Living openly in our ethical non-monogamous relationship has been fun, rewarding, and exciting. As you would imagine, it has also come at the cost of some relationships (family and “friends”) and we’ve endured some pretty harsh judgment, toxic comments, and vile rumors along the way. We knew when we decided to live transparently; inevitably there would be those that don’t see eye to eye with us. Although dealing with judgment was anticipated, we nevertheless had to overcome this animal in order to effectively continue sharing our perspective unhindered. I’d like to share my thoughts on dealing with judgment and some of the ways we’ve overcome this hurdle.
It wasn’t that long ago that we were in a position that we felt our relationship preferences needed to be kept a secret from public scrutiny. Maintaining that privacy and putting out the fires that inevitably arose as we progressed into our openness was extremely debilitating to our process. As we were trying to find understanding with one another, opening communication to a degree we had never attempted, and exploring ideas and concepts that we had always been told were wrong, our process was constantly slowed down by those casting judgment on it. It’s a delicate topic for any couple to discuss, especially for people like us that had only ever known monogamy and were raised on values that condemned polyamory and sexual freedom. Having that process interrupted constantly was making it much more difficult than it needed to be.
When I say “interrupted”, what I’m referring to is the fact that the conversations we were having were sometimes volatile and difficult to bring up even to one another. Again, we were being transparent and honest with one another in ways we never had before. We were discussing sexual fantasies, desires, and ways to manage a shift in our relationship construct to something that felt authentic to our beliefs. We were also rooted in a ton of fear. Fear of losing each other, fear of what others might think and how that could impact our lives, and fear of the unknown. The last thing we wanted as we began searching for understanding with one another was other people meddling in our affairs and inserting their judgment in our path as a roadblock to our progress.
Anyone that’s engaged in this lifestyle knows how difficult it can be to maintain privacy. Especially if you’re putting yourself out there on the various swipe apps and websites designed for meeting others in the lifestyle. Inevitably, word gets out; at least that was the case in our journey. Sometimes it was through word of mouth, a playmate we were intimate with that violated the first two rules of Fight Club. Or we’d bump into single friends and family on the swipe apps or even out in public while on a date. These encounters always resulted in some form of negative push back. People made assumptions we were cheating on each other, that we had STDs, that we had an unhealthy marriage and were in trouble. I was even accused of hating God! Until then, Aubrey and I had always been a relationship to admire, people knew we were solid, but when word got out that we had an open relationship, that ship sailed and we were condemned by many of those very close to us.
Prior to living transparently, we did our best to cover our tracks or evade the topic if it came up. This, however, began to feeling taxing, it was a weight we didn’t enjoy bearing but felt we had to if we were going to have any friends and family at all. After all, what would happen if everyone knew we lived this way? We found ourselves spending more time trying to make others feel good about our decisions and explaining ourselves to people than we were spending on actually feeling good about our decisions. That’s a horrible feeling and it’s because we have that perspective that we feel empathy for others in that situation. It’s also the reason we now feel so motivated to share a healthy, transparent perspective. We hope that others that feel like we did will receive grace and understanding from society rather than being judged and vilified.
While great strides are being made in our community to expand understanding and give a perspective that differs from the standard marriage narrative, the vast majority of people we know that are also ethically non-monogamous do so in secret. Most would say they feel they can’t live openly because they fear the judgment of their family, friends, and co-workers. Based on the way a large part of society views this relationship construct, they are absolutely justified in that feeling, people can be extremely judgmental. While I’m confident society will one day view ethical non-monogamy with a more understanding and accepting lens, we aren’t there yet, and thus dealing with judgment will remain. Let’s discuss some concepts and ideas that will help tackle this beast.
Remove the Fear
The first thing one should do when seeking ways to deal with judgment is recognizing that judgment is fear based. In order for the judgment of others to take hold in your life, you have to fear it. Because if you don’t fear what other’s think, it wouldn’t affect you to begin with.
Slow your roll for one second though, because like so many others I’ve always used the common phrase, “I don’t care what people think of me”. But is that actually the truth? Do I really not care what people think of me or is that a regurgitated phrase I learned to parrot because I hear so many others saying it? When I really ask myself this question honestly, the answer is, of course I care what others think about me! In fact, to truly not care what others think about you is a pretty narcissistic way to live.
I’ve found the opinions of others can be great assets to finding personal growth. So I absolutely care what people think of me. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes regularly, and constructive criticism can go a long way to rectify those mistakes. For example, if five people all said I constantly interrupt them when we talk, that holds weight, and it should mean something. Of course I care what they think, I don’t want to lose my friends or cause bad feelings simply because “I don’t care what others think”. So I do take what others say about me into consideration, we all should.
However, I feel there’s a big difference between saying something as broad as, “I don’t care what others think about me” versus, “I don’t care whether or not others agree with the tenets I live by”. Now that’s a phrase I can stand behind. While I do care how I’m perceived for my explicit actions, I actually don’t care if others disagree with the principles I live by. Using the previous example, if five people told me they don’t like that I have an open marriage, I truly don’t care. I know that my marriage is healthy, full of love, and doesn’t harm anyone. So whether or not they agree with it, doesn’t matter to me one bit. I’ve spent many hours in introspection, meditation, and personal development to understand my principles. I know them to be full of love, gratitude, consent, and respect. If someone has a problem with that, I can accept we have different views, but their opinion certainly won’t affect my choices because I know the tenets I live by are good for me and my family.
When you find acceptance with your own tenets, it allows you to remove the fear of how others accept you. You don’t have to say you don’t care what others, think, you simply need to acknowledge that if you are proud of the way you live because it feels healthy and good in your heart, it really doesn’t matter if others accept that. Stop fearing that people you care about will abandon you. I’m not saying they won’t, but if they cut you out of their life for choices you feel good about, did you really want them there to begin with?
I Got the Power!
Who are the people in your life whose judgment affects the way you’re living? Be honest with yourself, hell; make a list of names of all the people in your circle that have the power to influence your decisions. Now ask yourself, if the roles were reversed and one of the names on that list came to you and told you they have been in an open relationship but have kept it a secret, how would you respond? Would you respond with negativity? Uncertainty? Would you cast doubt on their decision and make them feel poorly about it? Would you hide behind the guise of being concerned for them, all the while projecting your own insecurities onto your friend? No, of course you wouldn’t! If your friends are happy in their choices, you would support them in that, because that’s what friends do.
Now ask yourself, would this same friend give you the same support? If the answer is no, that should be your first clue that you aren’t operating on the same frequency. If you could show support to them, but know they would judge you for the same thing, perhaps you shouldn’t allow them to have that power in the first place. Why do we do that? Why do we give our power to people that would take it for granted and use it against us? Those of us in ENM have done painstaking work, communication, counseling, and introspection to overcome cultural conditioning, but we’re supposed to live in-authentically because others haven’t taken the time to find the source of their own discomfort? That’s ridiculous. Take your power back from those that would mishandle it, remove their ability to create fear in your life, and do what feels right in your heart and brings you inner peace.
It’s astonishing how small minded and downright mean some of the people closest to us can be. Some of those we’ve called friends and family for years, turned their back on us when they found out we are in an open relationship. Sometimes with a simple, “we no longer want to associate with you” other times with a diatribe of verbal insults and name calling. We’ve even had friends ask us to remove any photos from our social media that depict them now that we’re open. I’m not talking risqué pictures; I’m talking friendly hangouts in large groups where they were portrayed. The reason? They don’t want to be associated with an open couple because they are afraid others will assume they are also open by association. That hurts, and it shows how selfish and small minded they are. Being judged for the way you choose to have relationship with others only highlights the insecurity in those that would judge. Ultimately, the relationships we make only add love, growth, abundance, and adventure to our life. We aren’t hurting anyone by simply loving more freely and openly, so why then is it something to judge as harshly as people do? It’s simple, they are afraid! And don’t let them fool you into thinking they are afraid for you either. No, they aren’t afraid for you or me in our choices, but afraid for themselves. They won’t admit it, but it’s the truth and it’s easy to see. They haven’t done the work, haven’t conquered their own demons, and rather than sharing praise and support, they send their negative thoughts outward and project onto those around them. Recognizing we are responsible for giving them that power and we are just as responsible for taking it away when it’s abused is a great way to overcome judgment.
How Well Do You Know Yourself?
A good question to ask yourself is, “Am I ashamed of my choices? This seems so simple but it avoided me for a long time. I was so busy covering our tracks and explaining our choices I wasn’t pausing to consider the fact that I actually wasn’t ashamed of our lifestyle. We feel sexual freedom is liberating and sex should be celebrated and enjoyed. We crave human connection and relationship too. We were proud of our own relationship and proud of the friends we made along the way… so why the hell was I so concerned about making everyone else “ok with it”?
Have a talk with yourself one of these days, get to know your own feelings and ask yourself, “Am I living the way I’d like to be living?” If you aren’t, why not? If you aren’t living for you, who are you living for? Understand your own desires and life decisions to a degree that you actually feel completely content in them. If you’re having a hard time finding your own peace with something, find the source of that discomfort and explore it.
However, once you find peace with your decisions, it becomes increasingly easier to not have concern whether or not those around you agree with it. Remind yourself you’ve done the work to get to that space, and when someone hasn’t, their opinion is simply rooted in ignorance and shouldn’t hold any bearing on you. Remember, when someone is judging you, they are only basing their opinion on their specific set of life circumstances and experiences. They probably don’t have much substance or information to base an opinion on because they haven’t spent the time on the topic that you have. What many judgmental people default to is cultural conditioning and societal norms. If you are confident in yourself and aren’t ashamed of your choices, stop worrying about whether or not others are. Your true friends and family will see the bigger picture. They will realize (even if they disagree with your choice for their life) that you are happy, you aren’t causing any harm, and that your relationship dynamic just looks different… AND THAT’S OK!!!!!
Grace In Yo Face!
I used to get really upset when people I cared about judged us harshly for something I felt they clearly didn’t understand. In time, I learned grace was a better weapon to combat my negative emotions than rage. Getting upset with them only served to increase my blood pressure, take my thoughts away from the present, and feed negative emotions like anger.
Once I realized I had done my homework, that I had a much better understanding of my relationship construct than they did, and they were projecting, I stopped getting so upset. I learned it’s ok to let go of relationships that are no longer feeding positivity into my life. I learned to be thankful for the time we shared when things were good, but they wouldn’t be a constant in the next chapter.
When I get an earful from someone now, I try to remember they are still plugged in to the machine. The society machine that tells us what’s “normal” and what’s acceptable in a marriage. They haven’t realized that this monogamous marriage narrative we’ve all been sold on is manmade and like anything manmade, it has faults. People that spun on this giant rock WAY before us decided this is the way it’s going to be, and while other facets of life have continued to evolve and improve over the years, we’ve clung to this old story like shit clings to a shovel. Again, I’m not slamming monogamy, I’m simply suggesting people be accepting of alternative approaches. Some have woken up to that fact, others want to remain in their old, un-evolved, archaic thinking. So when I hear from people that our way of living is intolerable, horrific, an abomination, and that we’re unfit parents in an unhealthy relationship (all of which we’ve heard)… I simply remember perspective is everything, and they don’t have mine. I remind myself they’re ignorant, and probably too scared to attempt to master their own emotions because looking inward isn’t always easy. I slap some grace in their face, use their judgment to sharpen my own resolve, and continue my day unaffected. Lions, after all, don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.
Time Is Precious
I’ve said this many times, but time is our most valuable currency. How much time are you spending explaining yourself or your decisions to toxic relationships? Stop doing that! Every second we have here is a blessing, life is the ultimate gift. And while we all have different ideas of what happens next, nobody really knows. Start treating your time like it’s money. You wouldn’t make bad investments with your money right? Make the most out of this precious gift and invest your time into things that pay dividends, not ones that create debt! The less time you spend worrying about what others think of you, the more time you have to invest in areas of your life that will feed and grow it. Maybe even stop to consider all the things you’d rather be doing than worrying about judgment or explaining yourself to people that clearly don’t want to accept you. What are you giving up, so that you can make others feel good about your choices?
It’s All About Community
One of the most amazing things I enjoy about this lifestyle is the community of people it attracts. While there are bad seeds in any bunch of people, it’s been our experience that many in the lifestyle typically communicate more honestly. The same transparency they have unlocked in their own relationships naturally flows to those around them. When you’re going through a hard time and feeling the burden of judgment, reach out to those in your community and find strength in knowing you aren’t alone. Talk about the struggles you’re enduring, lift each other up, and support one another. It’s a sad reality that people engaging in ethical non-monogamy are treated poorly and judged harshly, but when 4-5% of the US population is polyamorous and 20% of the population has had an ENM experience, it should bring some solace to know that far more people are engaging than let on.
Whether you practice ENM or not, we’ve all been on the receiving end of unfair judgment and it doesn’t feel good. These are just a few of the ways we’ve managed judgmental people as we continue our journey in ENM and living transparently in our authenticity. Hopefully some of the ideas and concepts mentioned work for you as well. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below! Feedback from our peers is what inspires us to continue and helps us grow.