know everything about, whether that be regarding what they saw at a museum or what they did naked with someone.

Second suggestion: do not develop rules that insert yourself into a relationship that you are not in. That means that while you can expect your partner to treat you in particular ways, you don't have the right to tell your partner how they can behave with other people. That means that even if you are feeling insecure, it's not cool to tell your partner to break up with someone or to not have oral sex with other people or whatever. Your insecurities are YOUR job to work through, and it's not appropriate for you to ask your partner to limit themselves because you are having trouble with it. (It's also deeply unfair to their other partners, who are not being treated well in those situations.)

Third suggestion, which is really just a pet peeves of mine: if you're bicurious, be honest about your lack of experience. I've hooked up with a lot of women who said they were bi but really they were bicurious and not comfortable with reciprocating in bed, and that's rude if it's not made clear upfront.
posted by metasarah at 12:23 PM on October 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

Polysecure is excellent. I've been recommending it as a generally great book about attachment even for folks who aren't non-monogamous, and but it's quite perfect for your current situation. (I also recommended it to my own therapist!)

Also, the author, a non-monogamous therapist who focuses her practice on non-monogamy, has some free videos on her website, including "Couples Transitioning From Monogamy to Polyamory." Just look past the "poly" part. Her work is not so specific as to exclude other kinds of non-monogamy.

The book was published recently, and it does feel quite current.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:46 PM on October 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Lola Phoenix is amazing.

I also enjoyed reading some of the More Than Two material.
posted by limeonaire at 1:01 PM on October 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

The most obvious known unknown is how you guys will feel, as individuals, when y’all start dating and one of you is attracted to a new person. It would be lovely if each of you meet a new person at roughly the same time, but that may be unlikely. I know it was hard on my ex that it was much easier for me to meet new potential play partners than it was for him. So do all your research and draw on those resources and communicate, communicate, communicate.

Couple privilege is real and enraging. I once had a guy veto my date with his girlfriend after everyone had agreed and a date and time had been set. I would have been equally outraged if the guy had vetoed a movie date, honestly, I mean WTF? That neither of them thought to discuss it with me (note, this was not a threesome) but simply announced a cancellation was deeply disappointing. It was like my feelings didn’t count or didn’t even register with them.

Humans make mistakes; you will as well. I did, and I survived. Since you are approaching this as a couple, do be thoughtful and kind to your future partners as well as yourselves. Also, be adult about regular testing for your sexual health as well as full disclosure.

I think it’s OK to want to save certain things to do with your partner or that you want your partner to do only with you. In my case, because I am kinky, that meant that certain sexy toys we used together were not shared with others; different partners required different toys. Also: gardening. That was a hard limit for me. My kinky ex could do anything he wanted with other people except gardening. That was my thing with him, and I did not want to share it with others. I don’t think that makes me a monster, but you are free to disagree.

The thing about opening up a relationship is that there’s almost always more involved than sex. Not always but often. That can be a really good thing. It can also be a hard thing. But as many have pointed out over the years, discomfort is not dangerous. The main thing is that the two of you figure out how to tolerate discomfort individually and collectively as you explore this new arrangement and assess it regularly and keep talking.

Some people like doing a blow-by-blow afterward with their partners. I always checked with my sex buddies to see if they were comfortable if I shared our adventures and what level of privacy they wanted. I also discussed the level of privacy that was important to me.

I hope this will be huge fun for you. It certainly was for me, and I wish you both the best of luck.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:27 PM on October 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've found the community and podcasts and whatnot around the Life on the Swingset folks (including Cooper S. Beckett's books) interesting because they're not focused on a lot of the relationships stuff of polyamory, but they're not quite the traditional swinging community either.

I've also been finding the Multiamory podcast pretty insightful on a lot of fronts about communication and understanding my own feelings and whatnot (and on the basis of their episode #340, I just ordered Martha Kauppi's Polyamory: A Clinical Toolkit for Therapists (and Their Clients), but haven't yet gotten it).
posted by straw at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2021

Polysecure and The Jealousy Workbook are great. I also liked Designer Relationships. Depending on your various identities, Playing Fair: A Guide to Non-Monogamy for Men Into Women and Love's Not Colorblind could be useful too.

Recently in my partnership, we've been having less luck actually dating (newly living in a place with a smaller population) but have been enjoying daydreaming about and talking about each others' relationships. Things like talking about crushes, fantasies about other people, our hopes and dreams for each others' romantic experiences. I've found this to be really fun and it happens to also be a good way to practice and develop compersion and trust. I've felt good about non-monogamy for a while, but since we've been doing that in the last few months, I've been actively excited for my partner to date other people, which feels great. It also helps both of us to feel more connected.

Have fun!!
posted by switcheroo at 3:16 PM on October 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Stepping off the Relationship Escalator, which surveyed people in nonmonogamous relationships and then compares and contrasts the different relationship styles. It felt a bit like seeing a buffet of options, and so I could think about what kinds of relationship worked for me and what kinds I would want to avoid.
posted by crossswords at 4:12 PM on October 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

do not develop rules that insert yourself into a relationship that you are not in. That means that while you can expect your partner to treat you in particular ways, you don't have the right to tell your partner how they can behave with other people.

I think one thing I would like to caveat here is that this is not really settled territory. Some people, when opening up their relationships, have boundaries about what is or isn’t okay to do with other partners. Other people, when entering a relationship with a partnered individual, will set boundaries around not dating anyone with those boundaries because they find it too controlling. You need to decide what is most important for you, which boundaries are important, and be really clear with your spouse about them.

For example, that might range from “no unprotected sex/pregnancy” to “no telling the other person certain details of our life” to “not our existing friends” to “holidays are off limits” to a host of things that only you and your spouse can imagine. And it’s okay to have those boundaries, just as it’s okay for a prospective date to decide it’s too much and nope out of things.
posted by corb at 4:48 PM on October 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

In terms of rules...

This is a "know yourself" thing because the biggest problems with "rules" in non-monogamy come when

1) the rules aren't consistent, reliable, predictable ("hey I just decided you can't date") so they can't be communicated to potential partners; this is hurtful for potential partners and causes a lot of drama and stress

2) the rules don't reflect the emotional and/or sexual needs and interests of the partners but they think they'll just tough it out or that making the rule will change how people feel (it won't)

3) the rules become a sort of stick for people to use when they're annoyed about something else and so hinder reasonable flexibility and communication (yes, I know I said they should be predictable, but people should also be flexible within reason rather than jumping to "you're cheating because you were 6 minutes late so you have to dump this person you care about")

So...know yourself. Be realistic, not idealistic. For example, if you have never once had casual sex in your life, don't make a rule that there should be no feelings involved or that you can't go on dates. If you love casual, relatively spontaneous sex, then don't make a rule that the person has to meet your S/O before you can bang because it'll be overkill. Etc.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:25 PM on October 6, 2021

Like now is the time to be completely selfish and ask for what you want and just bare it all and figure out how people feel. For example, I have had partners where I would absolutely not be okay with them dating someone else, as in, I would be out of the relationship, but I would be happy to set them free at a swingers club. That's not 100% in line with my preferred or ideal relationship style but it's how I feel, warts and all. It would cause a lot of drama if I were like "yeah sure date" and then lost my shit over it when it happened, which I definitely would.

I say this because a lot of poly/non-monog reading is very very idealistic and kind of subtly pushes you to be okay with more stuff than you might initially feel okay with. That is understandable given that people may have knee-jerk responses to various things because of social pressure or whatever. But when starting out it's best to be as unidealistic as possible because it's easier to relax over time (much easier) than it is to backtrack.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:32 PM on October 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

I say this because a lot of poly/non-monog reading is very very idealistic and kind of subtly pushes you to be okay with more stuff than you might initially feel okay with.

Yes yes, this. There is a lot of pressure to be super chill about everything and open to "just seeing whatever happens" and that's where mismatched expectations swiftly come into the light. Like when it turned out I really really wasn't okay with some territory we'd inadvertently wandered into, it felt very bad and like I was bad at poly (which I am, it turns out) and also a bad person for backtracking and changing my mind on something I'd previously okayed but in truth had felt like I HAD to okay in the moment. That's how I found out I'm "open" but decidedly not polyamorous. And my partner who has never had nor really desired a hookup or a one-night stand or a fling genuinely believed at the time that he was interested in/trying out casual, friends with benefits type arrangements but quickly discovered he doesn't actually know (or want) any other way to date than turning the Boyfriend Dial straight to an eleven. It felt very ugly to have to admit that I was super incredibly not cool with him entering into deep emotional attachments with people he was also sleeping with, but there it is.

Of course, some of this you won't know or find out until you begin trying things out and making mistakes, but brutal honesty with yourself is definitely the way to go from the start.
posted by anderjen at 7:57 PM on October 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

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