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Open relationship
Sep 10, 2011

Dr. Fawcett,

Thank you for all your time on this site.

I am positive and seeing someone negative and it's going well. We have a great connection and I think we will be able to form a loving relationship. He keeps telling me he wants it to be open, that he needs to be non-exclusive. I understand his feelings. The thought of just one person for years can be intimidating, and I wouldn't get into a new relationship without the understanding that the goal is for long term.

There were many times in my former monogamy when I resented feeling bound to one person by body even though the emotional connection was exclusive. The problem I'm having is that the thought of him finding people to do things that he won't do with me is hard to deal with and sometimes painful. I'm making a lot of progress lately in sending my old habitual anxieties "back to the universe" and dealing with what's real. Since I know that I would enjoy taking advantage of the freedom, I can't figure out if my anxiety is based in healthy reality or just plain jealousy. I'm also wondering if we should be exclusive for an initial several months; a kind of bonding period. Do you have any thoughts or resources on this? I did read the recently posted study brief, but I'd like to really look into this and I would greatly value your opinion. I don't want to start on a journey that I won't want to finish. Thank You!!

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thanks for writing. I am glad you have found someone with whom you are forming a loving relationship.

Open relationships generate strong reactions among everyone, including professionals. Motive is extremely important. I am not certain if your friend is seeking an open relationship because of your serodiscordant status or out of a general preference. If the issue is sex and HIV status, I strongly encourage you and your friend to work on these intimacy issues before jumping to an open status. Here is a link to a serodiscordant resource page at TheBody. If there's an issue of emotional commitment or compulsive behavior it will probably end badly.

Open relationships require that each partner be in touch with their feelings and be able to effectively communicate them, along with their desires and needs. Anytime an open relationship is under discussion it is a good idea to work with a couples counselor to examine the issues and create an agreement of how this arrangement will work. The anxiety you feel is normal and the concerns underlying it must be identified and addressed.

While I have seen open relationships succeed, I would never recommend it early in a committed relationship. Doing so creates too many opportunities for what Imago couples counselors call "back doors," that is, outlets for issues that should be resolved within the relationship. Not doing so inhibits emotional growth for the couple.

Ultimately the decision is one the two of you will need to make jointly and if you do, be certain to work with a couples counselor.

-David



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