How Do I Exercise My Open Marriage?

By Kendra Holliday | March 23, 2019

Dear Kendra,

My wife and I recently decided to open our marriage. Unfortunately, I’ve run into a problem: women don’t seem to want to get involved with a man who is in an open marriage.

So far the three women who I’ve approached, although they admit being attracted to me and interested in the idea, have all given me some variation on the same objection: they’re worried about hurting my wife or causing harm to our relationship. These women know both my wife and me, and they aren’t willing to even acknowledge the possibility that talking to my wife could resolve their concerns.

I can’t help but find this fairly insulting. These women seem to be substituting their own judgment for mine and my wife’s, and telling us that, as much as we might think we’re ready for an open relationship, we will inevitably fall victim to jealousy and bitterness.

Now, I can understand that some women may not want to take any risk of being responsible for that, no matter what the people in the relationship might say, and maybe there’s nothing I can do to change those women’s minds.

But how can I best explain that they don’t have to worry about causing harm to our relationship—and that even if that happened, it wouldn’t be their fault—and how can I maximize the chances that they’ll overcome their feelings of unease and be willing to get involved?

My reply:

I asked a couple successful poly guy friends of mine for their 2 cents, and their combined answers added up to at least 2 bucks! Here is J’s take:

“Why not approach women who already identify as poly themselves and have other already established relationships? You can join a poly group in your town and mingle with like-minded people.

Of course I realize that’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve already got what seems like three perfectly willing takers–if only it weren’t for their warped view of his wife, the mutual understandings they may have in their relationship …or what, on principle the sanctity of his marriage to her? Yeah, honestly I’d feel somewhat insulted by these assumptions of overreaching responsibility and risk too.

They clearly don’t fully understand the situation or what their limits of liability would be. On the other hand, no one want’s to feel like they might end up reviled as a homewrecker.

Now I realize maybe it’s not purely the realm of sexual jealousy these kindhearted female souls are worried about. After all we’re talking about forming deep emotional connections if all goes well. It’s a polyamorous relationship not necessarily a casual booty call this stud is aiming for right? In this case, yes I’d say it’s absolutely imperative he sit down with his wife and a potential girlfriend to hash out some feelings and individual needs. Maybe this is obvious, but I’d recommend in this case he schedule one discussion at a time.

This would be your chance to sell the concept to girlfriend X in front of your wife (who, let’s emphasize this clearly, damn well better be fully on board with this preordained discussion beforehand unless you’re looking for a world of hurt) and show that you have some rules and regulations in place protecting that longer-term relationship.

Consider bringing in terms like ‘primary’ vs. ‘secondary’ roles if you think that might help put her fears to rest while fully realizing all the connotations that come along with those loaded terms. I’m not personally a fan of them, but depending upon the situation it might help get the conversation moving. I’ve known some couples to write up a ‘contract’ or ‘rules of engagement’ before opening up their relationship. Do you have something like that? I know, it feels dorky, but consider showing that to the prospective mates. Maybe they’ll find the honesty and transparency refreshing.

You say these women already know your wife, but can’t imagine talking to her about any of this? Well, would your wife be willing to gently initiate the conversation with them herself?

Here is feedback from Reverend Matt:

“This may be a complicated situation, depending on those involved. Certainly the first concern of many women may be ‘are you really in an open marriage, or are you cheating’ or ‘is your wife allowing this against her will’ or something along those lines. Which as the writer notes would be easily resolved by talking directly to her.

The next level of discussion is around the idea of hurting you, your wife, or your relationships with your wife. Even knowing that your wife is totally on board isn’t going to complete alleviate this fear. Even if one of these women is good friends with you and your wife and there is open and honest communication about the relationship she will still harbor concerns about causing harm. If she isn’t worried about that I would consider that to be a warning sign.

But having concerns isn’t the same as being unwilling to pursue a relationship, it’s being willing to do so but cautiously. Perhaps approaching it from a take things slow, that you’ll spend time together, build your connections to one another and see if her comfort level improves and she realizes that it’s not going to cause your marriage to implode on contact.

We live in a society where non-monogamous relationships are rare and poorly understood often even by those in them. For most people that fear of the unknown, of the alien, is a significant deterrent and it will take time, thought, discussion, and clear communication to gradually assuage those fears. It is not an insult to you or your wife that they don’t understand how you feel that it would not have a negative impact on your marriage, it’s an emergent property of their cultural indoctrination. It is unfortunately the normative response at this point.

It is also entirely possible that this is being used as a convenient excuse to say no to something they really don’t want to do. While they may be interested in you and in theory intrigued by the idea, they are unwilling at this stage in their life to take that abstract and make it concrete. Once you take it out of the realm of discussion and they are facing the idea of actually dating a married man they may simply balk at that.

Other than take things very slowly, hang out with them with your wife, allow time for them to organically grow comfortable with it, there is little else I can offer as advice on how to convince them to give it a shot.”

Do any of you readers have any best practices to share?


PolyVerve 2011-06-20 07:59:06

Go out together. Women that are going to have a problem with your wife won’t even waste your time if she’s right there. Women who won’t have a problem with your wife will have any doubts allayed right then and there by both her presence and acceptance. Problem solved. 🙂


siiix 2011-08-08 22:08:01

exactly you need to look at the right places, you have to be confident that your partner supports you, it makes your play partner or secondary partner feel secure if you introduce them to each other… its really not that hard once you get the hang of it


Beth 2013-12-12 22:57:00

As a primary partner who has been through the start up of a Poly relationship, I was the one that sat down and talked with the woman my partner was interested in and explained to her my views which alleviated her initial fears. Even though it ended badly in the end due to other reasons, it really helps having the wife and girlfriend sit down to discuss it. Even then, some women might have a hard time grasping the concept and may try to put themselves in the primary partner role. Such as what happened with our relationship with her, so I would also agree with the recommendation to join a poly group to meet other like minded people.


fuzzilla 2013-12-13 08:19:28

Well, I am not polyamorous, but one rule I live by that has vastly improved my love life is to move on quickly/waste as little time as possible on dead end situations. I’m far less frustrated and have a lot more energy for the people who are unambiguously interested.

That said, it might not hurt to do a talk with the wife thing, if only to gain practice doing so for future scenarios/possible partners.


Joan Price 2013-12-14 10:19:57

A friend of mine who was opening up his relationship joined OKCupid and was totally honest in his profile about his situation. So any women who responded already knew that he had a life partner and they were polyamorous, and they knew what he was seeking. No time wasted, no misunderstandings.


Algor_Langeaux 2013-12-15 08:14:53

Just because *you* are into open relationships doesn’t mean that *they* are. Being attracted to you physically doesn’t automatically mean that they will just want to jump into bed with you – just because *you* are ok with it.

I note here that you specifically use the word “open” rather than “polyamorous” and am assuming that you chose the word with intention – at any rate, there are as many flavors of each word as there are people practicing it, and just because two people identify with one word or another, it doesn’t automatically follow that the model that both have in their mind for what that actually means in practice is even remotely the same, or compatible.

Based only on what has been written here it seems more likely that if anything, it is the three women that you have approached that should be the ones that offended. Again, from what you have said, you aren’t really taking their needs and wants into consideration: You have your “open relationship” card signed by your significant other, and they should just trust you and go with it, and damn the torpedoes…

It sounds more likely that they are trying to let you down easy and not be rude. It definitely sounds like an “It’s not you, it’s me” sort of let down… and in any case, it would be best to move on.

As for “best practices” – I have found it best not to put people on the spot. I am very open with my friends about the fact that I am polyamorous… but generally I do it in the passive voice, and don’t follow it up *immediately* with “and I would really like to date you”. If one is presented with information out of left field with no context and simultaneously presented with a potentially life-changing proposition, it is too much information to process at once…

…but if you present yourself as poly (or open) and that leads to a general discussion of polyamory (or open relationships) and what that means to you – potentially over a matter of weeks or months or years – they will have already processed the *possibility* of a relationship with you, so you won’t be smacking them in the head with a 2×4 out of the blue… and won’t be asking them to make a (potentially) huge decision without being able to process it with something other than their gonads.

…or forcing them into an automatic knee-jerk “no” response because they either don’t have all the information they need, because they are overwhelmed, or because the terms you used to define your relationship carry unfortunate baggage for them.

Your mileage may vary, void where inhibited, etc.


Anna 2014-01-02 16:37:07

If they aren’t willing to invest the effort to allay their fears, then I wouldn’t bother with them. If I don’t already know the partner of a man I would like to date, I call her. I talk to her and make sure everything is alright. It doesn’t need to be a long discussion to establish that everything is fine.
But I always run the other way screaming from people who will not let me talk to other parties or seem like they have something to hide. My husband is always happy to meet anyone interested in me also. And I won’t waste my time with anyone “too scared” to get to know my family. There are plenty of other fish in the sea!


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