As a couples counselor working with gay men I am often asked my opinion on monogamy and open LGBTQ relationships. What works for men in long-term relationships? First, the research.Several research studies show that about 50% of gay male couples are monogamous and about 50% allow for sex outside of the relationship. The research finds no difference in the level of happiness or stability among these groups.
Next, my opinions and advice, based on my therapy practice.
If you and your partner want to have a close relationship and have additional sex partners, be prepared for a lot of talking. And I'm not just referring to discussions about when, where and with whom.
I mean talking about feelings, what we therapists call "processing."If that kind of conversation makes you squirm, I understand. Most men are not socialized to embrace the sharing of intimate and vulnerable emotions.
However, if you aren't willing to experiment with processing then I suspect the closeness of your relationship may be limited, and you guys could be headed for trouble.
Here's why learning to talk about feelings is extra important in the context of an open relationship. Most of us enter into long-term relationships because we want to feel special to another person. We want that experience of being number one in the eyes of our partner.
We want the comfort, satisfaction, support and meaning that can come from spending our lives committed to another individual. Additional sex partners can be perceived as a threat to the safety we long for in our long-term relationships.
Some of us may not feel threatened on a conscious level, but I believe most of us do feel it unconsciously. And in some manly circles, it is not cool to admit that.
So if you want the experience of an open LGBTQ relationship that works, you will need to continually tell each other how much you love each other, how deeply committed you are to the partnership, and how glad you are to see him. Lots of hugs and kisses will need to be exchanged.
You will need to listen without getting defensive while your partner tells you about their moments of insecurity when you have sex with others. You will need to encourage this kind of sharing from him and to push yourself to express any of your own feelings of insecurity, vulnerability or jealousy when he plays with others.
You are not responsible for changing your partner's emotions but you are responsible for listening to them and for making sure that your partner feels heard by you.
Repeat back to him what you heard him say about his feelings so you both know if you really listened.
Beyond feelings, couples must also agree on the guidelines of sex outside of the relationship. They need to talk about what kind of sex is acceptable and what is not okay. These rules will require negotiation. Again, lots more talking. A good book on this subject is called The Ethical Slut, written by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt.
The core actions of a successful open relationship are identical to those of a successful monogamous relationship: shower your partner with attention and positive regard, offer lots of physical touch, share your more vulnerable feelings, and listen well when he does the same.
These principles are easier to say than to do. They take practice and risk, with lots of missteps along the way. Monogamous couples can sometimes get away with avoiding this work and do okay.
Not great, but okay. But couples in open relationships won't do well in an autopilot relationship. To be successful in working through the inevitable hurt feelings, these couples need to lead the way on relationships based on intentional communication
Often times couples or a member of a couple will come in to see me with curiosity about how to successfully open up their relationship. Changing the structure of your relationship is a big step. It can trigger all sorts of insecurities for some people and it can embolden others.
This article aims to give you a basic roadmap for how to start having conversations about opening up your relationship. It’s geared towards LGBTQ+ relationships, but the same basic principles apply for most couples.
Before reading any further, it’s important to reality check expectations. This won’t be one simple conversation. It will hopefully be the beginning of an open dialogue about your relational needs and wants with your partner.
This article is not a replacement for relationship therapy. If you run into trouble having these conversations, seek out support from a professional couples therapist with expertise in helping couples open their relationship.
There’s all sorts of misinformation about open relationships and non-monogamy floating around out there. Some people think that opening up your relationship is the “beginning of the end.” Others think it’s only going to cause pain, jealousy and heartache. The truth
Many couples, gay, straight and everywhere in between, have cracked the code for how to have a satisfying, successful, supportive and exciting open sexual relationship.
As with any relationship, to achieve success it will take hard work, honesty and trust. And only you can decide what type of relationship will work best for you.
In the United States, like heteronormativity, monogamous relationships are the unspoken norm. There are very few examples of successful open relationships depicted in mainstream media. Name one popular romantic comedy about an open relationship.
You probably can’t. Sex outside your relationship is often called cheating or it’s deemed immoral and assumed to be the end of everything wholesome and romantic.
I don’t know about you, but for me growing up I didn’t even know that open relationships were an option. My family certainly didn’t talk about it. And that chapter was nonexistence in sex education in my high school. However, there are lots of options for how to structure your relationship.
Consensual non-monogamy is an umbrella term for a non-monogamous relationship that is mutually agreed upon, honest and transparent. It’s consensual because all parties are in agreement about the boundaries and structure of the relationship. Often times there are agreements or parameters that couples will put in place to ensure that things feel safe and secure.
Anything goes, so to speak. There is still a foundation of honesty and transparency, but no one is going to get in trouble for breaking the rules. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be hurt feelings or jealousy, though.
Now that gay marriage is the law of the land, it is more common to hear about couples being part of an open marriage. This typically means that a pair of primary partners is married and they have some form of sexual openness outside their relationship. A gay men’s guide to open relationships
Below is a step-by-step framework for opening up your relationship. Keep in mind that this framework is just a suggestion and the process will look different for different couples.
Like I said before, If you get into trouble or feel stuck, seek out a professional. This is tough stuff so try and be kind and patient with yourself and your partner during this process.
Starting the process of opening your relationship will bring up all sorts of feelings. You’re taking a leap of faith and changing the structure of your partnership. It will take time, patience and care to do this right. Make sure you have the bandwidth to begin the process and block out time in your schedule.
I don’t recommend that this be the solution for your lack of intimacy, but rather an expansion of your intimate connection with the use of others. Basically, don’t let this be an afterthought. If you want it, make the process a priority.
All kinds of emotions will come up when opening up your relationship. Especially if you’re not both in agreement about the best way to move forward. So be kind to one another. That being said, try and avoid taking responsibility for your partner’s emotions.
You’re responsible for being honest and open, but you’re not responsible for how your partner reacts. That’s on them. Otherwise you risk moving into co-dependency.
While you may not have it all figured out yet, be clear and specific about your wants and needs. Spend some time on self-reflection and become really knowledgeable about why you want to open things up. Then be clear and specific when you communicate that to your boo.
Figuring out the agreements that will work best for you will take exploration. This is an exciting and scary part of the process. Sometimes you won’t know that you have a limit until you feel pain.
For example, in theory you may be ok with the idea that your partner wants to go for a drink before a hook-up, but when that happens in reality it may feel very different, or even bad. Use exploration as a way of finding your limits.
It’s going to take trial and error to figure out what the best agreements will be for your relationship. Like I described above, in the process of exploration you will become more aware of your limits.
And that’s a good thing! For example, maybe you’ll feel less jealous if you meet the people that your partner hooks-up with. Or maybe that will make it worse. There is no rule book for this, so you have to experiment and find what works for you.
Pain is an excellent indicator of where your boundaries lie. Through exploration and experimentation you will find your pain points. When those become clear to you, respect you boundaries and communicate them openly to your partner.
It’s important to note that boundaries will change over time. While you may just want sex at first, maybe you’ll want to explore polyamory in the future. Hence this will be an ongoing dialogue and not one simple conversation.
Open relationships can not work successfully without honesty. If you don’t trust each other, things will not feel safe. And without safety, all bets are off. The train has left the tracks. While it can be uncomfortable at first to be honest about sex with others, it is the foundation for a successful future together.
And if you break a rule or an agreement, while it will be scary, always tell the truth. We’re human. We all make mistakes. You can heal from a mistake. Lying will rock the foundation of your relationship.
Sex and intimacy with others must not take the place of intimacy and connection with your primary partner. This means keeping the lines of communication open. Some couples benefit from scheduling a regular date night or relationship check-in.
It can be useful to add the recurring calendar invite to your phone so that the check-in doesn’t get brushed aside for other things. Without open communication open relationships will not work.
Yes, open relationships take hard work, open communication and some discomfort. They can also be fun and exciting. Make sure that you remind yourself of that when you’re feeling jealous that your partner is off enjoying connection with another man. Don’t ignore your feelings, but give yourself permission to have fun in the process.
While I’m not a doctor, it’s clear that opening your relationship will also increase your risk for exposure to STIs. Schedule regular sexual health check-ups and be mindful of your body.
When you do get an STI, make sure to tell your partners and seek the proper treatment. Again, honest and open communication is key to long-term success in open partnerships.