WIth the holidays coming up quickly I wanted to put out a bit of early advice . I get asked every year many times over, “How do I tell my family that I am Poly?” and “Should I come out at family holiday gatherings?”
The answer to the first question is complicated so I will skip it for now.
The answer to the second one is an easy one for me…. No. My reason is as follows. There is so much stress and so many opinions at holiday dinners that most families won’t have the emotional reserves to process all the information that they will need to to fully accept you for who you are. So standing up and making this huge announcement, while admirable as your intentions may be, can backfire and be a horrid disaster. There will also be a lot of questions in most cases. So will you have the emotional reserves to deal with that?
I suggest that IF you want to tell your family that you are poly you follow these few steps. and do it well before or a few days after the holiday gathering. This is the long complicated step of the first question.
- Step 1. Gather Information that will help each family member relate to you and not to your relationship. Include things that they know you hold as core values. Be it Family, kids, self acceptance, what ever defines you as a person in their eyes, focus on that in your discussion. Have flyers, definitions and sources of scientific research and mainstream media articles and maybe even videos available to share. But remember not to force them to watch it just have it available to leave with them. ( I will link a few resources at the bottom of the post)
- Step 2. Know what you are talking about. It sounds simple, I know, but sometimes in emotional conversations we can get caught up and forget where we are going. It’s ok to have note cards or sticky notes or draw it out on a white board, whatever can help you say focused and on point.
- Step 3 Start with the most accepting family member first. This way you can build a support network. Maybe your sister, brother or cousin are really close to you. Having this support going into more conversations is huge. Being supported gives you strength. But also talking to a more open minded person can give you the confidence and practice you need to talk to more family members .
- Step 4. Never start with “Family member, I know you love me/support me, but I need to talk to you.” This can immediately put whoever you are talking to into a mindset that you have done something they will not approve of. Instead try, “Family Member, I have something new in my life I would like to share with you.” And IF they are open to hearing about it… that’s when you can set up the rules of the conversation.
- Step 5. Setting conversational boundaries. This can get dicey . Afterall you are opening up…. but how far you are willing to open up is completely up to you. If you don’t want to talk about a particular thing, don’t. You are talking to your cousin, and you have told them that there is something you want to share with them…. Next, perhaps say… something like.. “The thing I am going to tell you is a personal decision. I will be open to any questions but please let me finish first.” Most people are actually willing to do this. If not then they likely won’t be very supportive to hear what you want to say. I’m not advocating to be rude here.. SImply saying standing up for oneself is the important thing.. this is about you.
- Step 6. Start talking. Try not to blurt it out unless you are really comfortable with your self and the person you are talking to. “I’m Polyamorous” can be sort of a shock/stinging moment for most people who are unfamiliar with the concept. Try a softer approach. ” Ive been dating this person and they are really awesome. Additionally I met this other person and they too are awesome. Im dating them both and its all working out great. Its a relationship style called Polyamory.” (your situation may be slightly different but I think you see what the aim is.) Here is a chance to define it. Define it as you see it. however if you need a definition this works well “Polyamory has been defined as the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity.” Who can argue with honesty and integrity?
- Step 7 You can explain a little of how your dynamic works, dating, time sharing, coping with jealousy whatever you want to share about your relationship. After all, its this awesome thing and you want to share it. CAUTION Don’t share anything that you aren’t comfortable being asked about in the Q&A phase of this conversation.
- Step 8. Q&A Renegotiate the boundaries of your conversation…. If talking about your sex life is not something you don’t want to do then now. This is best done by saying , “I am open to questions about anything I have just told you. ” If they ask a question that is off the table .. politely remind them that that is outside the scope of the conversation. ” What about Sex? DO you sleep with both of them” (This is very common first question from family and if you aren’t willing to answer it you can easily say “Well, our sex life is private” or ” That wasn’t part of anything I divulged to you earlier, so for now its not something I am comfortable sharing with you.” Another approach is to give them all the details. They asked . LOL This is not really something I recommend.
There will be some tough questions. If you have children, they will ask about the interaction with the kids. A common questions is ” WHat does your boss think” My answer is ” It’s none of his business what I do at home so I dont really care what he thinks” . But I’m a smart ass at times.
My best advice when answering questions is to be as honest as possible. It highlights one of the tenants of Polyamory, Honesty. Offer the resources share the knowledge you have … SHow them you arent alone in what you are doing. There are literally millions of Poly people around the world.
If they are unaccepting and want to bash your choice, you have every right to get up and walk away. You don’t need to argue with them … leave the resources on the table and tell them “thank you for your time… This is my decision. If you have any questions Ill be happy to talk.” The politely walk away.
- Step 9. Remind them that you aren’t trying to convert anyone nor are you judging monogamy, that this is your decision to manage your life . You are still the same person that they knew before you told them this. If you want them to keep it to themself… Ask them to do so. Let them know that you may need their support when you go to the next family member. That you would really like to have this conversation with everyone, but you will doing it over time with each person who needs to know. And that you support them in their decision of _____-gamy. And that you appreciate their willingness to hear you .
- Step 10 Celebrate with your family.
I hope this little guide helps. When we came out to our family, we didn’t have the choice to wait. My father-in-law had passed away and our partner, J, then of 2 years insisted that he was coming to the funeral. We had to talk to my Mother in law the day before she laid her husband of 30 years to rest….. that we were poly. Luckily her response was positive. And J was accepted as part of the family . The family even asked him to participate int he flag ceremony.