By Abby Moss
Polyamory is becoming more common and more widely talked about than ever before. This year in particular saw some major legal breakthroughs for polyamorous people (in triad dynamics at least). Three parent adoption recently became legal in California. And in June this year a town in Massachusetts decided to legally recognise triads as domestic partnerships, meaning threes will have the same legal rights held by married couples including health insurance cover and hospital visitation rights.
However, for many, polyamory is still a challenging concept. Society still sets monogamy very firmly as the norm and any break from that can be viewed with suspicion or discomfort.
For people in polyamorous relationships, this creates a tricky problem. If the dynamic is going well, it’s likely you’ll want to integrate that relationship into the rest of your life. So how do you explain polyamory to your friends and family? And what’s the best way to handle people who don’t get it?
Focus on the positives of the dynamic
Anybody in a polyamorous dynamic knows that it takes work, like any relationship. There are highs and lows. But when first explaining the dynamic to friends or family, you might want to start with the positives. Explain what the relationship does for you as a person, how it has helped you grow, why it makes you happy.
Sadly, people will sometimes assume negative things about a polyamorous dynamic. Often, people assume one person has somehow been manipulated into it, or that the dynamic will eventually break down. Nip this in the bud by talking about the good times you share, the things you like about one another, and perhaps an anecdote about how you met. In this way, you can normalise the dynamic and reframe it in a more familiar way.
Don’t be offended by questions (even ignorant ones)
You are probably going to face a lot of questions, particularly from people who might not have heard about polyamory before. Often, these questions will be framed in a very heteronormative and monogamy-focused way. If you were previously in a couple and have recently met a third, you might be asked if the third is there to ‘spice up’ your sex life. You might be asked ‘Okay, but where is it going? What’s the future?’ or ‘What happens if you want to get married?’
Try to keep in mind that so much of our society and culture is structured around the idea of the monogamous couple. People new to the idea of polyamory might not have ever considered non-monogamous dynamics before. So, inevitably, the questions they ask may be skewed in this way.
Don’t preach or try to convert
Polyamory is not for everyone. Any relationship dynamic that is safe and consensual is equally valid and this includes monogamy.
Think about why you want to tell your friends and family
Before explaining your polyamorous relationship to your friends and family, try to think about why you want to tell them. Is it because you feel dishonest in not telling them? Is it because you hope they will be happy for you? Perhaps you’re keen to introduce a new partner or partners to your friends and family. By considering your own motivations first, you will be better equipped to handle their reactions, even if they are negative.
You may find that speaking to friends seems easier – after all, we choose our friends and so are likely to share more similar outlooks on life with them. If you have spoken to some friends first, you might also have a greater support system in place for speaking to family.
Stay true to you
If you are unlucky enough to encounter serious backlash from any of your friends or family, first of all try to ask yourself where their response is coming from. Is it something you can work through with further discussions?
Remember that if your sexual preferences are safe and consensual, if they make you happy, nobody has the right to tell you they are wrong. There are loads of support groups, online communities and podcasts out there if you want to seek further support. Morethantwo.com has a great database.
Top five tips for helpful conversations about polyamory:
1 – Be patient. You might have spent some time processing your own emotions around polyamory, give your friends and family the time and space to do the same.
2 – Make it personal and individual. Remember that you are talking about YOUR relationship and YOUR experience and that no two relationships are alike.
3 – Remember that polyamory isn’t for everyone. Your friend’s monogamous relationships are every bit as valid as your polyamorous one.
4 – Focus on the positives. Explain how and why the dynamic works for you and your partners.
5 – Stay true to you. All safe and consensual sexual practices are equally valid. You don’t have to apologise or feel shame for being yourself, whatever reactions you encounter.