Advice – What is the common etiquette regarding open phone policies?

“My wife [42F] and I [41M] have been dabbling in non-monogamy for a while and my wife has been pretty much full on polyamorous with her boyfriend since August. She is really proactive about sharing everything – too much sometimes to be honest – but I do completely understand how communication is the most important thing in polyamory and ENM and it has definitely brought my wife and I closer together.

My polyamory / ENM journey has been much slower. And I have recently been developing a much closer relationship with a long time friend. Nothing physical yet but our communications (some phone calls but mostly texts due to our busy schedules) have become increasingly personal. We are planning to take a hiking trip together in June, so it looks to be more serious than a friendship at this point. My wife is excited about my new connection and sometimes she will pick up my phone to read my texts. I know the “open phone” policy is common in polyamory but I also want to respect my girlfriend’s privacy. Last night, my friend and I had a very personal conversation where she shared things with me that I don’t think is appropriate to share with my wife. I haven’t talked to my wife about it yet but I feel that I want to end the open phone policy. But I also don’t want my wife to think I am trying to hide anything from her either.

Just wanted to see if anyone here had this issue and if there is an accepted balance regarding this. I really want my girlfriend to know I value her privacy but also don’t want my wife to think I am hiding things from her.”

Anonymous on /r/polyamory.

Photo by cottonbro on

Dear Anonymous,

I’ve dated my fair share of polyamorous folks and connected with many more through my extended polysphere. And out of all the people I’ve met or gotten to know about, I have only ever heard of one other couple who had an open phone policy. So I do not believe that open phone policies are at all common in modern polyamorous relationships. If it is, I hope to hear from those who can maintain separate relationships without the veil of privacy.

I have often repeated the phrase, “Different people love differently” in my column. And every relationship is different because the people in those relationships are also different. And the same can apply to the level of communication you can have in your relationships. You say that your wife is almost too comfortably open about sharing the details of her other relationships. You do not need to consent to hearing about details that which make you feel comfortable. I’m also curious if your wife has gathered proactive consent from her other partners to share that kind of details with you, or if she has gathered proactive consent to share information that which you have shared with her that you might not feel comfortable being shared with her other partners as well.

I’ll also add here that as new information comes up, your agreements too can adapt and change. When I first started out in my own personal ENM journey, my nesting partner and I had a rule that we had to immediately end our relationship with our respective new partners after we were intimate with them (as a way to assert a time limit). And that rule didn’t last long after my first relationship ended. This is a journey with a lot of development and growth packed into the first couple years. So both you and your partner will need to adapt as you go.

Photo by Anne on

One of the most necessary skills to develop in polyamorous relationships is in compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is defined as an ability to sequester or partition your time and energy into smaller parts of a whole that may exist and house yourself and your relationships in non-intersecting, independent spaces.

One of those ways you can create and maintain a separate space in your relationships is by having some sense of privacy in your communications. Remember that one couple that I said I knew had an open phone policy? They had a lot of difficulties establishing long-term connections with people who were okay with that particular agreement. Eventually, even they revoked that agreement when one of them started dating someone who had a pretty firm boundary about communication privacy.

I think it might also be beneficial to dig deeper on and assess why you two needed to establish an open phone policy in the first hand. What insecurities are being triggered when you think about the texts either of you exchange with your partners? Why does your wife feel like she needs to share every detail with you even beyond your own comfort levels? And is there a better, a more healthy alternative to address those insecurities without resorting to potentially unethical behaviors?

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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One thought on “Advice – What is the common etiquette regarding open phone policies?

  1. Pingback: Advice – Prioritization in polyamorous relationships. – Tea Time with Tomato

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