Is Your Open Marriage Any of Your Kid’s Business?

The pros and cons of talking to your children about your non-monogamy

Young woman in relationship with two men
Your children shouldn't know about every aspect of your relationship, but what about non-monogamy?
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When married parents Andi and Kyle decide to open up their marriage in the first season of Netflix’s Easy, it’s assumed that they won’t be talking about this big shift with their young kids. The audience accepts that this is an experience that they, as adults, keep private from their spawn, who are too small to understand what’s going on. But what happens when your kids grow up and start asking questions? Lots of luck trying to keep anything a secret, let alone your open relationship.

A recent anonymous write-in to Slate’s relationship advice column detailed the challenges of a wife and husband who’ve been together for 30 years and married for 25. Since the early days of their partnership, the husband has maintained an occasional sexual relationship with a male friend and colleague. The wife is completely fine with it and finds the dynamic satisfying, plus she pursues outside sexual relationships of her own whenever she feels like it. It’s untraditional, but their set-up seems to be working for all involved. Their four adult kids, however, have started prodding about why their dad spends so much time and travels so frequently with this other man. Neither parent wants to share this part of their marriage with their children, and because the two men work together, there’s an added layer of discretion needed. The wife is beginning to feel pressure to tell her kids the truth but knows her husband never wants them to find out.

Advice columnist Rich Juzwiak strongly advises the wife to keep her mouth shut. “It’s not up to you to explain this to your kids — that job is for your husband, and if he doesn’t want them to know, you should respect that,” he writes. Doing otherwise would be outing him, Juzwiak says, which is never justified. Sure, yes, that seems pretty clear-cut. But the next part of his argument — that the kids “don’t have to know or understand everything that isn’t their business” — is a little murkier.

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“Your kids are curious and maybe even speculating about your husband’s sexuality — let them,” he writes. “As far as they know, your husband has a close friend that he often spends time with and you’re completely okay with that. That’s all they have to know.” I agree that it’s not the wife’s place to share this information, but I have a harder time accepting the idea of lying to your kids. 

It might be difficult for them to understand at first, and it might be uncomfortable. But ultimately, this is a significant part of the husband’s life — and, yes, it’s unconventional, but it’s not anything to be ashamed of. The relationships, as Juzwiak calls them, are “wholesome” because everyone seems pretty happy and fulfilled, which is a rare and beautiful thing. It’s something that, if I were a parent, I would want my kids to see. Being transparent with my kids about that part of my life would undo a lot of stigma and shame that’s otherwise attached to non-monogamy. 

Of course, parents deserve to have their own privacy, and there’s no need to overshare explicit details of their sexual exploits (please god, no). But with the percentage of open relationships steadily increasing year after year, non-monogamy is becoming more mainstream, and kids would benefit from seeing healthy examples of it in their parents. Because even though traditional ideas of parenthood require people to be settled and static and stable, your curiosity about and desire to explore your sexuality and preferences don’t simply evaporate when you have kids. Showing them that you can be a responsible, kind, functioning part of society who still embraces non-monogamy will go a long way in building tolerance within the next generation.

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