Explaining Polyamory: the Conversation

Mostly grammar and typo corrections here, but I also needed to clean up some ableist language. Some of the example discussions were tweaked so there is less focus on triads. The reference to Sister Wives really dates this post, but I decided against changing it. If you are having this conversation today there are many better examples you can go with. Updated July 16, 2017.

So, you are as prepared as you can be to have a conversation with someone you love and tell them that you are polyamorous/are in a polyamorous relationship/whatever your preferred identification. How do you handle the actual conversation?

You’ll want to try and have this chat in a place where both you and the person you are talking with are comfortable. Maybe this means a favorite restaurant, maybe their home, maybe just take a walk around the neighborhood. For what it is worth, I have found walking and talking defuses many (though definitely not ALL) potentially confrontational discussions – hard to get confrontational when you aren’t looking at each other and less feeling of being ’on the spot’ for all parties. Meh. Go with what you think will work best for you and your loved one.

Go ahead and tell them that you have something important that you want to talk about with them. Then you have three choices: lead in, oblique approach and straightforward bluntness.

Lead in

Leading in works by preparing the person you’re talking with a shock. It involves saying things like ’I know this may upset you, and I don’t want to hurt you. I want to tell you about something that is happening in my life, and I really need you to listen and try and understand.’ The person you are talking with will definitely tense up, they will be expecting you to tell them something horrible. And maybe for them, polyamory is something horrible. You want to walk a fine line between preparing them for a shock and not scaring them into shutting down and shutting you out.

At this point in the discussion, keep it personal. Don’t use the word ’polyamory’ don’t talk about alternative relationships, keep it relevant to you and your life.

  • “I’ve realized I’m not going to be happy spending my life with just one person.”
  • “Gary and I have decided that we want to be in relationships with other people. We’re not breaking up but we’ll both be in multiple relationships.”
  • “Alice and I have been dating other people for the past few years. We’ve fallen in love with Jill and she is going to be moving in with us.”

Just one or two sentences that explain your personal decision or situation.

Give your loved one time to absorb what you said and respond. If you needed to use a lead in approach, then you need to give them space to try to understand.

Use the lead in approach with people who tend to have over-the-top emotional reactions, are reactionary against alternative lifestyles, extremely religious people, and anyone else who can do better with a gradual approach.

Oblique approach

When you don’t want to barrel right in, but don’t need the kind of gradual ground laying of a lead in, you can come at the conversation sideways. This is a pretty simple approach but may fall flat if the person you are talking with is not culturally aware.

  • “Have you heard of polyamory?”
  • “Remember that show Sister Wives?”
  • “What did you think of the alternative lifestyles article in X magazine last week?”

Most people will know where you are going with the conversation, but this approach lets them a change respond to a general idea and you can both ease into the personal.

If the person you are talking with doesn’t know what you are talking about, you will need to give an explanation:

  • “It’s a type of non-monogamous relationship.”
  • “It’s a reality show about four women who are married to the same man, and they are all happy together.”
  • etc

Use an oblique approach when you don’t think the conversation will be a huge emotional shock for the person you are telling, but you or they wouldn’t be comfortable with straightforward bluntness.

Straightforward bluntness

Just what it sounds like. You don’t worry about preparing the ground or ’tip toeing around the issue’. You just say “I am polyamorous.” and explain what that means to you.

 

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