Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?
My husband and I have been telling our parents about opening our relationship and becoming polyamorous. We’ve been doing this for over two years now, and while I was open with my mother about it right off the bat, my mother and I have a unique relationship. With the other parents, we waited to talk to them about it until we had some history behind us, so we could show that it wasn’t a phase and it wasn’t the end of our marriage or partnership. The youngest of the relationships within our pod is now over a year old, so our ties are pretty well established, and we’re all a big part of each other’s lives at this point.
The reactions have been pretty mixed. Interestingly, both the mothers suspected the other partner of initiating this journey, while the fathers didn’t ask about it, if they wondered about it at all. Overall, my parents have been very accepting; they may not understand it, they may not agree with it, but they are supportive of my happiness and my marriage, regardless of the forms those take. They are kind to our partners and open to seeing them at functions. And that acceptance means a lot to me and my family.
My husband hasn’t been so lucky with his parents. His mother has said horrible things about me, and both his mother and father and his stepmother have implied that we’re harming our children by doing this, or that our partners might harm them. They not only don’t understand, they don’t think we could possibly still love each other or have any kind of a healthy relationship. They have insulted, guilted, and shamed; they have refused to learn anything about what we’re doing. And the icing on the cake, his stepmother said they have no desire to be around our other partners (whom they have previously met, spent time with, and liked), EVEN IF THAT MEANS NOT GOING TO OUR DAUGHTERS’ BIRTHDAY PARTIES. Our two daughters are their only grandchildren at this point, and they are willing to miss out on the milestones of their lives, to push their child and their grandchildren away from them, in order to preserve the sanctity of their disapproval.
Nobody wins in this sort of battle. In an article in Psychology Today, Dan Sager, MSW writes, “For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be “wrong.” The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, while attachment to this end serves to justify the means used to facilitate it. When this dynamic is acted out it creates suffering for those caught in its wake—most often, partners and family members, including children.” Their refusal to participate in our lives because of our choices not only hurts us and our children: ultimately, it will hurt them as well. The dividing lines in the relationships will become deeper until a chasm opens up, and we will barely see each other across it. Their need to be RIGHT according to their own morals and values has become more important than the happiness of a family that accepts each other for who and what they are. This is a problem experienced widely among the poly and queer communities, and it is heartbreaking how short-sighted, ignorant, and even cruel people can be to their closest family.
This tug-of-war between being RIGHT or being HAPPY is something we’re experiencing in our pod as well. We all experience this to some extent, but I particularly struggle with it. The dichotomy of parental acceptance and disapproval has really opened my eyes to how damaging my tendency to uphold perceived moral superiority over deepening my connection with someone has been. Because of my BPD, it is easy for me to feel “wronged”, frequently more intensely than the situation actually warrants. It causes me to see situations as black and white, and actions as right or wrong, and people as for me or against me, with little leeway in between to give grace and let things go. And that has caused significant mistrust in my relationships, and my reactions have caused significant damage to those bonds. It is not irreparable, but it will take work to rebuild those bonds, cultivate trust, and correct a deeply-ingrained flaw in my ability to process thoughts and emotions. Yet another long and difficult journey, that will ultimately be worth taking. I am grateful for my pod for walking it with me, and grateful that I have this negative experience to show me how I don’t want to be.