I started writing a blog about open relationship boundaries and recommended rules for polyamory for newly open relationships and got so into it I wrote a book. I’m going to break is down into a series so you can more easily dip in and out as you need.
There are many kinds of agreements couples sort out to make consensual non-monogamy work for them. Because they are often one of the first things new clients ask about I wanted to outline the main ones here to help all of you wondering the same things.
POLYAMORY RULES & NON-MONOGAMY AGREEMENTS: MANAGING PERCEPTIONS
These are some of the most difficult boundaries to clarify. ALL OF US enter into and navigate relationships with some expectations and some tender spots that require consideration. ALL OF US attach meaning to certain behaviors we share with other people.
VERY FEW OF US are clear about those expectations, tender spots, and meaningful behaviors within ourselves- let alone with our partners. And the more we can get clear about these for ourselves, the better we can communicate them to partners. And the more we can navigate them without feeling as though we're walking through a minefield.
IMPACT/PERCEPTION-BASED AGREEMENTS, EXPECTATIONS, & CONSIDERATIONS
The other tricky component of these is how much of them is based in perception- which can lead us straight into judgment of a partner without any input from them. I can imagine any of these are part of my partner's experience and grow resentment without ever checking in with them. This is a trap (and a surefire path to relationship troubles).
Usually sharing these meaningful actions are part of deepening intimacy in couples. That’s also why some of them have such deep impact when we start sharing them with others. We start thinking we and/or our relationship is less important, meaningful or special.
Checking our assumptions, stories, and perceptions in these areas will bring you closer, and help you stay out of hurtful misunderstandings. I ask you to consider the most common tender spots I've witnessed among my clients and notice which topics resonate with you.
The areas I’m sharing are often ways we measure our importance in another person’s life. Notice if any feel especially meaningful, special, or precious to you in your relationships.
COMMUNITY, FRIENDS & FAMILY
Often when we’re in a long-term committed relationship we meet each other’s family, close friends, and build shared community. This is an important part of deepening intimacy. However, these elements carry different weight in every relationship and with each partner.
Here are a few agreements clients of mine have discussed in the past:
- "We meet each other’s new partners before they meet our shared friends or family."
- "We don’t date people from our church or work."
- "Our other partners don’t meet our children until further notice."
- "I'd rather we don't share pictures of our kids online."
- "I love being on the dodgeball team with you. I want to avoid drama or complication by avoiding romantic or sexual connections there."
- "Please let me know if you think you might introduce your new girlfriend to your best friend."
- "We are only out about being polyamorous to [friend or family member]."
- "I want to go to this family wedding with you, and no other partners."
- "We’ll tell our family about our other partnerships when we’re both present."
- "I want to check in before we tell anyone about being in an open relationship."
SPACES, EVENTS, RITUALS & HOLIDAYS
In the typical relationship trajectory couples ultimately build a shared home. If you’re building an intentional relationship you know this is optional, but it may still be meaningful. Many of us attach meaning to special days and events.
Knowing which of these are meaningful to you will help you communicate compassionately to create open relationship agreements with your partner. Here are a few examples to consider:
- "I’m not ready to share space with your other partners."
- "I’d rather we use the same overnight guest processes we use with out of town friends with our dating partners: two weeks notice whenever possible, we still sleep next to each other, they sleep in the guest room, we don’t share a bathroom."
- "You’re the only person I want to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve."
- "Can you make sure our messy closet is closed when you have people over?"
- "Let’s leave that restaurant/club/park/city just for us."
- "It’s important to have us both present opening gifts on Christmas morning."
- "I’d rather you don’t see that movie/show/band without me."
- "Even if we celebrate your birthday differently, it’s important to me we spent the actual day of your birthday together."
- "Let’s not date any neighbors or anyone from the kid’s school."
- "We’re very involved in the Timbers Army. We’re not going to mix in drama by dating others in this community."
- "My bedroom is my sanctuary. I’d like to know anyone before I share a bed with them, and that includes you inviting anyone else into our bed."
- "When I hear the news about [exciting thing I’m anticipating] I want to call you right away."
- "I’m not looking to trade wedding vows with anyone else."
- "I would never get a tattoo or piercing with another partner."
- "We make mac n cheese every year on our anniversary. Silly or not, I’d rather not share mac n cheese with anyone else."
- "We planted this garden together and I’m not ready to share it with other friends."
- "We lift together every day, so we have agreed not to date anyone from the gym."
- "I want to be you’re only wedding date."
- "When we have an emergency we’re still each other’s first call."
OBJECTS & GIFTS
Many of us cherish special jewelry, photos, mementos, or gifts because they are unique and/or meaningful to the relationship. They remind us of a special time, event, or interaction. And because they carry meaning it can bring up tenderness to share them with others.
I’ll share some examples to consider, notice which spark thoughts about your own relationship.
- "Please don’t loan anything from our house to other people without checking in with me."
- "I bought special desserts for the event tonight, please don't eat them."
- "We have a “leave no trace” policy, where we don’t bring anything (even carry out or receipts) home from other dates."
- "I’m not ready to trade wedding bands with anyone else."
- "I know you like sleeping in my t-shirts, but I’d rather they not go on sleepovers to your other date’s houses."
- "I save ticket stubs to events I go to with special people. I’ve decided not to co-mingle my collections from different relationships."
- "I’ll have too much trouble with comparison if you tell me the gifts you get other partners. I don’t want to know that piece."
- "I’d prefer you not wear the special perfume I bought you on dates with other people."
LANGUAGE, STORIES, & WISHES
The language we use, stories we tell ourselves and others and the dreams we share all carry deep meaning in most relationships. It can be upsetting to imagine expanding these to include other people. Many partners start wondering what their role is now, and the words we use to tell our relationship stories really matter.
Here are a couple examples to spark your own inquiry:
RESPONSIBILITIES & ROLES
- “I’m not interested in sharing a pet with anyone else.”
- “Part of how we keep our relationship light is avoiding shared responsibilities or obligations. Those feel like more commitment than we want here.”
- “I like knowing we’re the primary consult partner for each other in all major life decisions. Of course, we talk about things with other people, but we’re the only ones who share decision-making authority.”
- “I’m fine with him seeing other women as long as it doesn’t mean he slacking around the house.”
- “We have an agreement not to disrupt out kid’s lives with our additional dating life.”
- "I like being your only dance lead. Can we talk about formal dancing with other people?"
- “I just don’t want to play babysitter while you’re seeing other people. When either of us goes on a date with someone else it's their responsibility to find a sitter so the other can go out or have personal space too.”
LABELS & FEELINGS
- “I’m not ready to use terms like girlfriend or partner we’re just friends with benefits.”
- “We don’t use the word ‘love’ in other relationships.”
- “I like being called you’re ‘lover’.”
- “It’s important to me that we call each other ‘primaries’ and have a set of boundaries to enforce that role behaviorally.”
- “I prefer to describe us as polyamorous and I know he tells people we’re in an open marriage.”
- "I'd like to know you're in love before you tell someone else."
DREAMS & FANTASIES
- “We’ve been dreaming of going to Paris for years. It would really hurt me if you started building that dream with another partner.”
- “Let’s check in about our future visions if and when they start including more partners.”
- “We’ve agreed not to share fantasies that involve other people because it’s too triggering for us emotionally right now.”
- “It’s hot for me to hear about the sex you’re having with other people. Will you check with them to make sure it’s okay to tell me all about it?”
- "I know you want to be a father and I don't want to be a parent. Maybe there's a way to find another partner who wants to co-parent with you?"
- “I’ve been really open and vulnerable with you about my new crush, but I feel so sensitive about it I’d prefer you not tell anyone else about it for now.”
- “Can we keep this dream between us for now?”
- “We’ve been imagining living on a large community farm with lots of loving friends and partners living on the land for a long time. I know we want to invite others when we feel close to them but can you and I check in first before we start talking about that dream with other people?”
Wanna talk about healthy boundaries or opening your relationship? Give me a call.
Hi! I'm glad you're reading. Let me know if I can help you:
- open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
- move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity
- manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
- rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns
I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon.
Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.