How can I introduce my polyamorous relationship to parents and other family members who might not be the most accepting of my relationship?
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In many ways, “coming out” as polyamorous can be as difficult as coming out as gay or lesbian or transgender to one’s parents and family; just as with an LGBT coming out, parents are likely to be surprised, confused, and potentially even hurt. Therefore, when coming out as polyamorous, it is important to keep a few ideas in mind to avoid making your coming out experience any more traumatic than it needs to be — for either you or them.
One of the most important ideas to keep in mind is that your polyamorous relationship is a positive thing: Being poly brings joy and happiness into your life, in excess of whatever drama or heartache it might cause, or else you wouldn’t participate in polyamorous relationships (I hope). When explaining that you are polyamorous, it is important to be as positive as possible when describing your relationship structure and how it works for you, so that family can take queues from your tone. You’re much more likely to get a positive reaction when you yourself are positive and you take the time to explain your relationship as exciting and rewarding. If you roll your relationship out meekly and defensively, like it is some kind of disease, your family will pick up on that negativity and therefore be that much more likely to react in a negative fashion.
Here is a model for a positive way to tell your parents you’re polyamorous:
“Hey, mom and dad, you are both very important to me, and therefore it is important that you know about all of the other people who are important to me and who bring joy into my life. I wanted to let you know that I benefit from the love and support of two romantic partners right now, X, whom you have met, and Y, whom you are hearing about for the first time. X and Y know about each other and are happy that I have both of them in my life. I look forward to you getting to know both X and Y better soon.”
Emphasizing that your relationships bring love and support into your life and that all of your partners know about each other (and therefore that no cheating is going on) is a good way to keep the conversation positive. It also helps to emphasize that you are telling your parents about your relationships because you love and respect them, and not because you are trying to shock them, hurt them, or disrespect their more traditional values.
Notice that in the model statement I make a point of letting mom and dad know that I hope they will get to know my partners X and Y soon. Letting parents get to know your partners can go very far in helping them to become tolerant of your polyamorous relationship. It is much easier to hate and fear people whom you have never met and do not know very much about. When your parents get to know your partners and see that they are good people who bring happiness into your life, they will be much more likely to accept your relationships with them.
If after informing your parents and other family members about your relationship in the most positive way possible, your family still reacts negatively, be careful not to become defensive or let yourself be baited into attacking your family members. Keep in mind the fact that many of your family members’ negative comments are being made out of ignorance, shock, and a lack of familiarity with polyamory — rare is the comment that is actually meant to wound you. Therefore, it is important not to read malice into the comments and questions that your family members direct at you regarding your relationship; instead, assume good faith, and answer questions honestly and cheerfully.
Here are some common comments that family members tend to make when learning about a polyamorous relationship for the first time, and some positive ways you can choose to respond:
“It isn’t possible to really love more than one person at a time.”
To help your parents understand how it is that you love more than one person, give the example of parents’ love for multiple children. Just as a parent is able to love all of his or her children without neglecting or ceasing to care about older children as new children are born, so is it possible for you to care for and nurture your relationships with new partners while still loving and caring for your longer-term partners. You can explain that new relationships tend to get more time and energy when they are fresh, just as a newborn child tends to absorb more of his or her parents’ energy at first, but that things tend to settle down after a little while, and there is plenty of love and attention to go around.
“You’re just not ready to settle down yet.”
When your family expresses this sentiment to you, view it as an opportunity to explain that you are committed to each of your partners in a way that makes sense to all parties involved. You can also explain that you aren’t searching for a partner to replace your existing partners or to upgrade from them, but rather are accepting new people into your life who bring you love and support and help you be a better person. Consider telling your family that the best thing about polyamory is that accepting new people into your life doesn’t have to mean leaving others behind.
“Isn’t polyamory a sex thing? Aren’t you just doing it so you can fool around with a lot of people?”
When you get a comment like this, first off, it is important to set boundaries surrounding your sex life. Remind your family that it would be inappropriate for them to interrogate you about your sex life if you were monogamous, and that it is still inappropriate for them to do so when you are polyamorous. Once you have re-established that important boundary, you can then go on to explain that your relationships are not all about sex, or even mostly about sex. Emphasize what unique and valuable traits each of your partners brings to the table, and describe how your partners enrich your life.
If you receive a more extreme negative reaction from your family, such as threats of being disowned or being told your partners aren’t welcome around the house, try not to take such statements to heart or react aggressively. Give your family members time for information to sink in before judging them too harshly. It can take time for family members to internalize what you are telling them and unlearn some of the stereotypes and negative associations they may have regarding non-monogamous relationships. If tolerance is still lacking after a few months to a year, you may need to distance yourself from family members who are behaving in a way that is toxic for you. Sometimes, it is actually such distancing that finally brings family members around; they may prefer to lose their bigotry rather than lose you from their lives.
TLDR: When coming out poly to your family, keep it positive, don’t take ignorant comments to heart, and try to introduce your partners when it is appropriate so your family can see for themselves how awesome your partners are.