Perspective | Should Parents Tell Their Adult Kids They Have an Open Marriage? Carolyn Hax Readers Weigh In.
~ DECEMBER 2021 ~ We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have been happily married for 25-plus years, the last 10 of which we have been in an open relationship. (This works for us, we both love it, we know it’s incomprehensible to most people, and that’s all I need to say about it.) Virtually no one in our lives knows about the open arrangement — two girlfriends on my side, one guy friend on his side. Oh — and of course all our sex partners, because we are ethically nonmonogamous.
When we started out, the kids were young and one of our highest priorities was to make sure they never found out. We have a variety of ground rules meant to ensure our privacy. But now the kids are in college, and it seems more plausible that they would find out by running into one of us on Tinder than any other way. This would be a huge disaster if they found out but did not realize that we weren’t cheating on each other.
I’m not eager to share details about my sex life with my adult kids. But the catastrophe that would result if they thought either one of us was a cheater would be much worse than a disclosure. What do you think? Should we continue to trust to luck, and retain our privacy? Or “come out” and have a super awkward conversation that might be waaaaaayyy too much information for them?
— Too Much Information?
Too Much Information?: The best way to handle this is by being extremely brief. You don’t want to share details, and they definitely don’t want to hear about it — but you’re right to tell them now, rather than play catch-up later. If they did catch one of you on a date or app, your relationship with them might not recover from the initial assumption that you’re cheating.
Try something like “Now that you’re older, we want to be honest with you. Your father and I have had an open relationship for some time, and we didn’t want you to find out accidentally. We’re still happily married, and have no plans to change that. We just felt that you deserved to know.”
Depending on your kids’ reactions, I would also mention that you’re not sharing this information publicly — both to prevent them from spreading the information and to reassure them that you’re not going to be making the local gossip mill. I do think it’s important to emphasize that this isn’t like, a last-ditch effort to save a failing marriage or anything — people tend to assume the worst. Their family unit isn’t changing at all, they’re just getting some information they didn’t have before.
Too Much Information?: As a polyamorous parent, I say — come out. Just let them know you’ve been open for 10 years, it’s working for both of you, and you’re telling them now because you’re on dating apps and you don’t want to blindside them. The concept of open marriage probably won’t be new to them. You don’t need to give them any more information right off the bat. If they have follow-up questions, you can talk about the ways you and your husband have established and maintained great communication and trust, which is good advice applicable to any relationship.
— 4 Moms
Too Much Information?: If the only reason for coming out to your kids is so that they don’t find out some other way, you can probably skip coming out and just take steps to prevent them from finding out. Adjust the settings on your dating profiles so that you won’t match with your kids’ age group. Also, make sure that your dating profiles are clear about your open marriage and ethical non-monogamy to avoid any confusion about whether you are cheating. If you want to come out for other reasons, like just being more open about your lives, then the first two sentences of your letter are plenty of information to start with. You don’t have to share anything about your sex lives.
Too Much Information?: You need to tell them, but the conversation doesn’t have to include “waaaaaayyy too much information.” Even if they ask, your children do not want or need to hear the details of your sex life. What they do need to know is that their parents are happily married. You’ve already stated it would devastate them to see you on Tinder, so don’t let them find out that way. Have an open, honest conversation about the choice you’ve made as a couple to have an open marriage, and keep the details to yourselves.
— Also Liz
Too Much Information?: As an adult child who knows far, far more about my parents’ sex lives than I ever wanted to know, please do not tell them! Your open marriage has little to do with it, I just wouldn’t want to hear anything about my parents’ sex life. Presumably your Tinder profiles mention that you’re in an open marriage. If your children do come across this information, (through Tinder or through one of your partners) they’ll know what’s going on from get and can ask more questions if they desire. Work on keeping your connection with your kids strong enough that they feel they can come to you if they do find something out and want to know more. If you feel that you must say something to avoid lying, keep the details to the absolute minimum. They’ll ask more if they want to know more and likely won’t care as long as everyone is happy.
— This is so not the worst thing to find out
Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Response are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.
A version of this article originally appeared here on washingtonpost.com