How To Ask For An Open Relationship Without Offending Your Partner

Relationships are changing. What once seemed unthinkable — polyamory, oh my! — is now becoming more and more mainstream. While the majority of people still lean toward one-on-one relationships, there's a decent amount of people who are opening their relationship up and giving each other the opportunity to explore other people, both sexually and romantically.


According to a 2021 YouGov poll, 25% of Americans are into the idea of having an open relationship — also known as ethical nonmonogamy (ENM), which Psych Central describes as leaning into "our ability to be attracted to multiple people at once." Although the poll doesn't say how many have experienced it, it did find that the generation with the most interest are millennials, at 41%.

While there may be no wrong way to have a relationship, trying to tell your partner that you're interested in having an open relationship isn't easy. Although opening a relationship doesn't suggest there's a problem, trying to convince your partner that everything is great but that you want more freedom for both of you can, if not done correctly, be a relationship killer. 


"Open relationships only work if the people involved both (if it starts from a one-to-one relationship) want it," life coach and therapist Karen Hartmann tells Bustle. "Otherwise, I have never seen it work out in the long term." Hartmann adds that "being secretive" about your intentions will only make things worse. If you're one of the 25% of Americans interested in having an open relationship, the first step is talking to your partner and doing so in a way that doesn't hurt or offend them.

Mention the pros of an open relationship

When people hear the words "open relationship," they sometimes jump directly to the idea of having sex with other people outside their primary partner. While that's definitely part of opening up a relationship, that's not the only thing that might interest someone in having one.


"Exploring nonmonogamy tends to highlight strengths and weaknesses in relationships, which provides opportunities for personal and relationship growth," therapist Dulcinea Alex Pitagora, Ph.D., LCSW, tells Self. "Along with that growth might come a realization that an open arrangement could help both partners feel more satisfied — or that the relationship isn't working."

Although we already know that communication is essential to all relationships, a 2020 study published in The Journal of Sex Research has found that those in an open relationship tend to communicate more and better than those in a one-on-one relationship. Because there are rules to abide by, boundaries that are to be respected, consent that needs to be discussed, and consistent ongoing dialogue to make the open relationship work, communication really thrives among the primary two partners.


Of course, yes, getting to engage in sexual activity with others and explore things that maybe your primary partner isn't into is also a pro. But above all, the effect that communication has on two people in a ENM is a selling point for some.

Reassure them of your commitment to them

It's only natural that someone might freak out when their partner mentions wanting an open relationship, so you want to drive home the fact that your partner isn't lacking in any way, nor has your desire or love for them depleted. You're still committed to them, but curious about trying something new.


"You have to be direct, but you also have to be reassuring," clinical assistant professor of couples and family therapy at Drexel University Christian Jordal tells The Cut. "One of the things I always recommend clients do is reiterate, 'I have not acted upon this, it's just something I'm thinking about and I'm wondering if we can talk about it.'"

Reassurance is really key when asking your partner about having an open relationship so they still feel safe in the partnership. Also, because it's so important to be mindful when broaching this topic, you want to choose the right time. Don't suggest it off the cuff while you're watching a new episode of "Dead to Me" or when you're out for date night. Instead, pick a time that's perfect for a communicative heart-to-heart.


"Sit down and talk about what you appreciate about your relationship and what's currently working," sex and relationship expert Dr. Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., tells PureWow. "Then you can decide how expanding your relationship into new, more open territory might be exciting."

No matter how carefully and sensitively you bring up having an open relationship, things can still get awkward and uncomfortable. But if you're honest and hear your partner's point of view, then at least you've started the conversation. You may not get the answer you wanted, but you've gotten the ball rolling in that direction.