Adam D. Blum, MFT, the Founder and Director of the Gay Therapy Center, offers advice about how to have a successful open LGBTQ relationship in this 8-minute video.
Gay Open Relationships: What Works?
How can you have a successful open relationship?
This is probably the number one issue we deal with here at the Gay Therapy Center. It’s a hot topic.
So, how can you make an open relationship a success?
The data shows us that about half of gay men in relationships are in open relationships, and half are in closed relationships. If you live in a big city on the coasts, in the United States, you may be under the impression that everyone’s in an open relationship. The data doesn’t support that. The data shows, if you want open, if you want closed, both are available to you. There’s something there for everyone.
I’m noticing that people who want to close relationships sometimes feel like they can’t have that anymore, that it’s no longer cool. The data shows that there are about half of you that want it and half of you don’t. So, both are good. You get to have what you want when it comes to this big decision.
What makes a good open relationship?
The number one thing you’re going to have to get good at, when you’re in an open relationship, is having conversations about your feelings. Now, that’s not so easy, right? As men, we’re socialized not to talk too much about our most vulnerable feelings, but this is an essential aspect of any open relationship.
Yes, we have to talk about with whom, when, how, what, those kinds of nuts and bolts decisions about how to have an open relationship. But more importantly, we’ve got to talk about “How do we process the issues of feeling hurt?”
It’s tough stuff.
Here’s the truth: open relationships push on what we therapists call the attachment system.
This is a built-in system. All humans have it, it comes from our childhood experiences. And it basically means we want to feel safe and secure in relationships.
If a toddler isn’t safely held in relationship, they are going to die. So this is important stuff. It is built in.
It is life and death in the human organism to feel safely attached.
Open relationships are going to start to push on that key part of you. So how do we deal with that? We learn how to process. Processing is an essential skill, which we’ll talk a little bit more about.
How do we soften that hurt that’s going to happen to the attachment system in open relationships?
We’re going to have to be very careful.
- We’re going to have to be very loving to our partners.
- We’re going to tell them how much we love them.
- We’re going to have to give them lots of positive regard.
- We’re going to have to get good at holding them physically and emotionally.
- We’re going to have to check in with him regularly to soothe these feelings.
The most important skill around soothing your partner’s hurt is getting good at having tough conversations and then feeling closer at the end of that conversation than you did at the beginning.
If you can’t do that, I predict that your open relationship is going to head for disaster. Drama, destruction, and disaster. Get good at having tough conversations first before you open your relationship.
Essentially what this means is having a conversation with your partner without getting defensive.
- Can you encourage your partner to tell you things like when he’s feeling jealous or insecure?
- Can you welcome that, rather than getting defensive about that and feeling blamed?
- Can you push yourself to tell your partner when you’re feeling insecure or jealous, even though you’d rather not say that?
These are the essential conversations that have to happen. Otherwise, you’ll keep this information and it’ll bottle up and come out in other ways that are not healthy.
One of the biggest issues I see in open relationships that’s a red flag is when couples enter into an open relationship because their sex life has gotten kind of boring over the years and they want to spice things up.
Why is that a red flag?
Your open relationship is going to be so much more successful if as you start talking about it, you’re also working on your current sexual connection with your partner. That can be hard to do! It’s going to take courage to talk about sex with your partner in the current situation between the two you.
- How do we spice it up?
- How do we make it more creative?
- What’s not working?
These are tough conversations, but really important conversations to have with your partner before opening up the relationship.
Don’t think of an open relationship as a substitute for bad sex in your current relationship. Otherwise your likelihood of a successful open relationship is going to decline significantly.
Instead, can you be open to the idea that as you begin to open up the relationship, you both also find a new way to re-find yourselves sexually?
Here are some basic questions you want to talk about when you open up the relationship:
- Are we allowed to have sex more than once with other partners?
- Where can we have sex with other partners?
- How do we manage the scheduling?
- What if it interferes with our time together?
You’ll have to be ready to answer some tougher questions too, if you’re preparing to open your relationship. See if you’re ready for an open relationship – if you can answer yes to these questions, you might be ready.
- Can I accept my partner’s guidelines and limitations around an open relationship, even if his guidelines are more restrictive than my own?
- Can I track myself if I have noticed that I’m getting close to violating one of our agreed upon restrictions?
- Do I know how to do that? Do I know how to track myself and then withdraw if I’m getting close to that area?
- Am I comfortable telling my partner that I have these certain limits and how I wouldn’t want him to have sex with others? Can I actually talk about that?
- Can I commit to not hurting my partner through this process?
- And if I accidentally do hurt his feelings, am I committed to the deep emotional repair that it will take, to get through that together?
Does this sound like a lot of work?
It is a lot of work. It’s a commitment. If you want to dig more deeply into the topic, there is a good book on it. It’s called The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt.
The skills needed for a good open relationship are similar to the skills of a good closed relationship. We have to give our partner lots of positive regard, listen deeply to their feelings, share our own vulnerable feelings.
These are important things that all good relationships need, whether open or closed.
A closed relationship can kind of get away with perhaps not doing all these things well. It might not be a terrific relationship, but it might be an okay relationship, even if we can’t do some of those things.
However, if you want an open relationship, you really do have to be good about talking about these difficult topics and processing those feelings. To be successful in this, gay couples are really gonna have to lead the way in having intentional open conversations about their relationships.