I recently spoke with Melanie Tait on the ABC Radio Nightlife program about open relationships. This was a fascinating discussion with some interesting callers on the talkback sharing their experiences.
In this interview I answer the following questions:
- How common is it for couples to have an open relationship?
- How have relationships evolved and where have we come from?
- Can we be monogamous with one person for our entire lives?
- What’s the difference between an open relationship and polyamory?
- What can we learn from how gay male couples negotiate open relationships?
- Can you be in an open relationship and still experience betrayal?
- What are some of the reasons a couple might want to open their relationship?
- What’s the first step a couple needs to consider before opening their relationship?
- How do you deal with jealousy in an open relationship?
- How do you negotiate the boundaries in an open relationship?
- What are some of the most common relationship rules?
- Where do couples fall into problems with an open relationship?
- Why are open relationships viewed outside of mainstream culture?
- Can an open relationship enhance a couple’s relationship?
Listen to the recording of this interview using the player below, or read the transcript of the interview underneath the player.
Announcer: [00:00:03] On ABC Radio this is nightlife with Melanie Tait. Hello.
Melanie Tait: [00:00:15] Hello, Melanie Tait here with you tonight filling in for Sarah MacDonald. It’s really great to have your company tonight. Wherever you are on this fine Saturday night we’ve got so much to look forward to tonight. So I hope you’ll stay with me throughout the night. But first tonight we’re going to be looking at the fascinating phenomena that is the open relationship. Now it’s pretty familiar territory in most cultures around the world.
Melanie Tait: [00:00:41] Two people meet are attracted to each other and couple up. They marry or live together sharing their lives and usually a bed too. But what happens when one perhaps both feel unfulfilled sexually. Many reach for the divorce lawyers or run for the hills. But some try to work it out another way and negotiate an open relationship. What does that mean to actually been an open relationship and what are the sorts of things that you need to negotiate. Clinton Power is a relationship therapist and counsellor and he joins us tonight to talk about this. Clinton, thank you so much for coming in.
Clinton Power: [00:01:18] Great to be here.
Melanie Tait: [00:01:19] Before we begin this conversation I’d just like to ask our listener if you’ve got experience in an open relationship perhaps you’re living within an open relationship or you’ve given it a try and it has or hasn’t worked out for you, we’d actually really love to hear from you tonight to share that experience to share what worked and what hasn’t worked with us. You can call 1300 800 222 that’s 1300 800 222. It would be so terrific to hear from you. Clinton, thank you for coming and talking about this.
Clinton Power: [00:01:54] My pleasure.
Melanie Tait: [00:01:54] How common is it that people have open relationships in this modern-day and age.
Clinton Power: [00:02:00] I’ve certainly seen in my clinical practice it’s on the rise. Gay male couples have been doing it for decades. It’s kind of familiar ground for them but I’ve certainly seen with heterosexual couples, more couples are exploring this as a kind of a viable part of their sexuality.
Melanie Tait: [00:02:18] And if we look back in time at the beginning of relationships I think there was that book that was released about five or six years ago called Sex at Dawn. Do you remember that?
Clinton Power: [00:02:28] No, I don’t know that book.
Melanie Tait: [00:02:28] It was basically about open relationships and polyamory etc. within communities way, way back. You know basically saying that we all have been doing this for years and why are we such uptight monogamists these days. is the general sense.
Clinton Power: [00:02:51] That’s where we’ve come from.
Melanie Tait: [00:02:51] So where have we come from, can we talk about that?
Clinton Power: [00:02:53] Yeah well I think you know going back you know we know from decades or from centuries past that relationships certainly women were in the role of you know the caretaker the nurturer of the children. The men were out there you know getting the meal fighting animals to bring stuff home. And there was this kind of it was generally accepted that men could you know they might have multiple lovers and even within in past cultures that was known and accepted and it wasn’t a big deal. But I think what’s happened over time is that monogamy has become the norm. And certainly even in wedding vows you know there is this assumption when heterosexual couples get married that they are going to be completely monogamous even if it’s not really stated; people just assume that and sometimes that’s problematic as well.
Melanie Tait: [00:03:49] And in the lifecycle of a relationship like the things that go on with our body and our mind you know physiologically does that make sense that we would be monogamous to one person for the rest of our lives.
Clinton Power: [00:04:03] Look I think it’s a challenge. We just have to look at the rates of infidelity and betrayal that goes on in relationships to kind of get an idea that there’s something problematic with the model for many people. And there’s a number of reasons why people might stray but we could say along with the high divorce rates that monogamy is not working so well for a lot of people.
Melanie Tait: [00:04:28] So can we look at open relationships? What’s the difference between an open relationship and somebody who practices polyamory or polygamy or you know where does it fit on the tree on the scale between monogamy and those kinds of things.
Clinton Power: [00:04:46] The general distinction is an open relationship is when a couple decides to not be sexually exclusive. So the open relationship to have sexual encounters with other people whereas polyamory really allows the relationship to involve dating flirting romance even falling in love with other people. That tends to be the distinction and a lot of couples that negotiate an open relationship like to be very clear about this is about non-emotional connections with other people, you can have fun, you can have sex but it’s not about falling in love with other people.
Melanie Tait: [00:05:24] Right. So. So you were saying before that this has been happening. You’ve seen this happening in the gay world for a long long time and just creeping into sort of heterosexual life now. What has worked out about the way that gay people negotiate and are we speaking mostly of gay men or gay women as well?
Clinton Power: [00:05:45] Look certainly gay women as well but in my experience and I think certainly anecdotally gay male couples have certainly been doing this for a long time and you know navigating it fairly successfully. I think gay men have tended to kind of recognize that there’s sexual diversity and the desire to have diversity and sexual experiences is not a bad thing and it doesn’t necessarily have to erode the primacy that the kind of your intimate emotional connection with your partner. Look I still I work with gay couples as well and there’s lots of gay couples that also run into problems with open relationships as well. So it’s not that they’re doing it perfectly.
[00:06:24] But I think that maybe gay men can be better at times at not taking it personally whereas I think because the heterosexual model of monogamy is so culturally pervasive and that we need to be with one person for the rest of our lives that the idea of your partner sleeping with someone else is often taken very personally and thought of as an even a reflection on who you are like people think they’re not good enough they’re not attractive enough they’re not desirable.
Melanie Tait: [00:06:52] Which intellectually that’s crazy but then emotionally it makes complete sense. Which we’ll get to it. If you would like to share your experience of being involved in an open relationship experimenting with an open relationship, we’d love to hear from you. Do text in 0467 922 702 that’s 0467 922 702 or call 1300 800 222 that’s 1300 800 222. Already we’ve had a text that says ‘Monogamy, stop being so naive.’ Well that’s the thing isn’t it. I mean it’s you know I guess this is a more open and honest negotiation of what is kind of a silent quiet thing.
Clinton Power: [00:07:32] Yes that’s exactly it, Melanie and that’s where a lot of couples that have open relationships say they say that’s one of the strengths of an open relationship is you are actually being upfront and open honest completely transparent about the desires you have for others and that actually makes it safer. You know the funny thing about this as well is you can be in an open relationship and still experience infidelity and betrayal. I like to make that point. A lot of people think that’s crazy. But you know for many people that do this while they have very clear boundaries and guidelines of what’s okay and what’s not okay. So if you do break those agreements often the sense of hurt betrayal can be just as painful as it is in a monogamous relationship when someone steps outside the relationship.
Melanie Tait: [00:08:15] Clinton can we start at the very beginning of how you know if a couple comes to you and says we’re considering an open relationship. I mean what do you have to have in order first? I mean do you have to have your own ego in order your own sense of self in order first before you can make I mean what comes first the open relationship or sorting know the individual in the relationship.
Clinton Power: [00:08:40] I think that’s important Melanie that people have to be solid in themselves. Look it’s not for the faint of heart and it’s certainly not a solution to a relationship that has problems or is struggling you know with sexual issues because some couples fall into that trap. They might say well things aren’t going so great for us in the bedroom so let’s open the relationship to spice things up which is a disastrous thing to do because often that can just create a huge rift and it doesn’t actually deal with the underlying issues that are going on in your relationship but you have to start with really good communication crystal clear communication and talking about expectations. I think that’s an important place to start before we even dive into ground rules and boundaries.
Melanie Tait: [00:09:23] So can I just backtrack a bit. If it’s not then about you know maybe a sexual inequality you know somebody has a higher libido than another person then another person in the relationship. If it’s not about those sorts of sexual things what might it be about that might inspire the opening of a relationship.
Clinton Power: [00:09:46] Well it can be. I mean some things sometimes. I mean they’re the kind of practical things that can be a launchpad for having an open relationship you likely you know desire discrepancy one partner has a much higher libido sometimes one partner may be interested in like have an interest in kinks or fetishes of the other partners not interested in and that can be a valid reason to open the relationship because they can get their sexual needs met outside the relationship for that.
Clinton Power: [00:10:11] But also I think a lot of couples that go down this route. They’re kind of interested. They recognize that one person may not necessarily be able to completely meet all their sexual needs and they recognize that with honesty and then discuss the possibility of well can we have different sexual experiences with different people and can that be okay and for some couples it even strengthens their own erotic connection. They actually take that energy. Some couples like to have a very transparent open agreement where they tell each other everything they’re getting up to. And that actually enlivens their own erotic connection.
Melanie Tait: [00:10:49] Right. Well, that’s that telly show that started on Netflix at the moment. Wanderlust, have you seen that?
Clinton Power: [00:10:54] Yeah I just saw the first episode. It’s great.
Melanie Tait: [00:10:59] Right. And it’s along these lines, isn’t it? Right. So a couple comes to you Clinton and says we’re considering opening up our relationship we’re considering having an open relationship. What’s the first thing that you talk with them about?
Clinton Power: [00:11:16] One of the first things I would start with is really getting clear about what is their intention. Like why are they wanting to open the relationship? And a lot of exploration needs to be done to get really clear about the motivations and intentions because they can’t be varied and it can be very different as well. Also, it’s important to understand how each partner works in the relationship. For some people, they can separate sex and love very easily. And those people tend to be out to have they can have different sexual partners and it has absolutely no bearing on their love and devotion to their primary partner. And they tend to do that they tend to be quite fine and open relationships whereas some other people love and sex are very much close closely intertwined. And those people can be a little bit more vulnerable or perhaps even much more vulnerable in an open relationship. They might be susceptible to jealousy to feeling threatened to insecurity and those things need to be understood as well before you open their relationship.
Melanie Tait: [00:12:16] See those three things that you mentioned there like surely they are what get in the way of the entire world just having open relationships. What was it jealousy insecurity and what was the other thing.
Clinton Power: [00:12:28] Keeping things safe the safer sex.
Melanie Tait: [00:12:30] So otherwise why would we not. I mean it doesn’t. Why would we not all just be in an open relationship yes or be polyamorous or whatever it is? These things are very very very important. How do you if there’s an imbalance in a relationship if you’ve got one person who’s more jealous than the other? I mean what I mean to just throw up flat at you know think nah we’re not gonna be able to do this.
Clinton Power: [00:12:53] Yes well sometimes that is the case. I mean any couple that goes decides to have an open relationship it has to work for both of them. This doesn’t work if one person makes a unilateral decision and says well you have to put up with this is what I want it because that’s not a relationship. So ultimately and some couples do get to the point of exploring or actually realizing it’s not going to work for us.
Melanie Tait: [00:13:16] Clinton Power is with us. We’re talking about open relationships. We would love to hear from you tonight or maybe you’ve got a question about open relationships you’d like to ask Clinton to text in 0467 922 702 that’s 0467 922 702 you can call 1300 800 222 that’s 1300 800 222. So. You’ve kind of worked out that you’re going to give it a red hot go. Where do you start in the negotiation of the terms the boundaries? I mean do you get people to actually write them down? How does it how does it work?
Clinton Power: [00:13:55] That’s a really good idea because they need to be crystal clear. And one mistake, a very common mistake a lot of couples make is they make assumptions about what the rules are or they just don’t even explore all the possible scenarios and they find out down the track that something they assumed was a rule or a boundary actually their partner didn’t agree to or didn’t didn’t understand that and they’ve been doing something outside the boundaries. So I mean things like you know how we going to deal with the issue of safer sex that’s a really critical one because that has health implications. That’s one of the most important ones. But then couples like to explore things like well how are we going to deal with disclosures like is it going to be completely transparent. We tell each other everything. Or is this the don’t ask don’t tell situation where I don’t know what I don’t want to know what you’re up to. Don’t tell me because it’s actually gonna make it worse for me. Some other couples want to be really clear about what kind of sexual behaviors are okay and what’s not okay. And things like you know can we have sex with friends or friends or acquaintances out of you know is that out of line.
Melanie Tait: [00:15:05] That is so interesting. Where do. I mean are there any boundaries that you’ve seen or rules that are that are pretty uniform across couples that have open relationships.
Clinton Power: [00:15:19] You know Melanie an interesting one is a lot of couples say no sex in our own bed in the marital bed or don’t bring people home. I always think that’s an interesting one but it kind of makes sense because for many people the home is a sacred space. And you know that so they often have an agreement if you’re going to do that it needs to be in another location. Some people kind of say it’s okay to have regular partners. Other people will have rules. Other couples will have rules like it’s one time only you can meet someone you can have sex but you’re never to contact them again. Again that can be to protect the possibility of developing deeper feelings for someone else.
Melanie Tait: [00:15:57] Right. So interesting isn’t it. It’s so so complex where do you see people coming undone?
Clinton Power: [00:16:07] The most common place people become undone is they break an agreement you know so maybe they had one of these rules and they’ve broken one of the rules and that can still be very very painful. The thing that is particularly distressing is when a partner if they do have a non-monogamous relationship and one of the partners starts to develop an emotional attachment to someone else that’s a big problem. And that’s very threatening to the relationship if you’ve negotiated to have you know non-emotional attachments with others and suddenly your partner’s having feelings for someone else that can get very complex.
Melanie Tait: [00:16:40] Why must you have non-emotional attachments to other people, Clinton why is that part of it. Why aren’t you? I mean surely connecting with other people involves some sort of emotional involvement.
Clinton Power: [00:16:53] Well I think of course it does you know we’re not robots but I think for those that want this kind of relationship arrangement they’re not wanted. They don’t want the complexity of people their partner falling in love with other people. Whereas if polyamorous relationships they are totally fine with that and they encourage their partners to have multiple love relationships.
Melanie Tait: [00:17:16] Right, so that’s a whole different other thing.
Clinton Power: [00:17:19] It is a completely different kind of setup. And of course, more complexity because you can have multiple different types of relationships all at the same time. But in the polyamorous model, there tends to be you know a primary couple you know they’re kind of the top [00:17:34] of the hierarchy and then other partners are less important.
Melanie Tait: [00:17:37] Call in if you would like to share something [4.9] with us or if you’d like to ask a question or you know share an experience that you’ve had with an open relationship you can call 1300 800 222 that’s 1300 800 222. Why do you think within our society Clinton that this is sort of viewed as so outside the mainstream?
Clinton Power: [00:18:03] Yeah, I’m not sure about that Melanie. I think it’s it’s people don’t talk about it there’s a bit of stigma so people don’t talk about it openly with friends you know and you know I think because there’s that shame and stigma that comes with not fitting with the norm particularly for heterosexual couples because the monogamy model is so strong it’s drilled into us from such a young age I think I think there is still a lot of stigma and shame around it.
Melanie Tait: [00:18:27] And let’s go to Tina now. Tina you’ve actually been part of it open relationship for 30 years. Can you tell us how it came about and how you’ve negotiated it.
Tina: [00:18:38] I met my friend at a party. He was open. Pretty much open about it from day one.
Melanie Tait: [00:18:48] Right.
Tina: [00:18:51] IT took me a little by surprise that he always used to tell them that I was girlfriend number one. I’ve met a lot of them. I’m friends with a bunch of them still. We sort of became a rather large family. Kind of weird. We had our libidos and I have gone out and found other partners as well but not as often.
Melanie Tait: [00:19:21] Have you ever had trouble with jealousy or insecurity in that kind of thing within the relationship.
Tina: [00:19:27] At the start I did. When he fell really hard for one of the other ladies that took a while to get used to but I really like her. I got over myself. It didn’t mean that he loved me less. It just means he loved her as well. It doesn’t work for everybody but it worked fine for me. Like I said we’re still in touch with the ones that are still alive.
Melanie Tait: [00:20:04] Right. Right. And so it’s still you’re still a part of this open relationship today.
Tina: [00:20:11] It’s changed a bit because my partner got sick a number of years ago so he can’t get intimate anymore. So it did. He’s had some brain damage and things so it sort of changed a bit and I’m a bit more like his mom than his girlfriend. But like I said we’re still in touch and it still works and he loves the other ladies as well. That’s fine. He still loves me. I love him.
Melanie Tait: [00:20:48] Do you look back on it as a happy relationship Tina.
Tina: [00:20:51] Yes. You have to go into it with your eyes open. You have to talk and we talked a lot. You have to make sure that there are no secrets because if they’re secret it’s not going to work right. You have to be firm in your belief of who you are and who they are.
Melanie Tait: [00:21:20] Well that’s great advice Tina. Thanks for calling in. Thank you. Bye bye. Thirty years Clinton. That’s a great amount of time. Have you seen many open relationships last that long?
Clinton Power: [00:21:36] Extraordinary. Yes. It’s certainly not the norm. But I have heard of that. I think what Tina was referring to there was the importance of communication talking being honest and having really difficult conversations. Interestingly couples I’ve seen who are in open relationships at work. They are they’re actually very good at having the kind of conversations that perhaps other couples dread but they can kind of hold onto themselves individually and have those difficult conversations and be open and transparent and honest. And they don’t tend to avoid or run away from the hard you know the tough talk which is good.
Melanie Tait: [00:22:14] We’ve also got David on the line now. Hello David.
David: [00:22:17] Good evening.
Melanie Tait: [00:22:18] Thank you for calling in. What did you want to say to Clinton tonight?
David: [00:22:22] Just to a slightly on a different track whereby when one partner is. And is is sleeping in another room and would. Very much like his partner to his wife of many years a half a decade half a century salary to actually have another partner. Say it’s a difficult thing to broach. In the first instance but I. I feel guilty and I think that it would. Give her so much more freedom.
Melanie Tait: [00:23:17] So did you mean did you want to know how to raise that. Is that what you’d like to know from Clinton’s advice on how to how to raise that as a possibility.
David: [00:23:27] Is it is it. Does he have regular people who will have got to that stage where injury has said so. Of course one of the people to become non sexually functional for quite a few years and would like to. Give his partner the freedom and have to start off expressing to that. We weren’t very upfront with each other but just to broach the subject. What would you suggest is a way in which to broach the subject.
Melanie Tait: [00:24:09] That’s a wonderful question. Thank you, David.
Clinton Power: [00:24:11] This is a situation where you know it is one of those other reasons why sometimes people open their relationships when a partner may be injured or ill or handicapped. And it sounds like David is describing a scenario where he wants to be supportive towards his partner is still having a sexual life. And maybe he can’t be a part of that. And. I think I heard him say that they have a very honest relationship and I would certainly encourage him just to to to use that honesty to talk you know in a very open way about his thoughts and feelings and that’s a hallmark of any strong couple. You know that you can really be open with each other and reveal your vulnerable feelings and this is a conversation where you would need to be certainly vulnerable but it could be valuable too.
Melanie Tait: [00:24:57] Thank you so much David for calling in and I’ve had a text from Lindayl in country Victoria who says many couples married or not gay or not irrelevant at the Beatles sang. All we need is love. But in fact compromise, if they want to stay together is most important our love for each other does change over time especially if we begin young as we age. Of course, we change we grow up and ideas we had before often change. Whilst my husband and I have been married for 38 years with plenty of ups and downs life we are still together not luck but working at it. That’s an interesting text from Lindayl. I mean this opening up your relationship. That’s another way of working out it isn’t it is it could be.
Clinton Power: [00:25:43] Yes. And the interesting point Linda makes there is that people don’t remain static in marriage. You know there is this idea that we’re going to get together we’ll be in this relationship and when we’re never going to change. But people do change and particularly if you’re looking at decades 20 30 years people aren’t the same as they were when they first got together first got married and that’s why I think it’s really important too. It’s almost like you need to have a regular check-in with each other to say how are we going. We’re where things are where you are. Where am I at. How are we feeling about all aspects of our lives? I mean sexuality is just one aspect of life but they’re important conversations to have on a regular basis.
[00:26:21] How often do you see an open relationship-enhancing relationship.
Clinton Power: [00:26:27] It certainly can. When it’s done well absolutely it can be in a hand an enhancement to the relationship. When you’ve got good communication you have really clear boundaries and guidelines. You honor those who you respect the primacy of your relationship and still attend to your primary relationship with love and affection and and time that’s really important. You’re not not prioritizing other sexual partners or escapades over your primary partner. That is one of the most important things that your primary partner always feels like they’re the most important person. If things start to get out of whack and suddenly you’re prioritizing connecting with others over your partner that can cause problems. But the couples are doing well can do it very well and it does enhance a relationship.
Melanie Tait: [00:27:10] If you’ve just joined us we’re talking about open relationships here with Clinton Power who’s a relationship counselor and we’re talking about how they can work. What are the sorts of things that can help them to work etc. We’d love to hear from you. We heard from Tina before who’s been an open relationship for 30 years. We’d really love to hear from you if you’ve been in one if you’ve given it a try it has or hasn’t worked out. We’d love to know what did and didn’t work for you. You can text 0467 922 702, that’s 0467 922 702 or you can call 1300 800 222. That’s 1300 800 222. Quite often a long-term couple might have children which I can imagine would be something that would get in the way of opening up a relationship. What are the negotiations that need to be had if there are you know if there’s a family involved in this relationship?
Clinton Power: [00:28:07] Yeah that’s an interesting question Melanie. You know the most the couples I’ve worked with tend to be they are they tend to be childless or it’s later on in life after the children have left home because I think certainly with young children there’s so much focus and energy on raising the children and to do that well it’s hard probably to I could imagine getting involved with other people at the same time. It probably does happen but the most important thing is the family unit needs to be really kept safe and secure. The children need to know that they’re loved and they’re important. And in any secure functioning relationship with family, it’s very important that those things aren’t threatened so that the couple feels like they’re the most important people the kids feel like they’re important to the parents. And like I was saying before connections with others are not getting in the way of family time or primary couple time so again it’s about establishing really healthy boundaries to protect the family and the couple
Melanie Tait: [00:29:05] What do you think needs to be done within our society to lessen the stigma of you know we kind of have this idea you know when you’re watching a movie and there’s a key party for example in the movie. It’s kind of tawdry in the movie. Well, I think it’s kind of you know we’re not usually in a movie. If you see a key party or something like that or an open relationship it’s usually told through the lens of being a bit sordid. You know it’s not kind of told through the lens of it being you know a beautiful part of a happy sexual life or a bit of fun on Saturday night even it’s sort of usually shown as a bunch of desperate middle-aged people who are bored doing this that or the other. How does that stigma break? I mean how.
Clinton Power: [00:29:50] It’s a great question. I don’t know if I have the answer to that. It’s because I think that the cultural forces are so strong. I know it is changing I mean one of the big things I’ve seen happen in the last I’ve been in practice for 15 years and is said you know 10 years ago people were ashamed about online dating. Are you surprised? Yeah. How did you meet the girl we met online like. Really really embarrassing now if people I mean online is the norm and if someone says We met at a bar I’m like wow you met in real life. It’s amazing. It’s like this. And it’s an interesting phenomena. So but I certainly think like the Internet and online dating has trained it’s been it’s like a huge cultural shift and that kind of hookup culture is really phenomenal. I mean we kind of saw that in gay culture with apps many years ago like Grinder where men could kind of see the proximity of other men and hook up with them but now we’re seeing Tinder which has just been taken on by the heterosexual community and it’s just gone wildfire and that whole hookup culture has moved into the heterosexual space. And I think it’s an interesting time. I mean never in the history have we been able to lay in bed next to our partner and actually be kind of you know being unfaithful not being unfaithful while the line is to a partner on our digital device you know. So it’s it’s an interesting time as a complex time and there’s lots to navigate but I think I can say that that that’s kind of creating a cultural shift as well with the hookup culture.
Melanie Tait: [00:31:21] That’s really interesting because if you know the gay world’s had the hookup culture a little bit before and are much more cool with open relationships I wonder if it it’s only natural that heterosexual culture will follow suit. I wonder what the costs will be of that if there will be costs. Do you think there’ll be costs?
Clinton Power: [00:31:42] I think there are. One of the things I see is that there’s this kind of attitude that relationships are disposable you know and suddenly seeing people get on Tinder and it’s just this constant revolving door of you know dates and hookups and then discard the person because now there’s so much choice and before you know decades ago you had to get out of the house you had to go to a bar or an event a social gathering to meet people and now you can sit on your sofa and just flick through hundreds of thousands of profiles there’s so much choice and there’s always this idea that well if this doesn’t work out I’m just going to quickly move on to the next person. So I think there’s a cost to that. I think relationships aren’t being as valued and I think you know it’s also when you’ve got that kind of anonymous and the anonymity of the Internet it’s very easy to disrespect people and I think that’s a very sad thing that people don’t you know I think that phenomenon like ghosting where people just are dating someone or they’re seeing someone and then they just suddenly disappear with no warning with it without any communication that that kind of stuff is very painful for people when it happens.
Melanie Tait: [00:32:49] Do you see. I mean I just wonder out of interest given this new sort of hookup culture and the fact that you know you feel like you can find somebody new. I mean we could we’ve both got phones in here now we could just you know get on Bumble or Tinder or Grinder or whatever it is and flick you know right or left on people. Do you find then that people aren’t as willing to work on you know you’re a relationships counselor they’re not as willing to work on their relationships as much anymore because they think they can just find a new one.
Clinton Power: [00:33:24] I still think there’s people out there that really you know when they love someone they really want to make it work. But yeah. A lot of relationships in that kind of world are pretty superficial. And what I’m seeing is a lot of people desperately lonely and isolated which I think is a very sad thing. And even though we have this incredible power to communicate and stay in touch with people with apps and digital devices and the Internet it seems to me that loneliness is like a plague it is more people only more than ever which is very sad.
Melanie Tait: [00:34:01] Do the apps make an open relationship about 10 times easier than they were say 10 years ago.
Clinton Power: [00:34:09] Yeah I think so because just because of the speed ease it’s so quick. So of course if you do open your relationship you can now potentially meet hundreds you know communicate with hundreds of thousands of people in a very short amount of time to try and find someone to find those sexual partners. So that’s been a big cultural shift which you know we just didn’t have you know 15 20 years ago.
Melanie Tait: [00:34:34] Do many people share in the picking of the partners given that they can do it on an app these days. Yeah, I just think nothing is more fun sometimes than being with your girlfriends or single girlfriends and saying yep he’ll be good for you. He’ll be good or she’ll be good for you. Do you know what I mean. Do you see much of that happening at all.
Clinton Power: [00:34:55] I haven’t seen all of that happening when it’s an open relationship and the parties want to have separate partners but certainly if they’re organising some kind of you know group sex or swinging in couples in the swinging stuff like that that would certainly be a shared experience of let’s find a partner together. Let’s find someone else together that can be a shared part of their sexuality which they can enjoy.
Melanie Tait: [00:35:19] So going into swinging and things like that is that considered an open relationship. .
Clinton Power: [00:35:23] It is a form of an open relationship, yeah.
Melanie Tait: [00:35:25] Right. You’re on ABC radio with me Melanie Tait filling in tonight for Sarah Macdonald and we’re talking about open relationships how to negotiate them and the things to look out for and I guess that the the the conversations that you need to have when negotiating one. Clinton Power is with us. And if you’d like to ask Clinton a question or if you’d like to share your experience we’d really love you to call in. You can call 1 300 800 222, 1 300 800 222 or you can text 0467 922 702, 0467 922 702. Clinton What if you’ve you know couples have been out there negotiating they’ve given that a red hot go an open relationship and you’ve got one partner who’s loving it because they’re getting loads of interesting sex from somebody else and you’ve got one person who’s maybe whose currency is not as high or who doesn’t it gets out there and doesn’t enjoy being out there away from their partner. Does that happen very often and what should a couple do in that situation.
Clinton Power: [00:36:30] Yes it does happen and it’s a tricky situation because a sense of jealousy can come in. There’s this idea of inequality that a partner can start to feel insecure or threatened because their partner is getting a lot of acted a lot of activity a lot of action and perhaps they’re not getting as much traction as you say and that would need you to know in that kind of case I would encourage the couples to come back together really talk about what’s going on because anytime your primary relationship is feeling unstable or threatened even one partner is feeling very insecure it has to be a time where you both come together and attend to it as a couple. If you take the attitude Well that’s your problem you know you need to get over it. I’m going to continue on as I have been it’s not really going to support the longevity of your relationship and to help your partner feel secure.
Melanie Tait: [00:37:25] Can we talk about jealousy because jealousy would be the one thing that gets jealousy is the thing that gets in the way of every single you know basically probably it’s at the root of pretty much every relationship problem might well not everyone. But you know I would imagine in this situation. How do you combat jealousy? How do you sort that out? Have you got a tip that some of that is a big one?
Clinton Power: [00:37:46] I think if an individual or individuals together are highly jealous it’s very likely an open relationship is not going to be suitable for that couple. And interesting research that’s come out about couples that are in open relationships is they’re actually they don’t experience a lot of jealousy so that they seem to be able to manage that very well as I said before they don’t tend to have a good sense of self good self-esteem and confidence they don’t take things personally. And I’ve seen lots of gay male couples do this well and sometimes just feel really happy for their partner that they’re having great sex with someone else. And that’s it they see that as a good thing not as a threatening thing but if another relationship and a partner feel jealous it can often be untenable to be an open relationship just because each time your partner is going off to be with someone else it’s just going to bring up those feelings and everyone’s been there. It doesn’t feel good and certainly doesn’t feel good.
Melanie Tait: [00:38:42] So interesting isn’t it one of the only couples that or one of the couples that I know that have been together you know 25 years since we’re all kids and still genuinely look at each other like they’re crazy about each other. You know this so like I can remember when they got together and have an other than that I think they still look at each other the same way. And it’s a gay couple friend friends of mine who are in an open relationship. They have other I mean they have a very healthy sexual life themselves in their relationship but they open their eyes about and they’re still so happy together. And I’ve always wondered how much of you know their happiness has to do with the fact that they haven’t had to be everything to each other. I mean what that aspect of it not having to be everything to somebody surely that that lessens the pressure on a relationship.
Clinton Power: [00:39:32] I think so. I think going back to you know when we first started talking that I think that’s been a big change because when we think back you know centuries ago we were all part of a village and we had the whole village of people. But over time because now having you know intimate love partners becomes so important and valued that we do expect so much from our partners we to be our best friend our lover handyman. You know that the person who’s going to deal with all the difficult things in life plus you know come home and be romantic and sweep you off your feet. So there’s so much pressure on one person. And I think it does put stress on relationships. And I like the model of the village that you know we partner doesn’t need to be everything for us to meet we can sometimes go to we have a friend who we go to and talk about things in and maybe our partner is not even interested in our career. But we have career colleagues who love talking about you know the career. So you know you can have multiple people in your lives that can fulfill those needs.
Melanie Tait: [00:40:33] Personally I’d be very happy for somebody to just be a handyman my partner just be a handyman. We’ve got Brian on the line. Hello Brian did you have a question for Clinton?
Brian: [00:40:45] Not particularly. I just more a comment. I’m not too sure about when people have been in a relationship for some time sex becomes less important it’s more companionship and you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a very long time and with men and women the sex drive just does lessen. And it’s a question of whether I mean one maybe one or the other partner wants to have more sex than the other but there’s more benefits for staying with that person than respecting them because you learn as you grow together through life and sex becomes less important as you go on.
Melanie Tait: [00:41:39] Thank you so much for that Brian. What would you like to say to that Clinton?
Clinton Power: [00:41:44] Yeah I think there’s some truth in what Brian was saying. You know the other aspect is you know today where we’re living so long and if we’re in a relationship a long-term relationship it can go on for decades you know whereas you think back. In the past often we end it will we live to 30 or 40. That was great. You know. But now we’re suddenly with the same partner for so many years and there’s that sense of familiarity. He talked about companionship which is great but sometimes that companionship and being so familiar with someone else can actually kind of be the antithesis of eroticism and excitement and novelty. It’s’s absolutely a big challenge in a long term relationship to maintain those things in order to maintain novelty and excitement to introduce mystery and you know all the things that everyone has at the start of a relationship when you’re in that honeymoon stage and physically libido does drop for many of us as we get older and other aspects like health issues or stress workload can affect libido as well. So you know some couples are very happy I work with couples as well that are in companionship and don’t have any sex and they’re fine with that. You know that that’s something that for a number of reasons and that can work as well. So it’s really about the couple working out what works for them.
Brian: [00:43:07] Thanks for calling Brian. And let’s go to Rusty. Rusty did you have something you’d like to ask.
Rusty: [00:43:14] Look I’m an older bloke. I’m over 70 I’m single now and have been for the last 30 years. I got married once got unmarried once and would never do it again. But with this you know what about for instance the rise in STDs. And maybe children who don’t really know who their parents are.
Melanie Tait: [00:43:43] Well that’s true. There are two big things Rusty. Let’s get Clinton to answer that thank you so much for the question.
Clinton Power: [00:43:51] I’m not sure what Rusty was saying. Was he saying that if people have open relationships he’s concerned that the gamble is an increase in STIs?
[00:43:57] Yeah. Is that the case what you saying? And children not knowing who their right parent is.
Rusty: [00:44:03] That’s right. Somebody picks up an STD from person X and brings it home to the wife Y or a husband or two whatever especially if one of them like me is a rare blood group blood donor. I have always had to be very careful.
Clinton Power: [00:44:27] Well I think this is where you know the safer sex conversation is so vital it needs to if you’re going to head down this path you need to have this conversation right at the beginning. So. Yes. Absolutely. It’s you know you need to look after you your health and the health of your partner. That’s a priority.
Melanie Tait: [00:44:42] Thanks very much Rusty. What an interesting conversation. There’s just so much of that Lindell has texted again. He says Linda again While sex is an important part of any relationship especially early on my own personal view which may be old fashioned is that unless you begin a relationship with similar interests mutual respect and like each other then they should consider dating and what may follow if sex is the only consideration. I would presume any future life together may be doomed if people hurt hopeful long-term relationship should not be based on lust only. But this is only an old-fashioned view. I don’t think that is an old-fashioned view. I mean you’re the expert. It doesn’t really matter what I think. It just there’s no there’s no reason why you can’t have both though is there than you.
Clinton Power: [00:45:28] Yeah absolutely. And I think if you’re talking about a long-term related that needs to be that commonality that that’s part of the bonding stage of getting into a relationship you know you have things in common you have similar beliefs and values and you look at the world in a similar way. So that brings people together. And I think that does help them stay together in the long term as well.
Melanie Tait: [00:45:46] Well Clinton anybody who has listened tonight and made them think I am a little bit interested in doing that what’s your advice on how to get started the negotiation for having an open relationship.
Clinton Power: [00:46:00] The first step I think is just to raise it with your partner and you need to do it in a gentle way in a soft way. You know ultimatums don’t work. So it’s not like I want this and too bad if you don’t. But just do it in an exploratory way just to raise it and it could be a you could begin by being curious. Now, this is what I am wondering about this what do you think about this. You start to open the conversation and find out where your partner is ahead. And I think often these are long conversations and it is not just a one-shot conversation suddenly you started it really. A lot needs to be explored. And of course, if you really get stuck or it does it is causing difficulties you know seeking a professional can be very helpful seeing a couple’s therapist or relationship therapist just as someone who is specialised in helping couples kind of navigate this area because it can be very tricky.
Melanie Tait: [00:46:53] I bet. Clinton thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Clinton Power: [00:46:56] My pleasure.
Melanie Tait: [00:46:57] That’s Clinton Power he’s a relationships counsellor. We’re talking about open relationships.
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Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.