In this piece, an open relationship is defined as a consensually non-monogamous relationship between two people who are each other’s primary partners. Secondary partners are additional partners that the primary partners interact with, and while there is always a sexual component, there are options. A secondary partner may be a girlfriend/boyfriend, a shared partner between two primary partners, or someone a partner has sex with.
Open relationships can cause anxiety in people who are monogamous, and if you find yourself in a situation in which you need to explain the nature of your (open) relationship to others, the first thing to do is understand why someone might be anxious. First, as much as people say that they’re open to new experiences, and telling yourself that you are open as well as trying novel things helps create openness, our first reaction to anything different is always apprehensiveness. While you may not be involving the person you’re having the conversation within your open relationship, it is still possibly a brand new topic for him/her. Second, you’re discussing romantic relationships, a source of ongoing anxiety for everyone throughout the lifespan. Third, to many you’ve introduced sex as a topic, causing disquiet and pressure on people’s issues with jealousy and fidelity, (the proverbial icing on the cake).
Consider the following:
Does the person you are having the conversation with know any of your partners, and if so, will they be with you?
Support is rarely a bad thing. You’re letting this person in on a treasured part of your life, but if you expect him/her to be so anxious that s/he is going to be hurtful, then the support of a partner may be needed.
Who is this person to you?
Are you trying to address concerns, or is this more of an announcement? Do you care about how s/he feels or what s/he thinks? On some level, it is likely that you do or your partner does, because you are taking the time to talk about your open relationship. Is s/he likely to be concerned about the health of such a relationship? If so, you might consider including some recent data (facts can be tremendously helpful) and think about in advance how much you want to divulge. This will likely require a conversation and some planning with your partner.
Ask if you may tell this person about your open relationship. Permission goes a long way.
Tell the person your definition of an open relationship, insofar you are comfortable
It is OK to explain part of your relationship to this person now, and part later. When you resume the conversation, you can explain the gap by telling the truth. It may have had to do with concern about judgment; consider relating that. If you feel comfortable and it reads like the appropriate time, ask him/her what his/her fears are for you. If you feel like things are getting heated, consider asking for a day to respond.
Let the person know that you and your experience are not that different from him/her and his/her experience
The first part of this conversation will focus on the differences between you and be something new to this individual. Now, let him/her know that an open relationship is still a relationship, that you and your partners had to develop rules during conversations just like that person has had to, or did in the past. Remind this person that people do not mate for life, although we like to think so.
Remember not to anticipate the outcome, beyond planning what you want to reveal. You can’t predict others’ feelings.