Help! The holidays are fast approaching, and I'm stuck. I practice non-hierarchical polyamory and this is the first holiday season I get to celebrate with both of my current partners. I have a tepid relationship with my family, and while they know about both of my partners, they've never met either of them. Additionally, I've never brought more than one partner home at the same time before. The three of us want to give it a go, and my family isn't outwardly combating the idea, but I'm still worried that I'm leading my loves into a lion's den. How do I adequately "prepare" both my family and my partners for the occasion ahead?
This is the first in a brand new series of advice columns written by professionals in the field of alternative relationships here at “I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!” . I hope you enjoy these fresh, intersectional new perspectives on evolving non-monogamous relationships!
Congrats on taking this big step of bringing your partners home for the holidays! I have created a two-part guide to help in this process – this first part is how to prepare your partners and the second part is how to prepare your family.
Preparing Your Partners
Sit down with your partners and check in about what their needs are for the holiday and share your needs as well. Find out what they desire, expect, and would like out of their holiday experience and share yours as well. For example: how much time do they expect to spend with your family verse time with just you? Do your partners need one on one time with you? What are their needs around sleeping arrangements? Do you all plan to stay at your family’s house and if so is your family putting you all in one room? Is your family’s house a place you can all get down/be comfortable having sex? If not and sex is part of your holiday needs how can you make this a reality? Remember to also share your needs, expectations, and desires so that everyone is clear about each other’s and you can be clear about what is possible and what is not possible.
Let your partners know how you relate to your family and the style of communication your family uses. For example: let your partners know if your family is loud and if talking over each other is normal and part of how they communicate or if your family is more reserved and interrupting would be seen as rude. Let your partners know if you only see some of your family members once a year and who are the members of the family you are really close to. Tell your partners if your family might say something unacceptable, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, classist, ect. Let your partners know the politics of your family and if it is ok or not ok to talk about politics at the dinner table. Create a plan for how to navigate if your family is likely to say something offensive to your partners. You know your family best. Is speaking up going to be effective? Is leaving the room a better plan? Is simply saying that a statement is not ok and then moving on going to work? Tell your partners in advance what they can expect from your family and what method of response is most effective.
Decide with your partners how much you want to share with your family about your relationship. If your family is new to poly people they might have a lot of questions. Before you arrive you and your partners should decide how much educating you want to do and how much sharing of personal information you want to do. Talk to your partners about what information should and should not be shared with your family
Tell your partners what you will need if you are triggered by your family. Tell your partners how they can support you if your family is getting on your nerves or pushing your boundaries.
Tell your partners about your family’s eating habits. Should your partners be bringing a certain dish or wine or are there family members who are in AA. Is your family all about eating meat or are they vegetarian? Is it mandatory to eat Aunt Martha’s mashed potatoes even though they don’t taste good?
Tell your partners about your family’s religion if they have one. Will there be “grace” before the meal? Is there a chance your partners spiritual practices and the practices of your family will clash? If so, prepare your partners for this possibility.
Build in self-care for you and your partners. Create time in the holiday that is fun and nourishing and about you three having a great time.
Preparing Your Family
Remind your family that you are non-hierarchical poly and what that means to you. Since they have never seen you with both your partners they might not actually understand what poly means and what it means specifically to you.
Ask your family what they expect, desire, and need from you this holiday season and share what you expect, desire, and need from them. For example: you can say that you need them not to make offensive comments and to respect your lifestyle choices. They might need you to show up on time or listen to stories you have already heard multiple times. Be clear on what you each are thinking so there is no confusion.
Remind your family of your partners names and pronouns and how important it is to get that correctly.
Tell your family if your partners have food restrictions or a different spirituality/religion than the family. Ask the family to respect those needs and differences.
Remind your family that by bringing home your partners you are giving them an opportunity to be closer to you and to connect to the people in your life who are important.