In my practice, I'm often asked about swinging, open relationships and the pros and cons of polyamory and monogamy. While I'm not condoning or judging it, it does get me to thinking. In all these situations, it's safe to say "different strokes for different folks." (Pun definitely intended!)
One common thread between these situations is the need for open, honest communication. Without clear and transparent communication, jealousy, misunderstandings and fear creep into the relationship. A common trap is that couples jump into an alternative arrangement without first creating rules and boundaries. They may think that they want a third person to spice things up, but they don't discuss whether an emotional attachment is acceptable or if they want to keep the relationship purely sexual. Other examples of rules and boundaries include deciding if both people have to be present, and whether the sex play can include penetration.
Another common trap is thinking that experimenting with sexual alternatives will bring you closer after you've drifted apart. Certainly there are instances when that is true, but often the disconnection goes deeper than just sex. If it is deeper than a sexual disconnect, then experimenting is more likely to cause more problems than to solve the existing one.
Expanding sexual horizons within a stable relationship can work wonders for keeping things interesting. There's no short cut to creating a stable relationship; stability and trust must be present as part of the foundation. It's one of the basic tenets of yoga and of relationships: you have to feel safe before you can fly. Anyone who's ever tried doing a handstand knows this to be true, as does anyone who's had a relationship that didn't work out.
In my experience, it can take months, if not years, to create a new agreement for non-monogamy that works for both partners. It's much easier to start a new relationship with your sexual preferences up front than to change them somewhere down the line.
One key question to ask yourself, if and when you are considering an alternative to monogamy, is this: am I using this to go deeper in intimacy with my current partner, or am I using it to escape deeper intimacy? Exploring non-monogamy together has the capacity to bring you into deeper trust and deeper lust. It also has the capacity to create irreparable cracks in an unstable foundation. Understanding the answer to that question, then acting accordingly regardless of your answer, will ensure that your relationship improves.
What do you think? Is exploration outside a relationship a death knell or can it be an enhancement to a relationship?