Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Love Diaries: So You Or Your Partner Want To Try An Open Relationship… What Next?

Welcome to our series, The Love Diaries – a space for you to share your experiences, advice, fairy-tale endings, setbacks and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences with love – everything from finding love, to keeping love, to losing love.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected] with ‘Love’ in the subject line. All stories that are published will will a Dermalogica BioLumin-C Moisturiser, valued at $119!

A Kiwi film has been making international headlines for its honest portrayal of a couple attempting an open relationship – and the big difference of expectation versus reality. Capsule chats to Angela Rennie, an Auckland-based intimacy counsellor, on how open relationships can work, how to start that conversation and some common traps to avoid.

As part of the line-up in the New Zealand Film Festival, there’s a film by Kiwi director/writer Jan Oliver Luck, aka Ollie, which is shot entirely on an iPhone. That’s not the hook, though. It’s the subject matter – the film is called There Is No ‘I’ In Threesome and it takes a very warm but very honest look at the realities of having an open relationship.

A still from the film There Is No ‘I’ In Threesome

Polyamory or open relationships are generally not portrayed very well in the monogamous mainstream – they’re either all gloss and sex appeal, or dramatic and one-sided. For many individuals or couples – or, sometimes, individuals AND couples – it is a way of life that a lot of people find joy and fulfilment in. But what’s perfectly portrayed in There Is No ‘I’ In Threesome is that the expectation versus reality of having an open relationship can be worlds apart, as the very human emotions of jealousy and insecurity can be just as strong as desire. So going in with your eyes wide open is very important.

What counts as an open relationship? As with many grey area conversations, there is no hard and fast rule. Angela Rennie, an Auckland-based intimacy counsellor, says what is key is that both members of the relationship have the same definition for what counts as an open relationship. “People get really stuck on terminology and that can be a bit of a dangerous thing. When you’re working with couples, you’ve got to look at what their definition is. As a general rule, open relationships means having more sexual connections with other people and polyamory means having more relationships with other people.”

Why do open relationships or polyamory still feel alternative? Considering how secular our societies are these days, it can feel that the sacrosanct view of monogamous relationships or marriages is one of the last vestiges of religion. (‘Do Not Commit Adultery’ is only one commandment behind ‘Do Not Murder’, which seems a tad dramatic). “We seem to think that monogamy is very safe and that it will protect us – unfortunately we know from the statistics that that’s not true,” Angela says. “Monogamy is a choice – and it’s not an easy one, because we’re always going to be attracted to other people and we’re always going to meet people who test those boundaries of monogamy.”

“I see it all the time with clients – I have client after client saying, ‘I feel like I missed out.’”

Why might someone want an open relationship? Again, it’s different for everyone. “For some it can be driven by the sexual component of fun and playfulness and continuing to experience that with other people,” Angela says. “Realistically, we know that desire is a hard thing to maintain in long-term relationships – so desire is a factor for a lot of people. Other people aren’t just so constrained by the feeling that you can only love one person, so they’re more open to exploring the other options and having multiple relationships. Some people can use it as a defence mechanism for not ever being too close to one person – but I don’t think that’s a healthy reason to be doing it.”

A lot of people might also want an open relationship as they get older because they feel like they missed out on having casual sex when they were younger. “I see it all the time with clients – I have client after client saying, ‘I feel like I missed out,’” Angela says. “This is why it can be very healthy for people to have a ‘free love’ period in their life, for that reason. Because then you probably know there’s no sexual experience worth breaking trust for. But it is like some holy grail that you compare everything to if you haven’t experienced that.”

So if you think you want an open relationship – what do you need to ask yourself first? Before you get honest with your partner, you need to get honest with yourself. “Is it coming from a healthy place, or an unhealthy place? Really exploring your emotional and mental and spiritual health and checking in on those areas,” she says. “A healthy place would be to experience more fun, more playfulness, more love and more connection. I would also encourage you to question are you doing it because you want to fix your relationship in some way? Because that’s not a healthy reason to open up a relationship. It will just create a bigger mess.”

“Present it to your partner in a very gentle way but then allow them the time to work out how it might look or work for them.”

How do you start that conversation with a partner if you want an open relationship but you’re not sure if they do? It’s often how it starts, Angela says, that one person leads the move into an open relationship. “That’s okay; but you do then need to make sure it’s going to be a healthy decision for both people. It’s about exploring all the possibilities and factors and talking them through as best you can, and then trying to decide on a win-win way forward for both of you.”

It’s perfectly understandable that your partner might be shocked at first, Angela says. “And when someone is in shock, their rational brain isn’t thinking so well,” she says. “So you need to give your partner the time and the space to then go away and digest it, before having a deeper conversation about it. Because you’ve already had the time to do that – you’ve thought about it, you’ve thought about the consequences and how it might look to you, how you might manage it. But they haven’t had that opportunity. So present it to your partner in a very gentle way but then allow them the time to work out how it might look or work for them.”

The biggest piece of advice? Don’t rush into it, and keep talking. It’s not a decision to be made lightly – or quickly. “Make sure you’re exploring it, you’re getting some support, looking for resources, going to talk to a therapist to help facilitate those conversations,” Angela says. “Just like a monogamous relationship, an open relationship requires continuous renegotiation and communication is important. You always want to be communicating – and just because you’ve agreed on something, it doesn’t mean that that’s it forever. You can always renegotiate in the future if something isn’t working.” 

For more information on There Is No ‘I’ In Threesome, including film screenings, visit and for more information on Angela Rennie, visit

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