Adjusting the dynamics of any relationship can be challenging and difficult to navigate, especially when both partners have different expectations. For couples considering opening their relationship, whether it is polyamory or an extra-marital affair, the navigational process from one relationship structure to the next can feel daunting and overwhelming. It requires honest, candid communication between partners and an openness to explore new emotional and psychological boundaries together.
At the beginning of any relationship shift dialogue is key. Part of being on the same page requires maximizing understanding and minimizing assumptions. Establishing a common understanding of intentions, desired outcomes, as well as feelings and boundaries within the new setup should all be openly discussed between both partners. With such a copious amount of complex concepts to cover, it can be tempting to omit certain topics in an attempt to douse potential fires, expecting that things will work out in the end. Doing so can ultimately lead to turbulence, discord, hurt feelings and resentment down the line. Strong foundations built on mutual respect and trust create strong relationships, helping to avoid hurt and frustration later.
Working through the spectrum of emotions that arise can be challenging. While at first the idea of expanding ones relationship might be tantalizing and filled with excitement, oftentimes the realities of engaging in these alternative setups require one to confront their own personal insecurities and fears. Processing through these deep rooted emotions can often feel arduous and isolating, so much so that either party wants to quit before they even start. Finding a supportive network to incorporate, whether a therapy setting, trusted friends, or alternative community, can help to facilitate the emotional processing of this transition.
Exploring the unique needs of each partner is also paramount. Even though couples might be mutually interested in entering such a relationship style, how that looks is going to be vastly different for each person. Understanding how having a different primary partner will look for both parties requires an integration of active listening and reflective feedback in order to ensure respect for each person's unique desires and expectations. Couples should consider establishing ahead of time any rules and regulations that would apply to the relationship, such as requests for communication or the logging of details after any additional activities.
As couples continue to traverse the unknown depths of their relationship, they must remain both curious and resilient. Understanding that this new paradigm may manifest entirely different or unexpected outcomes is just as important as allowing oneself to be vulnerable to the process. Pockets of disappointment and misunderstanding might appear along the way, and confronting these bumps directly and quickly is essential to restoring harmony and understanding between the two. The overriding theme when navigating any transition within a relationship is to be kind to one another and to listen actively; these acts are non-negotiable whenever change is about to occur.
Making the decision to shift the behavior and constructs of one’s relationship can require courage, open mindedness and an immense amount of understanding from both parties. By introducing a diverse array of perspectives and continuing to communicate with genuine transparency and empathy, couples can establish structures and systems to help them work through the complexities of transition. When done with respect, kindness and patience, partners can successfully transition with their relationship intact.
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