18262195_mHelp! I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for (1-25) years, and I’ve just discovered polyamory/think I’ve always been poly. How do I get my monogamous partner to agree to this?

Short answer

You can’t make anyone do anything. You can only control your own words and actions.

Medium answer

Ask for what you want, and be willing to accept “no” as an answer.

“Relationships exist to make the people in them happier and healthier versions of themselves,” LustyGuy is fond of saying. In any relationship, it’s your responsibility to know what will help you to become a happier and healthier version of yourself. And it’s wise to ask your partner on a regular basis what he/she needs as well, regardless of the relationship structure. If being a practicing polyamorist is essential to your health and happiness, it’s your responsibility to ask for it.

However, if you are in a long-term monogamous relationship and have recently either come to the realization that you are poly or feel you have always been poly but either unable or unwilling to express that need until now, I probably don’t need to tell you you’re in a difficult and risky situation. It’s entirely possible that you can come out to your partner as polyamorous and ask for the relationship to be opened up only to cause drawn out arguments, disastrous dates and potentially even the end of the existing relationship.

Likewise, it would be dishonest of me not to acknowledge that successful relationships in which one member is monogamous and another member is polyamorous are few and far between. (I’ve personally never heard of any in which the original participants remained happily together for more than year, but there is always the hope.)

That being said, if you don’t ask for what you want, it’s guaranteed you won’t get it. If you do ask for what you want, there is a chance you might get it. And as Franklin Veaux says, “Life rewards those who move in the direction of greatest courage.” Or we can go with Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.”

Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that ultimately, the answer may be “no.” Your partner may either shut that door permanently or be open to further discussions but ultimately determine that he/she can’t be happy and healthy in that arrangement. And as we say here, never ask a question you’re not willing to accept a “no” to.

In the end, having the courage to ask for what you want will in the long run make you a better partner and a better human.

Long answer (if your partner is willing to talk)

Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.

A new self-identification of polyamory can be frightening and threatening to an existing partner. Remember that while you may have spent months or years wrestling and coming to terms with the idea of polyamory, your partner hasn’t had that luxury. While you may see love as limitless and joyful, your partner may be inclined to distrust, especially if there have been issues of infidelity in the past (or present). Keep in mind that your partner will need time and a safe space to identify his/her own fears, insecurities, emotional triggers and boundaries with respect to polyamory.

And it’s helpful not to have a deadline looming or a potential partner waiting in the wings. These only add pressure to a topic that is already socially quite disruptive on many levels for most people.

It’s worth mentioning that if you have already engaged in any type of infidelity with someone else, it’s unlikely that a discussion about polyamory will be received enthusiastically. These things take time and trust. In cases of infidelity, trust must be rebuilt before poly can even be considered.

Keep in mind that if you expect a partner to respect and nurture your self-identity as poly, you should likewise be prepared to accept and nurture his/her identity as well. Set up a safe space to listen to your partner’s reactions to the idea of polyamory. Just as you eventually want to be understood, take the time to listen to what your partner values in your existing relationship—without defending your own choices or making it about you and your new poly needs.

Over time, these listening sessions may eventually become “what if” conversations or even fantasies musing about what poly might look like. They can end up taking place over months or in some cases over years, and they can be tremendously helpful in gaining a full understanding of everyone’s needs, regardless of the outcome.

Also, these months/years should be taken for introspection by both parties. Both people need to determine what they need to be happy and healthy in the relationship. Are the drawbacks of the non-preferred relationship structure truly intolerable? Are the benefits of the preferred relationship structure truly irreplaceable? Which is a want versus a need? It’s not unusual for the topic of polyamory to be brought up, discussed over time and ultimately rejected, leaving the relationship all the more solid for having considered an alternative. Likewise, it also happens (less frequently, to be sure) that polyamory is brought up, discussed theoretically over several years, and ultimately leads to the successful opening of the relationship with little to no drama.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, the important aspect, as always, is healthy communication between loving adults. If everyone involved has asked for what they want, listened to the other party, owned their own shit and determined their baseline for happy and healthy, the ultimate decision about relationship structure is undoubtedly the right one for everyone involved.

Ready to bring up the idea of polyamory with your partner? We’ve made the process easy (well, easier!) with a free checklist for you. Click below to download your free checklist:

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Commenting area

  1. whollyword March 5, 2016 at 4:35 pm · ·

    To LW: I’d encourage you not to expect your partner to be okay with you unilaterally changing the relationship, especially if they have no interest in having other partners themself.

    I tried to adjust for 2.5 years, after my partner of a decade decided he was poly. I never came to feel okay, and I eventually stopped feeling like my okayness was at all important to my partner. And when I finally said an unequivocal “no, this hurts, I am tired of you making promises and then breaking them, please stop,” he left.

    I wish I’d said that unequivocal no earlier and saved myself the years of struggling while he had the best of all possible worlds– someone who put him securely at the center while he explored his other options. I misguidedly felt that I owed it to him to try, but trying to live on someone else’s terms did a lot of harm.

    I think that if you plan to try to open a long-term relationship, it is wise to expect that you will be blowing up that relationship– that your partner might be very hurt, and that your partner might never trust you again. That goes doubly if this is something you’ve known for a long time, or if you’ve already de facto started a relationship with somebody else.

    If you can accept that this might be the moment your relationship ends, carry on. Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised.

  2. I am new to poly. Truthfully, I am monogamous and my hubby has recently discovered he is poly. I am struggling with the foundations of how I thought and read that poly worked. I understood that open communication was a MUST. That the primary has the ability to open and close the marriage as needed. I understood that the boundaries that the primary relationship were to be set and respected and if that did not make the girlfriend happy or the other party that this was to be respected? So troubled…

  3. The hardest thing I’ve found is the absolute requirement to be extremely patient. You’ve been poly for a long time, and have come to terms with it; the monogamous person hasn’t, maybe isn’t even aware poly is an option, and is going to need a good long time to internalize, understand, and adjust their world view. And that’s presuming they even can!

    And that’s a big reason why it so often breaks down. If you’re in a mono couple, you’ve probably built up a certain amount of impatience already, maybe you’ve even found someone you want to date and that’s the impetus for finally “coming out”; can you wait months or even years while your mono partner “processes”? What about your potential partner; will he be that patient too? Or consider the situation of dating a mono partner who insisted they were “okay with it”; all too often when push comes to shove, I’ve found this mono partner either gets flipped out by your orientation, or simply bails on you for a mono partner. Or as that article Minx recently linked to noted, the mono partner may be simply lying and waiting for you to “come to your senses” and embrace monogamy again, or think you’ll fall so deeply for them you’ll leave your other partner(s).

    I’m sure it can be done, but man alive I’m sure it’s really a challenge. Better to, as Minx and Koh say, date your own species.

  4. The KEY is TRUST! Both/all? parties involved in any relationship MUST have TRUST of all involved. If complete HONESTY isn’t there, you have nothing. TRUST in the relationship,and it takes HONESTY of everyone involved. If someone is going to develop an interest in another over you, then live with it, or leave/change the relationship. Do not commit to something you are not happy and comfortable with.

  5. Here’s a more optimistic story.
    12 years ago, my partner came out to me as poly. We had been together for 5 years. He identifies as poly, I identity as mono. He has had a variety of other relationships. From casual dating to strong love ties.
    Key factors for us were:
    Talking about your emotions, without expecting the other one to ‘fix’ it.
    Taking our time to regain our confidence in each other
    A strong desire to explore instead of control

    When we were in this for a year or so, on a podcast I heard Minx say a poly-mono relationship was pretty much impossible. I emailed and said we had been working on it for a year. Now, I read she knows no relationship succesfull for more than a year, so I thought I’d reply. Celebrating 17 years together next week. And having fun!

  6. I don’t even understand how I ended up here, but I assumed this post used to be great.
    I don’t know who you’re however definitely you are
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    already. Cheers!

  7. Superb website you have here but I was curious if you
    knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get comments from other experienced people that
    share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Bless you!

    • There are a number of Facebook groups devoted to polyamory; a simple search will turn them up. But be warned–the groups reflect the general level of negativity as you’d see elsewhere on Facebook.

  8. This piece of writing is in fact a pleasant one it helps new the
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  9. Admiring the time and energy you put into your site and detailed information you offer.
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  10. Hi Cunning Minx,
    I am new to your blog and have started from the first episode. I am currently on episode 7. I started two days ago. I heard you mention sending voice messages and was wondering how to do that? I want to share my story with you and also ask you some questions a little more privately. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks for your time!

  11. I was in a mono de facto relationship for 8yrs before I brought up poly. We discussed feelings and needs for 6 months before even attempting to have another partner, another 8 months later I am now married to my mono partner who is “mostly” fine with arrangements knowing she is my forever partner that no other will come between us. Any partners I have she makes a big effort to befriend because she wants to love and care for who I’ve picked, she genuinely is the best wife one could hope for. A few months ago I discovered that there was a beautiful cuckquean hiding in her. Her heart amazes me, everyone can see how great she is. I took the chance that she would reject my poly nature but she surprised me with how accepting she was about it. On the flip side if she did reject poly she knows I would have honoured her decision.
    Openness and honesty is the only way.
    If you set someone free and they leave you then they were never yours to begin with, if they stay and love you even more then they are yours for ever.

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