Awkward: How to bring up the subject of polyamory while in an established relationship

By Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Copy Chief

Savanna Steffens

You’re not sure how to answer the question your partner just posed.

“Do you want to add another person to our relationship?”

It’s a “yes” or “no” question, so it shouldn’t be that hard, but you find yourself torn.

On one hand, you think you’re monogamous both sexually and romantically. On the other, you want your partner to be happy.

They had always talked about the possibility of polyamory in your relationship, but having it posed so blatantly startled you.

You know there is nothing wrong with polyamory, so you’re confused as to why you’re not inclined to try it.

What do you do when your partner wants a polyamorous relationship but you do not? The Chronicle spoke with mental health, sex and relationship experts to figure this out.

As you think about your relationship’s prospects, do not forget about the basics—including consent.

“One no is a no,” said Catalina Lawsin, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist, specializing in sex and relationships at her private practice.

She said polyamory is natural and great to consider whether you’re 20 or 50, but relationships like this depend on “transparency, trust and mature communication,” which a lot of people are not able to fully dive into.

Hollie Schmid, marriage and family therapist at Relationship Reality 312, said where a monogamous relationship depends on communication and trust, a polyamorous relationship needs to have them tenfold. All parties need to be on board.

Schmid said to find your deal-breakers. If adding someone to the relationship is a deal-breaker for the monogamous partner, or if remaining monogamous is a deal-breaker for the partner who wants to open the relationship up, the partnership may not work out.

Lawsin said if your needs are not being met, you should be honest with yourself about how you can meet them, even if you may have to leave this relationship to do so.

However, if the monogamous partner is willing to explore conversations around what a polyamorous relationship would look like and boundaries for those scenarios, Schmid said those conversations—preferably through a therapist who knows what questions to ask—could lead to a middle ground, where they may consent to try it.

Jennifer Litner, sexologist and founder of Embrace Sexual Wellness, said every relationship is different, so every person needs to ask questions to curate what the boundaries might look like.

Some questions to ask are: How do you know you would be comfortable venturing outside of monogamy? What is the purpose and function of opening up your relationship? How long will this last? How will you find the third party? Are certain behaviors off-limits?

“[It] takes a lot of support and dialogue and conversations being met with empathy,” Litner said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario.”