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How To Open Up About Being In An Open Relationship

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How To Open Up About Being In An Open Relationship

Opening up to family and fiends about being in an open relationship isn’t easy.  Here are 5 ways to do it without freaking them out.

Many people have relationships today in which they have negotiated consensual non-monogamy, or CNM. Open relationships, swinging, polyamory, and relationship anarchy are increasingly common, and sometimes people in open relationships want to talk to their families or friends about their open relationships but are not sure how to do so. This blog gives five suggestions for being open to loved ones about being in an open relationship.


  1. Think why first 

People can react badly to consensual non-monogamy sometimes, so think carefully before coming out. If you are safe emotionally and financially from someone, then you could just let it all hang out – be honest and see what happens. If someone has financial or emotional power over you and is prone to being conservative or has been cheated on in their own past, then reconsider coming out to that person unless there is some practical or emotional reason you need to do so.


  1. Test the waters

If you have decided to talk about your open relationship and are not sure how the person will react, you can investigate by asking what that person thinks about something to do with other sexual minority relationships like the recent Supreme Court Decision on same-sex marriage. If the person freaks out, then reconsider coming out to them (especially if they have any kind of power over you). If they express an openness or support of the idea, you can say “I bring this up because I have something to tell you” or “I am relieved to hear that because …”  Consider starting small by choosing the most friendly relative and taking to them first. If that favorite sibling, auntie, or cousin understands and can be an ally, they could chime in with support if someone else freaks out later. Be sure to communicate clearly if you want them to keep your relationship in confidence so that they don’t accidentally tell others if you are not ready for that.


  1. Emphasize consent and love

Your loved ones need to hear that you have not been brainwashed by a cult or a conniving partner in to something you don’t really want to do. Explain what consensual means in consensual non-monogamy, and what you are getting out of the relationship style. Using your knowledge of that specific person, consider what objections they might voice against open relationships and think about how you might respond so you are prepared with some ideas.


  1. Offer Resources

Consensual non-monogamy can seem frightening at first, and being able to read what other people say about it can be very helpful in calming fears, answering questions, and providing support. Loving More is an organization that provides educational about polyamory, and their website has many useful links at . Psychology Today has some useful bogs on polyamory, especially Dr. Elisabeth Sheff’s

Sheff’s new book, Stories from the Polycule, gives an accessible overview of polyamorous families in infotainment form, and her first book The Polyamorists Next Door gives research results on how polyamorous families affect kids.


  1. Be askable

Give information and resources, but not so much that it is overwhelming. Stay away from specific details and let the person to whom you have come out take the lead in asking for more information. Discuss with them how openly they can talk about it with others – is it a secret from Auntie Emma? How about Jerome? Let them know they can ask you questions and that you are open to discussing it more. If they ask inappropriate questions about specific sex acts or the like, you can ask them if they would be comfortable answering that question with the same level of detail and disclosure they are asking of you. You can answer questions about motivations, love, and relationship boundaries without sharing intimate details that you feel are too personal.

[Elisabeth Sheff]



Dr. Elisabeth “Eli” Sheff is the foremost academic expert on polyamory in the US, and the worldwide expert on polyamorous families with children. Sheff’s first book, The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Families and Relationships (2014), details her 15-year study of poly families with kids and was just reprinted in paperback, and her second book Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families (2015) is an edited anthology of writings by poly folks. An expert witness and Guardian Ad Litem with a background in academic sociology, Dr. Sheff specializes in gender and sexual minority families, kink/BDSM, and issues facing trans* people. She is the CEO and Director of Legal Services at the Sheff Consulting Group, a think-tank of experts specializing in unconventional and underserved populations. You can find her blog on Psychology Today at

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