Do You Have To "Come Out" About Your Open Relationship?

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
There are different levels of open (or "monogamish") relationships that are as unique as the partners who participate in them. And while the comfort of those within the boundaries of your relationship are the most important part of the equation, you may be wondering how other people might react to your "nontraditional" relationship structure. But are the intimate details of your relationship anyone else's business?
"It's a similar question that clients struggling with their sexuality ask: Do I have to tell certain people about this thing?" says Kristy LaRocca, a queer psychotherapist in NYC. "Keeping secrets or withholding information can sometimes build barriers in a way that can be felt by both people, which can, in turn, affect the relationship."
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These barriers can have negative ramifications, especially in very close relationships — like those among friends and family members. "If a young person is dependent on a parent, in that they're being supported financially, that could cause them to feel like they need to keep a secret," LaRocca says. "It could also be that your family member has very different religious beliefs than you. Or your partner could be pressuring you to 'come out' when you don't really feel ready."
Ultimately, the decision to tell an outside party — someone who's not one of your sexual or romantic partners — about your open relationship is entirely up to you. "In general, I think it's nobody's business unless there's a reason for them to know," LaRocca says.
Eric Yarbrough, the director of psychiatry at Callen-Lorde Community Center in NYC, agrees. "The only criteria I'd say there is that requires you to share this information is if there's the potential for you to be 'caught,'" he says. "If your friends and family might see you out with another person, or if there's the potential that you'd be bringing someone other than your primary partner to an event, then they should get a warning that you're in an open relationship." So if your primary partner isn't available to be your date to a wedding, and you decide to bring a secondary partner, it might be a good idea to give mom and dad a heads up.
It's important to prepare yourself for the possibility that the person you're telling won't have a positive reaction — and that has more to do with them than it does with you. "Backlash tends to occur when [the person you're telling] worries about you and whether you're going to get hurt," Yarbrough says. "It also occurs when that person begins to question their own relationships. Monogamous people might get annoyed or frustrated because they may have considered a nontraditional relationship, but they're not being honest about whether or not they actually want it." The person you're telling may also have religious beliefs that cause them to react negatively to your news, and, again, that has nothing to do with you.
(Of course, your friend or family member may be totally happy for you and thrilled that you found a relationship structure that works for you. These are just worst-case-scenarios.)
If you do go out of your way to tell someone, LaRocca says to go into the conversation with understanding. "Tell them that there's something you want to share with them, and that they should keep in mind that the reason you're sharing is because you consider them a close person with whom you'd like to be honest," she says. "If you keep the conversation as positive as possible, and talk about how this arrangement is benefitting you and your partner, you'll have a greater chance at a positive outcome." There is absolutely nothing shameful about embracing a partnership that makes all parties happy, so as long as that's the case, no one should have the right to make you feel bad about it. And at the end of the day, your relationship is about you and your partner(s) — everyone else's opinions are just white noise.
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