You Want an Open Relationship, Eh? How a Sex Therapist can Help You


The other day, a good friend of mine sent a message asking for resources on how to create a swinging relationship. Of course, I told her to check out my podcast on creating a couple’s contract! We then discussed how I help couples open their relationship or address conflict in an already opened relationship. Then, it hit me, “Courtney, you need to a podcast on this topic!” If you have heard my podcast on open relationships, then here are the main points we covered. If you have not heard the podcast, follow these steps:

  1. Open up another browser window and keep THIS window open too.
  2. Type
  3. Press “play” on Episode 9 and take a listen!

As mentioned in the podcast, your first session is part of the “assessment phase” where we review the consent forms, structure of therapy, my role in your therapy, and prior and current medical and mental health history as well as a sexual history. In regards to my role as your therapist, it is important to remember I am there to facilitate conversation and provide tools such as communication skills and conflict management. As a trained psychotherapist, I can also help resolve current or past core issues creating a disturbance or dysfunction in the relationship. My role as your therapist is NOT to tell you what or what not to do, though I will provide recommendations and honest feedback regarding your decisions.

At some point during the assessment phase, I explore with my client(s) the “presenting problem” or reason for seeking therapy. I don’t like the word “problem” as this references therapy is only for negative reasons or someone has a current problem. Therapy can be sought for many reasons including talking out thoughts or getting an unbiased opinion. During this conversation, the following or similar questions or discussions may arise:

  1. “What brings you in today?”
  2. “How did you both decide to open your relationship?”
  3. “Have you discussed the parameters and boundaries and what type of open relationship you both want?”
  4. “Have either of you been in an open relationship? Tell me about that experience including what satisfied you and what did not satisfy you.”
  5. “Have you already opened this relationship?” This question is followed up with conversation on the experience if the answer is “yes,” and exploring reasons for waiting if the answer is “no”.

During the assessment phase and as part of on going therapy, we also talk about your current relationship including any current or unresolved conflict, conflict resolution skills, communication skills, and trust/honesty in the relationship. A strong foundation in the primary relationship improves the success of opening a relationship. Many times, opening relationships as a resolution to a current conflict does not provide a positive outcome or experience. Similar to “let’s have a child and things will get better,” many couples also believe that brining additional partners will improve the primary relationship. Current or unresolved relationship dysfunction will only get worse as the couple does not have the tools or ability to manage emotions experienced in an open relationship, and opening the relationship is an adjustment in itself. If a couple insists on opening the relationship despite an unstable foundation, I will facilitate discussion about my concerns and recommendations for waiting as well as discuss a plan to improve the relationship.

Once it is decided to move forward with opening the relationship, we begin to create a plan of rules or boundaries for the open relationship. This process typically takes more than one session and includes though is not limited to:

  1. Assignment for couple to create list of “wants and don’t wants” for the relationship. This can be done as homework, in office discussion, or both
  2. Addressing possible barriers or set backs such as finances, social media, family/friends, foreseeable life events, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, etc
  3. Creating a “fail safe” plan if either person begins to feel uncomfortable with current plan
  4. Providing additional resources such as books/articles/support groups/ local clubs
  5. Reviewing the plan on regular basis

For further discussion regarding opening relationships and how therapy can assist, take a listen to Episode 9 of the Let’s Talk Sex Podcast. Another useful and well-written article about the various forms of non-monogamy is Dr. Eli Sheff’s “Seven Forms of Non-Monogamy,” which can be found on Psychology Today. I often use this article with couples and individuals to begin discussion and understanding about open relationships.