DEAR ABBY: I read with interest your excellent advice to "Nowhere and Everywhere" (Aug. 17), who asked about letting family members know about her polyamorous relationship. As a counselor, nurse and consulting hypnotist in private practice, I counsel people every day in developing healthy, happy, open relationships. Polyamory and other forms of non-monogamous relationships are becoming more widely practiced and accepted, as many individuals and couples find the limits of traditional marriage do not meet their needs.
It is not realistic to expect family members to immediately accept this lifestyle if they were raised with different beliefs about sexual exclusivity in marriage. I advise couples to "test the waters" first with the most open-minded family member by bringing up the subject of a "friend" who is in an open relationship. If the relative reacts in a neutral or positive way, it may be safe to disclose the truth. Ask this person how the rest of the family might respond to the news. Couples should carefully assess whether their relationship is strong enough to withstand potential rejection.
There is a price to pay for being open, and one for staying secretive. The latter requires lying to family members and excluding one partner from family events, causing pain for everyone. (The cornerstone of polyamorous relationships is honesty.)
Families do become more accepting over time if they see that the couple's marriage is not threatened by the polyamory and that everyone seems happy. I advise couples to expect drama and disapproval at first, but to be patient and keep reaching out to family members to give them time to get used to this new situation. -- KATHY IN BERKELEY
DEAR KATHY: Thank you for writing. Responses to that controversial letter were passionate and numerous. My newspaper readers comment:
DEAR ABBY: In response to "N and E's" request for a tip on how to let her boyfriend's conservative family know about their illicit, immoral polyamorous relationship, my advice is to say nothing.
If she's asked directly, only then should she defer to the boyfriend to explain their unorthodox lifestyle to his parents. Why does she feel the need to flaunt her private sexual relations?
If she loves the two men, her actions will speak for themselves without having to offend the family's ingrained sensibilities. -- ON HIGHER GROUND IN SALEM, MASS.
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been non-monogamously married for many years. My lover joined the household four years ago. Some members of my family welcome all three of us, some don't. One, who doesn't otherwise identify as conservative, has cut me off.
I'm sad that my happy family life offends them, but my household is my primary family unit, and I don't lie or cover it up. Different family styles work for different people. Why is this hard to grasp? -- JEAN IN PROVIDENCE
DEAR ABBY: Human sexuality expresses itself across a vast spectrum. Consenting adults can and do choose this lifestyle, but it's a no-brainer that it strikes a negative chord within our culture.
Why is it necessary to remove the last shred of illusion and comfort from those parents? They may lack the psychological flexibility to accept polyamory. They already know on some inner level what is happening. My closest friends know about my lifestyle, but I am content to not "stir the pot" by forcing it into open conversation.
We don't live in an especially tolerant society. People are slow to embrace anything different from the "norm." If that triad is happy and enjoying life, that should be all that matters. -- E.L. IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR ABBY: Where will she be if she becomes pregnant? A baby would complicate a triad situation. There can be only one biological dad.
Who will play Daddy, and who the uncle? Will each of them really be OK with this then? How confused might the child be? As a mom, I feel for the parents of all involved. -- NOT SURE IF I'D WANT TO KNOW
Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)