"My hubby knows that I'm bisexual and we've discussed on several occasions about adding a third person (female) to our relationship. Both of us think it would be exciting to do this from time to time. However, I love my husband very much and I don't want to jeopardize our marriage. Is it normal for wanting to add a third person to our relationship? If we were to add a third person, will this end up destroying our relationship? Are there any ground rules that need to be set to avoid jealousy, regret, or contempt?"
-Tara, New York
This is a great question that I know many are curious about, so thank you for being brave and sending this in to me! Although adding a third does not guarantee your relationship will be jeopardized, it is not a simple venture. I would suggest finding a therapist to help guide you and provide you with support system. I would also suggest reading a few books to help prepare and give you more information to work with. A few I recommend are:
The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures - Dossie Easton and Jannet W. Hardy.
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships - Tristan Taormino
To get you started, however, below are several questions for you to consider before starting out on your new adventure.
Q: Do you feel emotionally close to your partner and do you have good communication where you feel you can openly discuss thoughts and feelings?
The first thing to consider is if you both feel the relationship currently is on solid ground. A solid ground is essential before adding a third person. Think about it, if you add more bricks to a cracked foundation the potential for everything to collapse will be greater. So if your relationship is already strained and you want to add a third in hopes of “fixing” the relationship, you are walking into choppy waters. Communication, then, is vital because a more solid relationship foundation built of emotional closeness and safety will increase your chances of a better outcome. This is important in any relationship but ESPECIALLY when adding additional partners. When jealousy, scheduling, and setting boundaries come up you both need a platform of emotional safety to express yourselves. If you think this isn’t already something that feels like it is on good ground between the two of you, I would certainly work on that first before opening up the relationship.
Q: Have you thought about and discussed the boundaries for your open relationship?
When adding another person into the relationship, boundaries are a non-negotiable. Unlike monogamous relationships where rules and boundaries are assumed (although often to our detriment), open relationships require you to really consider and spell out who, what, when, where, why, and how. It can be helpful for each partner to have an idea in their minds of what you would want things to look like and then to explore and negotiate what feels best for the two of you. Here are just a few questions to consider:
Would the gal you add have to be someone outside of your friend circle? Someone you both know? Someone you want to develop a close emotional relationship with or would you want more of a one-night stand? What sexual acts would be OK? What form of protection would be used? When would these encounters happen? Is it something you want weekly? Monthly? Couple times a year? Where would anything sexual happen? Would you want to go to a party or club? Is your home off limits? Is the home OK but the bed off limits? How would you two be able to communicate with the third person? Would you only set up the encounter or do both of you need to be part of the conversation?
Whew! Can you see why emotional closeness/safety and communication is so important? There are so many things to discuss. And remember you don’t have to have everything figured out right away – start slow! For example, start with kissing and see how that feels and then add more after discussing with each other. Starting by dipping a toe into the open relationship pool, rather than diving right in, can help mitigate regrets, allows space for renegotiations of boundaries and to manage emotions.
Q: How are you with managing emotions in your life currently?
As humans we are emotional beings. Whether we address emotions or shove them down – they are there! When opening up the relationship emotions can have you feel like you are on a roller coaster. This is why taking stock of how you currently deal with emotions is important for predicting how well you will do with the emotions that opening up your relationship will bring your way. If you shove emotions down or avoid them, this is where hitting the pause button and seeking professional help is important.
If you feel you handle emotions fairly well now, this will help strengthen your transition into an open relationship and to manage related emotions like jealousy. Ask yourself what you currently do that helps you feel better when you are stressed or unhappy. Is it chatting with friends, taking a nice bath, curling up with a good book? Even when you use these when you open your relationship, if you feel that nothing seems to help with the emotions that come up, take a look at your boundaries and the pace you are going at. This can be a good indication that boundaries may need to be renegotiated or you are dipping into the pool too quickly.
Best of luck, be safe and have fun!
Chelsea Holland, DHS, MS is a sex therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate (Number: LPCC.0014082) and Registered Psychotherapist (License Number: NLC.0104923) in the state of Colorado. She holds a Doctorate in Human Sexuality and a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling. She also has completed the Associate in Sex Education and Clinical Sexology Certificate Programs from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, California. Her training includes counseling skills, resolving sexual concerns, sex education, clinical sexology and erotology. She is also an active member of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and the American Counseling Association (ACA).
Dr. Chelsea helps individuals, partners, and groups, regardless of their sexual orientation, sexual interests, ability, and age with concerns and questions regarding their sexuality and relationships. Her approach is solution-focused and skills-based, along with the use of intimacy and emotionally focused therapy (EFT) to guide her practice. In addition, she integrates a person-centered approach with the supplemental approaches of cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. Her approach is open-minded, sex-positive, and nonjudgmental to help her clients explore, embrace and enhance their sexuality, and also address any problems that may be hindering their fullest sexual expression.
You can also follow Dr. Chelsea on:
Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrChelseaHolland) Twitter, (https://twitter.com/#!/doctor_chelsea), LinkedIn(http://www.linkedin.com/in/drchelseaholland), and on her Website (http://www.drchelseaholland.com)