Dear My Partner’s Parents:
I am sorry you are hurting so badly. I am sorry that our coming out to you activated such a deep and intense network of past hurt, pain, betrayal, and deceit. My mom keeps telling me, “Hurt people hurt- they hurt themselves and they hurt others. They are in pain.” It’s not an excuse for your behavior, but it definitely provides context for what you are saying and how you are acting, and for managing my own negative reactions to your reaction.
This is what happens when people aren’t able to reconcile their hurt, whether it’s from when they were 1 year old or 2 or 5 or 10 or 17 or 20 or 25 or 32 or last week. And the reasons are numerous- you didn’t have time, money, access to mental health services, support from family, messaging you needed to “suck it up,” internal belief systems that you deserve hurt or dissatisfaction or that life is supposed to be hard, messaging that you have to stick it out in your marriage because of X, Y, or Z. Regardless, the consequences of a lifetime of hurt spill out and ripple out and touch those around you. Like a bandage being ripped off of a wound that never healed- the skin never healed, and the blood comes rushing. But no one can help you, because you lash out like a defensive creature, hurting everyone else around you, and ultimately, you are left with no one but yourself.
This is amazingly difficult for me. I am giving up my image of being part of your family and what that looks like and feels like. I am giving up the idea that I am a loved and supported member of your family. I am giving up the idea that you are two people in my support network. I am giving up the idea that our party in just a couple of weeks will be filled with people who love and support both of us and our relationship. Instead, I am doing my best to envision other possibilities: that I will now be misunderstood, blamed for all wrongdoing, blamed for not loving your son enough and for not being committed to him and for not seeing him as “enough” for me and for not being “enough” for him, demonized and othered as a freak and idiot. That I will no longer be part of your holiday traditions and other family get-togethers. That a few of our guests at our commitment ceremony and celebration will bring with them a cloud of negative, black energy- a swarm that sees our relationship as doomed to fail in tragic divorce.
Because I am in no place to communicate with you (you don’t want to understand me, and I am not going to agree with you that I am wrong and bad), here are some things that I wish I could relay:
We chose the phrase “commitment ceremony” instead of “wedding” to describe our celebration because:
1. It signaled to ourselves and to those who knew about our relationship that we have a nontraditional relationship.
2. As a way to support the LGBTQ community, including my sister and other people in our lives in same-sex relationships. And myself, as I see myself as someone who could easily be in a long term relationship with a woman.
3. To mark another way we were departing from the patriarchal institution of traditional marriage (other ways we are doing that include: both getting engagement rings, proposing to each other, having a mixed gender wedding party, K is keeping her last name, K is not being “given away” by her dad)
However, we view “commitment ceremony” and “wedding” as interchangeable, for us, because:
-We are committed to each other
-We love each other
-We plan on being together indefinitely
-We plan on getting legally married
So, to us, we are having a wedding, a commitment ceremony, a celebration of love, a party. All of those things, to us, describe what we are doing in August.
We have heard from you that you can’t understand how our values are “so different” than yours. We challenge that idea. Our values include:
Love is infinite: This is related to the idea of compassionate and universal love, but also gets applied for us in how we express and feel romantic love. We don’t believe loving other people takes anything away from the love we feel for anyone else, including each other. All love is different, and can’t be measured in quantity or hierarchy. Loving other people simply means to us that there is more love in the world and we both think that is a good thing.
Non-possessiveness and non-attachment: We don’t think it is healthy to think that we control one another, or any other person for that matter. Possessiveness, jealousy, and control are all feelings that can arise for us, but we value striving for freedom and non-attachment in our relationship to one another, so that we can choose our individual behaviors and choices. This also gets down to a basic physical level that is ultimately political- we don’t control what the other person does with his or her body. To do so comports with the systems of patriarchy and ownership over other people, neither of which we see as healthy. Non-attachment is also more of a Zen or Buddhist philosophy, in which we strive to be able to view situations, feelings, people, and relationships as dynamic and always changing. To be non-attached means to let things change as they will, with the flow of life. To try to control anything means fighting life.
Compassionate and nonviolent communication and negotiation: This is extremely important for us in our relationship, and is a key building block in how we have been able to have a healthy and happy relationship together. This communication style includes using “I” statements (not “you” judgments), speaking from personal experience, validating the other person’s feelings, and rephrasing what you hear the other person say so they can be sure they are understood. There is no yelling, name-calling, or hostility. If emotions are running high, we take space in the ways that we need first: K might cry, journal, or talk to other people. J might need to go for a walk by himself. Once we are able to be more calm, we can discuss whatever it is going on.
Consent: This about having the choice to be in the relationship we are in. Neither of us ever consented to being in a monogamous relationship; it just happened. With our current relationship structure, however, we have both consciously agreed to it and the terms, boundaries, and ground rules.
Fidelity and commitment: Fidelity to us means honoring one’s commitments and promises, whatever they may be. Lying and breaking promises or agreements are not okay, just as cheating in monogamous relationships is often not okay.
Trust, honesty, and respect: It takes a tremendous amount of trust in ourselves and in each other to make a relationship like this work. It means trusting ourselves that we are capable of speaking up about what we need and want, and it means trusting each other to respect each other and each other’s feelings. The level of honesty it takes to have a healthy open relationship is huge- we have to be brutally honest with ourselves when something is not working, and then also take a big step in telling each other what isn’t working. We have to trust one another that being honest about something won’t be the end of our relationship, but that we respect one another and our relationship enough to keep an open mind and heart so we can hear one another’s honest feelings and experiences.
Self awareness and self growth: This also extremely important, in that we recognize that people and relationships are not static. We change every day, and should strive to become better communicators, more compassionate, more assertive, more independent, more patient, and whatever else needs working on. To that end, K has gone to counseling for the past year as a means to continue working on becoming more emotionally independent and more assertive. We don’t see counseling as a failing of an individual or a relationship, but as a tool for investigating oneself and growing, to the benefit of the individual and the relationship.
We think these values can be incorporated into any kind of relationship, although the outcome can look differently depending on the structure, negotiations, and behaviors. Also, we don’t view “monogamy” as a value, but as a structure, system, and norm- perhaps that is why you have been saying we have different values. If you do see monogamy as a value, then it is true we don’t hold that value for ourselves.
I wish I could help you see that monogamy is a paradigm (define: 1. A typical example or pattern of something; a model.; 2. A worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject.) and as such, is not The Truth. I wish I could help you understand that not “99% of therapists” would say that open relationship are “doomed to fail.” I wish I could offer you books and articles that would describe the positives of open relationships, and that you were in a space to listen and receive.
I wish you could be more self-aware, and see how your own stuff is dramatically coloring your perception of us and of me. I wish you wanted to be more self-aware and to grow as a person, instead of trying to shove your ideological crap down our throats.
I wish you could not only love your son, but love his partner still (like you did before all this, for the past 6 1/2 years), and support him (and us) in his choice of relationship.
I wish you could understand these ideas:
Relationships that are consciously CHOSEN are usually more rewarding than relationships built on default assumptions.
A partner who CHOOSES to be with you is more satisfying than a partner who can’t leave.
Life is CHANGE.
Don’t look to others to COMPLETE you.
Feelings are not FACT.
Treat those you love with RESPECT.
I wish you could simply see us as different people who have made different choices than you.
But I need to stop wishing. I need to accept my reality, I need to accept my present moment.
And that includes two parents who I will now frame as disgruntled, closed-minded, conservative relatives. People who I would not have invited to our wedding if I didn’t feel like I had to, people who I will create emotional distance with, people who I will feel less and less tied to. Just as we have other conservative relatives coming to our wedding that I have superficial relationships with (no politics, religion, values-based discussions, social justice issues, etc), I will come to peace with my relationship with both of you settling out at this place.
I am now affirming:
The joy and peace that fills my heart.
The compassion I feel for everyone I come into contact with, and those that I don’t.
The universal love I feel for everyone that I come into contact with, and those that I don’t.
That I am becoming more adaptable and flexible with the flow of life and with constant change, including change in my intimate and familial relationships.
I will always love you both. But I also love myself, and respect myself too much to allow myself to be part of a toxic relationship with you.
As our good friend put it: The door is always open, and the house isn’t changing.
You are welcome in when you can enter lovingly.