Stephanie Sigler of Evolve Your Intimacy talks about boundaries here in The Relationship Contract.
By Stephanie Sigler for ASN Lifestyle Magazine
When you and your partner decided to open your relationship, did you take the time and energy to create a relationship contract? Many don’t even think about creating a relationship contract with their partners and jump headfirst into the lifestyle without a clue and then get emotionally torn apart when things don’t go as planned and unestablished boundaries are crossed. When we fail to plan, we plan to fail, and that is true to the lifestyle as well.
Tristan Taormino, author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, expressed that creating these contracts can help reduce the possibility of miscommunication as well as provide a reference for resolving conflict when it arises. We are not perfect; a conflict will occur, especially when individuals forget what was said about a particular issue. Negotiating a contract provides the perfect opportunity to ask for clarification on possible sticky situations instead of waiting until the heat of the moment when judgment is already clouded by sexual excitement.
Designing Your Open Relationship
The first step in designing your open relationships is to have a very real conversation with yourself and identify what you are comfortable with exploring at this time. This basic outline is a working idea that will mature and develop throughout your time in the lifestyle, but this is where you are at today, at this moment. Don’t limit yourself; allow your imagination to run wild; if you could have anything you wanted, what would that be?
- Do you want your primary partner with occasional play partners?
- Would you like multiple sexual partners that share an abundance of love and romance?
- Would you prefer sexual partners without being in serious relationships with them?
- Does the thought of exploring BDSM interest you? If so, to what degree?
- Which interests you most: open relationship, swinging, polyamory, friends with benefits?
Now that you have a basic outline of what you are possibly wanting to explore, let’s dig deep into some details that can help refine your relationship contract. This is can be an uncomfortable process for some because you are being honest about what you can handle emotionally at this time. Some of the following elements might not matter much to you, but they might matter to your partner. You cannot plan for every situation that you might encounter in consensual non-monogamy, but thinking through as many details beforehand can alleviate stress and reduce hurt feelings.
Discover Your WHO
The first element you will need to consider is who you are comfortable playing with and who you are comfortable with your partner playing with. Do you have a gender preference? Some partners only want their significant other to play with the same gender; does your partner have a preference? Can play partners be younger? If so, do you need to identify an age range for your comfort level? Would you prefer the play partners to be in committed relationships, or are single play partners acceptable?
Another difficult consideration is pre-existing relationships / friendships becoming play partners. Are you comfortable with your partner or yourself playing or entering into relationships with friends, co-workers, neighbors, strangers, or ex-partners? Explore your feeling surrounding entering into a relationship, sexual or romantic, with specific people in your life now as a way to help discover your comfort level with the familiarity of partners and do the same thing imaging your primary partner with the same people; how does it feel for you?
Find Your WHAT
Now that you have clarified who you are comfortable with let’s explore what you are comfortable with for you and your primary partner. Understanding what you are truly comfortable with is an important element of consensual non-monogamy. Many couples who experience conflict within consensual non-monogamy were not honest about their comfort level, or they didn’t talk about this until a situation occurred, and now, they are devastated. As with the exercise previously, imagine yourself with various people in your life or complete strangers, are you comfortable with kissing? Can your partner kiss others? Are you comfortable with displaying or receiving affection from play partners? Do you want an emotional connection or sexual activities only? What are you comfortable with your partner doing with others? This requires a very hard look into our emotional maturity at this moment, not what we hope to grow into. Your success in consensual non-monogamy hinges on how you feel now because there won’t be a future if you are not honest with yourself.
Explore Your WHEN/WHERE
The last two elements, when and where, are important topics to explore as well. We all get 24 hours in a day, and there is so much to pack in those hours; family, kids, work, etc. So, where does consensual non-monogamy fit into your life? How much time do you want to commit to other romantic and / or sexual partners? How much time are you willing to allow your primary partner to invest in other relationships? Are there special days that you want to reserve for the primary couple? Can you or your partner play when you are geographically separated from each other, or do you only play together? Where are you comfortable going with romantic and / or sexual partners? Can you or your primary partner go out in town on dates with other people? Do you need to date others outside of your hometown due to privacy? Are there specific places that you want to reserve for the primary couple? Are you comfortable with playing in your home? What about playing in your shared bed with your primary partner?
The Relationship Contract
A relationship contract is not a legally binding contract; however, this written agreement between the primary couple can help communicate needs, desires, expectations, negotiated boundaries, and commitments. You have explored your personal preferences for yourself and your primary partner, and, hopefully, your primary partner has done the same. Armed with this information, you are ready to create this living document with your primary partner. This tool is only as helpful as you make it. You can use this as a guide to create your relationship contract or use the provided contract, but whatever you choose to do, make sure that you communicate your needs, be honest about your emotional maturity, and actively listen to your partner’s needs and requests. This is not meant to be a comfortable conversation, but getting it out of the way in the beginning can help you navigate obstacles when they arise.
By Certified Sex Therapist Stephanie Sigler NCC, CST, LPC, Phd ABD
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of ASN Lifestyle Magazine