Tips for Navigating Open Relationships

This week’s guest post comes from fellow Portland therapist, Graham Turner of Intersections Therapy. Graham is a individual, couple, and relationship therapist working in Portland, OR.  He enjoys working with many types of clients but focuses on LGBT and queer folks as well as those in open, poly, or non-monogamous relationships.  In his spare time Graham does a lot of walking, reads terrible sic-fi, and works on embroidery projects.

Navigating Open Relationships

There are many aspects of being in a non-monogamous, poly, or open relationship that are similar to those of a monogamous relationship.  There are also some notable differences.  I’m going to cover a couple of the unique challenges to give an example of how some relationships cope.

Explore Language

When your relationships fall outside of the mainstream vision of what they can look like it is important to think carefully about the words you use for yourself and others when you talk about your relationships.  This means being able to name and describe your relationships.  You can use the terms that are in general circulation or make up your own!  Arrive at an agreement with your partners that works for everyone.  It doesn’t need to be permanent or perfect, just take the time to learn the way to talk about your relationships that feels meaningful and congruent.

Flexible Relationship Boundaries

Take time to identify your own boundaries as well as their relative importance to each other.  Remember that boundaries can be changed after they have been established! The changes in boundaries need to be discussed and agreed upon by everyone involved but give yourself permission to acknowledge when one isn’t working. Maybe you opened your relationship in a new way and you are realizing that you are struggling with it…check in with yourself and maybe fall back to your old boundary.  These kind of difficulties give us important information about what we can handle and what we can expect of ourselves.  Revisit the new boundary after identifying the aspects of it that were challenging.

Prepare for Conflict

We can’t avoid conflict in our relationships, so it is best to anticipate it occurring.  With complex relational systems it is important to identify how each party involved carries responsibility for conflict.  What happens when two people who are dating have conflict and their third partner is uninvolved in the conflict?  Anticipating means setting expectations for the third person’s engagement in the conflict.  The first two folks are going to have their conflict and this agreement can help keep the third partner from having to be the referee.

Anticipate Misunderstandings and Repair

Build your understanding of how your partners and yourself repair following conflict.  I work with clients to identify not only how they want the repair to go but also how their partners repair.  Some people reconnect by leaving a note while others will buy a gift.  Others need to talk it out or go for a quiet walk.  Remember that each person has a unique way to reconnect after conflict and understanding this might help you see an attempt to repair you might have missed before.

With intention and care navigating non-monogamy can become easy for you and your partners!


Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).