Romantic relationships between two people are pretty complex by themselves. Add in a third person (or more), and things can get messy... at least that's what you'd think!
Surprisingly, polyamorous relationships operate pretty similarly to monogamous relationships. The only difference is that there's more people. Relationships built on love, trust, and mutual respect have good chances of working out; the number of people in the relationships doesn't change that.
If you're still skeptical, take it from these Redditors who were raised by parents who were in open relationships. Content has been edited for clarity.
"My parents were in an open relationship until around the time I was 17. I didn't know what an 'open' relationship was until I was 8, but people in my life would keep making jokes about it that I suddenly understood once I got it.
To be honest, it was really rough. Not only did my parents pursue people that I had already known (such as my classmates' parents), but from time to time, they would get very serious with one of their other partners. My mom, in particular, was in a secondary relationship with another woman from the time I was 3 until I was 14 years old. She was basically like a second mother to me, and when it finally all 'blew up,' I never saw her again and began to feel like it was a problem with me and not my parents.
I also felt insanely jealous of the other partners when I was younger. I felt like my parents cared about them more than me and that they would leave me to go and start a new family with them.
I don't mean to paint the whole experience as negative! There were a few positives and I feel like because of how open my parents were about their situation dating was a lot easier for me than other people. Plus, the extra Christmas presents were always a bonus."
"I grew up in a Mormon family that practiced polygamy. My father had three wives, my mom is the last and youngest. Things were pretty okay as a child - it was pretty neat having three moms. If I couldn't get something from one of them, I'd ask another. Seriously. Having lots of brothers and sisters was pretty chill, too. Although, in retrospect, I probably didn't get the individualized attention I may have needed as a child. My dad and I both agree on this point nowadays.
My blissful existence changed around the time I was 14/15. We woke up to find that wife #2 had moved herself and her children out in the middle of the night. These were my sisters and brothers, we were devastated. My parents tried to protect us from a lot of the fallout, but it was pretty inevitable.
I'm 30 now and don't really have any relationships with my half brothers and sisters from either mom. My mom and dad remain happily married in a monogamous relationship, and I have my two full siblings to love on. As I've gotten older, though, I've learned that the household was not as happy as I may have thought it was. There was a lot of resentment to go around but no one was forced into anything either. Everyone went into it as consenting adults.
I don't know if it's affected my view of love. Polygamy would never be for me, I'm far too selfish for that. So long as there is consent among ALL parties, and open communication if someone wants to do it I really don't care."
"I grew up with lesbian parents who were not polyamorous, but my biological father (donor) has always played a big role in my life and he's been happily in a three-person relationship with two other guys for the past 25 years. I grew up in New Zealand and they lived on the other island to mine, so as a kid/teenager I regularly (once or twice a year) went up to stay with them as a mini holiday. I think of my dad and his partners as uncle-type figures in my life, which was super important for me as a growing boy given that I come from a family of mostly women.
I honestly respect their relationship so much more than anyone else I can think of. It's open and entirely based on the love they have for each other (and others). In my dad's view, if you really love somebody, then you want what's best for them, you don't want to put restrictions on their freedom to do things in their life. If someone does feel the need to put restrictions on the freedom of their partner, he thinks that it may be rooted in the insecurities they have about themselves, which is their own problem to be fixed within themselves. Mostly, he just believes in love; romantic, familial, or anything in between - which I totally respect and am open to.
There are so many other things about their relationship that I value, but that's the gist of it. One of my siblings doesn't get on that well with my dad due to personality clashes but I like to look for the best in people, and I think that he has a lot going on for him in his ability to live his life the way HE wants to. Growing up in a relatively conservative family, I feel very proud of him to be at this point in his life where he's able to truly express himself.
I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Over the course of 15 years, my dad had three significant girlfriends (at different times) all while he was still married to my mom. It just seemed normal to me, and it wasn't until like the sixth grade that I realized that everyone else's family wasn't like mine. Around that time, my friends all of a sudden weren't allowed to come over to my house anymore, which is because their parents had found out about Kelly, my dad's girlfriend at the time. I don't have any qualms with what my parents did, they were always very open and honest about the whole thing with us kids. But the way everyone else reacted felt like crap to me as a child. It forced me to get pretty good at lying and taught me to put walls up and not to trust others, which is probably the most negative thing about the whole situation.
For what it's worth, I feel the need to say that my parents weren't good at parenting. My dad had a drinking problem and my mom has a codependent personality and enabled him in a lot of things that she really shouldn't have let happen. That being said, in this particular case, they accidentally handled it really well. I've grown up with the healthiest view of relationships out of most of the people I know. I legitimately don't understand why people have jealousy issues because I get that love isn't a zero sum game. I'm very comfortable with exploring my horizons and trying new things in the bedroom department because I was never taught that it is something to be ashamed of. I don't judge anyone else for their personal choices, kinks, or romantic interests. I don't think I would have the same healthy views of love if I didn't grow up in the situation that I did. I have plenty of issues from childhood, but because of my parents' laissez faire attitude with my dad having girlfriends, I was spared most of the common hang ups that I've seen others have to deal with."
"My parents do freaky things, that is their bag. It's still the two of them at the end of the day for nearly 40 years.
I had a lovely childhood with loving parents, who behind closed doors did big ol' freaky stuff. I mean, my parents had a really open and liberal attitude towards relationships. They never minded my clothes or boyfriends. They were more concerned about underage drinking and unsupervised underage parties.
When I first went to college, I was friends with some diverse people. One of them saw an ad in a swingers magazine that sounded like them, showed me, so I asked them. My mom and dad responded by telling their embarrassment lies. I mean I would do the clothes washing twice a week, I knew they had some odd night clothes so I had a hunch it was them, but an ad in a magazine was pretty severe.
But I can't really judge them. They never judge me.
Now I'm in my 30s. I just give them light-hearted comments about their retiree swinger parties and hip replacements whenever they ask me about grandkids."
"My parents were monogamous until I was about 13 and my older siblings had moved out. They were pretty much done with parenting and decided to develop their relationship 'to its next stage.' The process wasn't always mutual and there were a lot of power plays. That meant an open marriage for a few years, a second wife for about a year, and then a marriage with another couple. It was all happening as I was a young teenager and it was intense. Try to imagine the emotional brinkmanship that goes into changing a relationship that drastically in just a few years. The second husband couldn't handle it, tried to take his insecurities out on me and then left. They were very honest and open, we had emotional processing discussions all together in the living room, and no one wore clothes in the jacuzzi, but I could never share any of this with my friends. I lied my way through high school.
It makes me upset that when I have occasionally gone to a counselor ('cause mental health is a thing, you know) like when my parents got sick, then passed away, combined with career change or parenting stress, the counselors always want to talk about this for like three sessions. It's just too titillating for them to ignore. Moths to the flame. I'm like, 'I came to you with a problem of grief. Don't get off on how my parents hopped from bed to bed while you're billing me.' I'm serious, but it's also funny.
How has it affected my relationships? I went on exactly one date during all of high school and was invited to one party that wasn't a friend's birthday party. As soon as I moved out and went away to college, I found a girl within a week and dated her happily for a few years. Never had a problem finding a good woman to be with and never wanted to be with more than one. It has probably also made me much more aware of emotional communication and how important it is to avoid playing games with other people's feelings. I've been married for 20 years now and have no intention of opening my marriage."
"My story is essentially biology becoming destiny. My dad was profoundly Catholic, he later became a theologian. I was raised in mostly traditional values with the exception of birth-control, they were all for it. I went on to become fairly traditionally minded myself, peaking at around 21 years old. Just a Catholic boy from Catholic parents.
Then I had a terrible crisis of faith and started questioning everything. I came to realize that I didn't relate to monogamy and exclusivity at all and that the only reason I was 'faithful' even to my random partners was because I wanted to protect their feelings, even if it was a pain for me. I wasn't jealous at all myself, so I started to pursue a serious open relationship because I honestly thought it was the perfect match for my temperament and my emotional style.
The time came when I disclosed to my mother that I wasn't monogamous, and she replied, 'You are just like your father.' I thought she joked for a second. Apparently, he had persuaded her to try swinging in the early years of their relationship, but she was never really into it. Most of the tension in their relationship came from that. It completely shattered the image I had of my parents. Apparently, they thought that as long as they did their kinky swinger thing as a married couple, they were still in Yahveh's good graces somehow?
I had been watching some lectures about personal behavior in humans and other animal species, and how the tendency towards promiscuity was highly inheritable. It also came associated with a lot of other psychological and physical traits, and my father happened to tick most of the boxes. Surprise, surprise, so did I.
So I was raised to be exclusively monogamous, rebelled against it, embraced polyamory, and realized I had been following in my father's footsteps the whole time. It's like he had built this traditional framework around me to guide me away from his own uncommitted lifestyle, but couldn't fight discontentment within me.
That said, most of the poly people I've met are quite weird in some way, and I wonder if I really want to date people like them. I'm really starving for a healthy, functional, well-adjusted example of an open couple in my social circle."
"My parents were in a long-term polyamorous relationship while I was growing up. I didn't really realize it, and when I did, I think I just blocked it out because it was normal.
When I was around 8 and my little brother was around 5, one of my parents' friends was visiting more often, and that was cool. Then she was staying with us a lot, in a spare room, and that was cool too. We liked her. And then eventually she moved in, and so did her cat. I liked her cat. She always had her own room, although she never seemed to spend too much time in it. I didn't question it.
She was our boarder as far as I was concerned. It was completely normal to have another random adult just live with us and be semi-aunt/parent/thing because she paid board y'know? My dad tried to talk to me about it once, but we're both very awkward people, and we acted really awkwardly over it and I blocked it from my memory.
Eventually, my parents and her broke up about the time I was moving out at 18. She'd been part of my life for 10 or so years. I still keep in touch occasionally. We had a good chat a few months after it happened where we talked about it from her point of view, how she'd always said coming in that we were a family unit and if anything happened she always knew it was her that would just leave. I don't know all the details and I don't really want to.
My parents have a new lady now that they're seeing now. They introduced her one day when I went around and were like, 'Hey, you know how X was a thing? Well this is Y and she's a new similar thing.'
She doesn't live with them, but she is a cool chick. I'm happy for them to be happy."
"I'm a teenager but not living with my polyamorous dad.
My father impregnated a woman and she gave birth to a girl. They weren't married and my half-sister grew up relatively estranged from her mother. Then he met my mother, got her pregnant (with me) and married her right after. He then had three more kids with her - two girls and another son. Then they broke up and my dad ran away to be with his best friend who is a lesbian. I don't understand all of it since I mostly grew up with my mom but my dad now has three wives, including the lesbian woman. He also has seven children with those three women.
I hate my father. He's evil and manipulated all of us to believe everything he says. He's really good at making friends and he has this reputation of being 'Jesus like.' He even plays into the image by having long hair and a really long beard. My dad calls himself a Christian but he's a cheat. He claimed to be a contractor (he's not) and cheated his church into paying for really bad construction work. He's the definition of a narcissist. He has claimed all of these crazy things: he said he broke his hand but his wives (by the way, he's in his late 30s, two of his wives are in their early 20s) healed it by praying; he said that he has synesthesia (a form of autism according to him) which allows him to detect personality types. He lies so much, he told all of us that he has a liver condition that is treatable by some expensive medicine or some bacteria in hops. In normal people language, that means he likes to drink, a lot.
It's sad knowing that almost 10 of my other siblings have been conditioned into seeing him as some great man other than the crazy hack he really is. My eldest half sister and my full siblings are the only ones who are old enough to understand this. And we have the advantage of growing up somewhat detached from him. Although I admit, I used to be underneath his spell. He used to tell us to report our mother to the police for being abusive and stuff like that.
I've anonymously tipped off CPS a few times about my young half-siblings' living situation, to no avail. They live in a really cramped house with no heating, a barely functional kitchen and not enough hot water to clean everyone. My dad doesn't use protection if 12 kids weren't evidence of it enough already.
Oh also, I REALLY like how I'm named after him, and the other 11 of us have names that start with the same initials as him.
My mother's family has always been against my dad's living situation. But my dad always said that it's because they were ignorant and didn't understand love. My dad and his three wives are 'God's will' according to him. I always ignored my family. I had cancer when I was a kid and I didn't have a lot of time to develop mentally. So I think that's why it took a long time for me to understand how messed up things were. I always felt a connection with my dad since we share the same name and he made me feel special by saying stuff like it's 'God's will' for me to have cancer. And how it inspired him to start a charity to help kids like me who have cancer. The charity hasn't done anything in several years, by the way, but someone who said they worked for him messaged me saying he uses his charity to write off things as tax-free.
This is probably close-minded, but I could never be in a polygamous relationship. I think my experiences growing up has made me more protective of the people I love though. I have a lot of friends who I would never wish this upon. There was this girl in my class who said her parents were having a divorce and I remember bursting into tears because I immediately thought about this crap happening to her step-siblings. Which is really pessimistic, I'd say."
"My parents are polygamous. My dad has three wives. I'd say my childhood was pretty good. I especially loved growing up with lots of siblings. They've always been like a social safety net. To this day, my siblings are my best friends. We all grew up together in one house as a family so I always knew the other two wives as my moms. It wasn't until I started school that I realized it wasn't normal.
As far as my idea of love? I think it gave me a more liberal view. I grew up seeing people attack or judge my parents for loving each other and their kids while hurting nobody. It made me think everybody should just mind their own business about who somebody loves as long as all parties are consenting adults. And on a more personal level, seeing my parents interact with each other and overcome their jealousies taught me that love is more than just an emotion. It's a commitment. That being said, I don't think I could ever commit to more than one person. I'm not that selfless."
"My dad has two wives.
If so, it's not that different to any other household. I don't mention it to other people. The wives live in different houses so I never see his second wife. I see my half siblings once or twice a year. My dad spends more time living with us, but it wasn't like that when I was younger.
Actually, he has three. I forgot he got married again last year when he went back to his home country. However, he married this girl to provide for her because she had no family (I think her parents recently died). I don't think they're physical. It's frowned upon for a woman to receive financial help from a man who is not family or husband, so he married her to help her out.
My brother and my mother have met her. My mum likes her because she helped her around the house when she went to visit her home country.
My mum wasn't always cool about my dad having a second family, at least not about his second wife (she was his first wife). This happened when I was very young, and I think it did have a really bad effect on her; he just went ahead and got married, didn't even ask. I think this is part of what led to her mental health issues. She had depression and schizophrenia, so my older siblings had to take care of me and my younger siblings. For a while, my older brothers were really mad at him and didn't speak to him and I didn't really see my dad a lot when I was little, but for me that was normal, I didn't know anything else.
Now my dad lives with us for the majority of the time, my mum has received help for her mental health issues and I think she has peace with it all now. She likes his third wife, because she sees her more as her daughter rather than his wife (as I said his marriage to his third wife is due to convenience).
I still think what my dad did was horrible, but I don't think it defines him. He shows he loves my mum in his ways and is one of the most charitable people I know and most hardworking. Nobody is perfect, especially not my father, but our family still works and is still happy. We don't even think twice about it now."
"My childhood felt typical. I had a dad and a mom, and they had a girlfriend that lived with us. Their girlfriend did not really act as a parent to me. It was more like having one of my parents' friends around all the time. Being a child without any concept of intimate love urge (until puberty), it seemed pretty normal to me that my dad would smooch my mom and then smooch Janet when he left or came home. It just looks like love and it never bothered me. Kids at school didn't really know about it. My parents tended to tone it down around my friends.
There was a lot of love in our home. That's pretty much the only thing that seems different to me (compared to my friends whose parents were divorced or always fighting). I wouldn't change a thing about how I grew up or my parents poly relationship."