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So You Want to Open Up Your Marriage...

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Dear Colette,

I've been married for 22 years to a wonderful man that loves and cherishes me. I care for him deeply but over the last five years I have noticed myself having a strong interest in other men. Recently, I met a man in an online forum on polyamorous relationships. I had heard about these kinds of relationships and I wanted to learn more. I have to admit I'm having very intense feelings for him. He is also married but is looking for a polyamorous girlfriend. He has no intentions of leaving his wife and family despite wanting another companion and lover. I would really like to get involved with him, but I have so many questions. I wonder: How do you make these kinds of relationships work, without anyone feeling left out or jealous? Is it possible? Or will engaging in an extra-marital relationship it be more trouble than it's worth?

-- Miele

Dear Miele,

Thanks for your question. I will admit that because my readership is not necessarily the polyamorous type I was torn about whether or not I should answer your question. But when I reflected on how I would answer it, I realized there are actually some really great points that are good for all kinds of relationships -- poly or otherwise.

So let's begin.

Communication Is Key

For a polyamorous lifestyle to function well, you have to be able to voice your wants, needs and desires effectively to your husband -- about partners you would like to date -- and any future partners he might start dating. The only way for polyamorous partners to survive happily together is to have wide-open lines of communication. And to do this well, you will require an absolute, total, and complete understanding of yourself and why you want to engage in this kind of relationship. If this is news to your husband, he is not likely to be very receptive to the idea at first.

The onus will be on you to remain calm in the face of any possible attacks on you, your character, and your desires. You will need to be patient and understanding with him as he comes to terms with your request. You will need to check your ego at the door any time you enter into a discussion with him about this subject. And hopefully, for you he will come around and see the value that you see in entering into this kind of relationship. But, (and this is a big but) be prepared that he might not go along with it. Because if this happens, you'll have a very important decision to make.

Polyamorous or Otherwise -- Communication is Key

Checking your ego at the door when discussing tough topics is mandatory. Opening your heart and mind to having compassion about your partner's point of view is imperative. Remaining calm in the face of a personal attack is the only way to navigate difficult topics well. Affect labeling (the professional term for one of the MOST important skills two partners could ever have) is the quickest way to help your partner feel heard, understood, respected, and cared for. It's the easiest way to resolve conflict and create greater intimacy.

Honesty Is Key

As I said above, knowing yourself incredibly well is key, not only in discussions that you have with your husband, but also in discussions with any future partners. With polyamorous relationships there are certain to be a number of rules that you and your partners will have about how to engage with each other, when, where, in the presence of whom, and how often. To avoid hurt feelings, bruised egos and the like, you will want to be sure that you think of all the possible scenarios that might come up, and what you will do to handle them.

For polyamory to work well it's best if you can get an emotional buy in (not just lip service) from all parties to all rules. And rules should be explicit, clear and well understood by everyone. This is probably the toughest part about making polyamory work. Because words do such a poor job of describing inner feelings, deep emotions, fears, worries and insecurities. The rules you make can so easily be misinterpreted. And worse, the rules made by others may not be totally honest and clear.

As an example: while your husband might say that you can date other men provided he approves of them first, what he really might be saying (in so many words) is "I really don't want to do this, but I love you and I can see that you want this, so I'm willing to along with it, but I have rules, and you better adhere to them or there's going to be hell to pay!"

Polyamorous or Otherwise -- Honesty is Key

And to be 100 per cent honest, you have to be once again 100 per cent clear about yourself and your inner world. Creating agreements and rules won't work at all unless they are made with absolute awareness of what the true purpose of these agreements and rules are for. To be honest with your partner, you have to be honest with yourself.

Forgiveness is Key

Relationships are work when you have only one partner. Add additional partners to the mix and this work is multiplied. There is more chance for buttons to be pushed, triggers to be set off, and yes, egos to be bruised. To engage in this lifestyle happily, and to do it well, it will take a tremendous amount of forgiveness of yourself and every single one of your partners -- because it is as likely that you will do and say things you're not proud of -- as it is that one of your partners does and says something he or she is not proud of.

Forgiveness is easier when you understand that high emotionality equals low rationality.

Polyamorous or Otherwise -- Forgiveness is Key

We lash out, attack, say mean things, and hurt the ones we love when we are afraid, insecure, and feeling as though we have everything to lose. Forgiveness of yourself and your partner is key for long-term happiness and love to flourish.

Closing Comments

Miele, I will openly and happily admit that I am not polyamorous myself, nor do I ever think I could handle the head-and-heart ache of entering into such a relationship. But I will say this: I commend anyone who successfully navigates these kinds of relationships. For to do so, I believe, requires saint-like patience, forgiveness, acceptance, trust, and non-attachment.

Best of luck to you.