Open Relationship Therapist
When working with couples that are looking into opening their marriage, our first session is the same whether they are exploring polyamory or swinging. Additionally, it is not uncommon for couples that are exploring either flavor of open marriage, to jump from one flavor to the next. I always perform The Gottman Method Assessment since the most important part of the swinging dynamic is the health of the relationship. Ensuring the core health of the foundation relationship is essential for healthy swinging experiences. Once I complete my assessment, prior to addressing any swinging activities, I will help the couple button up any relationship issues that need resolution and coach them on what to look for within themselves when moving forward with the process. Once we have established the health of a relationship, then we can move forward with the discussion of swinging activities. I use Gottman identified relationship milestones to use as check points for my clients:
- They are good friends and have lovemapping skills. They understand and know each other well.
- They have positive regard for one another.
- Open healthy communication.
- There is trust and commitment.
- They are open to each other’s influence.
- They can manage conflict in a healthy way.
- They are able to have difficult conversations in a healthy manner.
- They have shared meaning.
- They turn towards bids more often than not.
- Both parties are open and enthusiastic about opening the relationship.
As noted in the previous blogs, swinging couples are primarily anonymous and sexuality focused. Swingers also tend to come in pairs and their relationship challenges often involve diversions from this base form of practice. It is important to note that swinging can completely destroy a marriage that is struggling, and it should never be used as a tool to try and fix something that is not working. Having an open marriage only accentuates the good and bad parts of the current relationship, so it is very important to have regular check-ins with one another and firm written, negotiated boundaries prior to any participation in external relationships.
Working with couples who are new to the concepts of an open marriage is very common in a sex therapy practice. There are several items that are important to discuss prior to the negotiation of a relationship agreement. As a reminder, it is important to assess the health of the relationship and help the couple resolve any issues that may become worse while exploring openness including any individual issues that may bleed over.
Next, after establishing the relationship is healthy, I have them each separately as homework, answer the Goals for an Open Marriage Exploratory Questions shared below. The purpose of this is to make sure that both partners are on the same page regarding what they are looking for. Reflective listening, a tool used to ensure that a partner understands what is being communicated to them, is your most important skill and it is important to make sure that the definition of certain terms are clearly defined and outlined. If both partners appear to have radically different ideas of what they are looking for, then my goal is to help them negotiate and collaborate on a picture that works for both of them. I use the Gottman method, Art of Compromise technique for this. Please refer to www.gottman.com for further training and information on this technique.
The discussions of boundaries will likely be the primary place where solid negotiation skills are important. As a therapist, you want to make sure that neither party is participating in an activity due to coercion, to please the other, or “taking one for the team” in this exploration as well. This is a common term used in this community when one party agrees to have sex with another person despite a lack of desire to do so.
Relationship Agreement Negotiation Exploratory Questions
Goals of an open marriage
- What are my goals when exploring an open marriage?
- What am I looking for?
- How does an open marriage support my values?
- What do I see as possible challenges for our open marriage?
- What do I see as benefits for our open marriage?
- What fears do I have surrounding the concept of opening our marriage?
Vision of the open relationship
- What model of an open relationship am I looking for?
- What degree of personal freedom do I desire?
- What degree of personal freedom is comfortable for me to consent for my partner(s) to have?
- What behaviors or experiences are important for me to keep exclusive to my primary partner?
- What behaviors or experiences are important for my primary partner to keep exclusive to me?
- How can my partner and I show support to one another for our secondary sexual partners?
- How can we best support one another if our secondary sexual relationships create tension in the relationship?
Sexual activity boundary chart: Soft swap
- Oral Sex Receiving Oral Sex Giving
- Cuddling Toys
- Digital Stimulation Kissing
Sexual activity boundary chart: Full swap
- Oral Sex Receiving Oral Sex Giving
- Penis in Vagina (PNV)
- Digital Stimulation Solo Play
- Anal Sex Ejaculation
Safer sex agreements
- What sexual barriers do I feel are important to use?
- How much sexual history am I comfortable giving and receiving from a potential partner?
- How much sexual history should be shared with my primary partner?
- How much of my primary partner’s sexual history are they comfortable with me sharing?
- How often do we want to be tested for STD exposure?
- How much input am I comfortable having in my primary partner’s other sexual relationships?
- How much input am I comfortable with my primary partner having in my outside sexual relationships?
- How comfortable am I with my primary partner having a degree of input on how I manage my time or scheduling dates and such?
- What degree of input am I comfortable with in how my primary partner spends their time for scheduling dates and such?
- When is the right time to inform my primary partner about potential, emerging, or actualized sexual relationships?
- When is the right time for my primary partner to inform me about potential, emerging, or actualized sexual relationships?
- What and how much information am I comfortable sharing with my sexual partners about one another?
- What and how much information am I comfortable learning about my partners’ sexual partners?
- How much information am I comfortable sharing about sex and dates between my partners?
- How much information am I comfortable learning about sex and dates between my partners?
- What and how much information am I comfortable sharing with my primary partner regarding issues, joy, and challenges of the outside sexual relationship?
- What and how much information am I comfortable learning about my primary partner ‘s issues, joy, and challenges of the outside relationship?
- How much information am I comfortable sharing with my secondary sexual partners about my primary relationship?
- How much information am I comfortable sharing with outside sexual relationships learning about my primary partner?
- What are some ways I can bring up changes I would like to make in our boundaries?
- What are some ways my partners can bring up changes they would like to make in our boundaries?
- How can I request that the agreement be reopened to discuss possible revisions?
Jealousy is a topic that comes up often in both non-Kinky and Kinky relationships. Jealousy is a normal and healthy emotion if it is handled appropriately. First, it is important to differentiate between envy, “I wish I was doing that” and jealousy, “I do not want my partner to do that.” Normalizing both of these feelings is important. It is important offer tools such as workbooks, CBT, or other sources to help this process. Additionally, remind your couples that fair does not always mean equal. Get to the root of the jealousy and then sooth the need and practice reframing skills. There are a number of jealousy workbooks and exercises in the resource list at the end of this manual.
I tell all of my clients from day one that boundaries will get broken, whether by accident or otherwise. This is part of the growth involved with opening a relationship, and it is important to make conflict agreements and consequence guidelines prior to an event occurring. When both partners are still in the excitement stage of this adventure, it is much easier to negotiate this than to trying to develop a reasonable plan when a client having a negative sympathetic nervous response. The boundaries that I see broken most often are those concerned with safer sex, sex act, and outside contact. It is important to process the triggers for broken boundaries and help the couple to repair and move forward. Sometimes this means that they may need to take a break from open relationship exploration or adjustments may need to be made on their contracts.
Therapist Nicki Discusses Repair
When working with swinging couples, renegotiating the relationship contract can be a very delicate conversation. Often it involves one of the partners desiring solo play, ending the openness of the relationship, or desiring to expand exploration with a sexual partner in intimacy or in the sexual realm. It is important to establish a safe environment for honest disclosure and negotiation. At the end of each of these difficult sessions, I remind my couples to touch, hug, and tell each other how much they appreciate the work they are both doing in this process. This tool is reassuring for the partners and it helps with reduction of anxiety.