Updated: Aug 28
If you and your partner started an open relationship, did you allocate the time and effort to formulate a relationship contract? Many people don't even consider developing a relationship contract with their partners. Instead, they leap into this lifestyle without fully comprehending the complexities it brings, causing emotional distress when unbeknownst boundaries are crossed. As the saying goes, "failing to plan is planning to fail," which rings true regarding this lifestyle.
“One of the benefits of a [relationship] contract is that it makes the terms of your relationship real; it can strengthen your bond since you commit to what you put on paper and to each other.” - Tristan Taormino Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships
Discover Your WHO
The first element you must consider is who you are comfortable playing with and who you are satisfied 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 taste?
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 complex 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 imagining 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 satisfied with for you and your primary partner. Understanding what you are truly comfortable with is essential to 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, imagine yourself with various people or 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 brutal look into our emotional maturity, 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 of the relationship contract identifying the when and where are essential topics to explore. We all get 24 hours daily, so much to pack: family, kids, work, etc.
So where does consensual non-monogamy fit into your life?
How long do you want to commit to other romantic and/or sexual partners?
How much time will your primary partner invest in other relationships?
Are there particular days that you want to reserve for the primary couple?
Can you or your partner play when you are geographically separated, 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. Y
ou have explored your personal preferences for yourself and your primary partner; hopefully, your primary partner has done the same. Armed with this information, you can 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, make sure that you are communicating your needs, being honest about your emotional maturity at this time, and actively listening to your partner's needs and requests. This is not meant to be a comfortable conversation, but getting it out of the way initially can help you navigate obstacles when they arise.
Dr. Stephanie Sigler