Poly 101 : Communication - Part 1

Composed on the 3rd of August in the year 2014, at 12:02AM. It was Sunday.

If you're interested in polyamory1 you'd best like chatting about feelings; yours, your partners, your lovers, your lovers lovers etc... The more folks you're dating (and the more folks they're dating) the more talking you'll get to do. The amount of talking required isn't a multiple it's exponential.2 Sometimes it will feel like all you're doing is processing and talking, largely because during those times it will be the truth. That's normal and ok. If you're serious about having strong long lasting relationships you need to build strong foundations.

One technique that has worked well for me specifically with partners is the weekly check in. Set a weekly appointment to talk, share and process. This is especially important if you're living with that person. That way, regardless of how the week goes you know that you will have some time to say what's on your mind and hear what's on theirs. I've found it helped me to not react to every little thing through out the week. I was able to consider my thoughts and feeling knowing that there was a place I could bring them up and share in the not too distant future. That doesn't mean don't communicate at any other time in the week; just that knowing that time is coming up helps take off a lot of pressure.

If you're the kind of person that gets flustered or off topic easily bring notes. You may feel a little dork-tastic (and not in the good way) at first but you should quickly find it both empowering and a helpful tool. It can be a lot easier to share something that's really hard for you to talk about when you can read it from a page. Writing notes also gives you some time to properly formulate your ideas before having to divulge them.3

Speaking of notes it's also a good idea to take them. Writing stuff down not only helps to remember what was discussed and agreed upon but it forces you to be a lot more articulate and specific, which is good. Lack of specificity can lead to misunderstandings which can lead to missteps. We'll get back to note taking in a bit. Lets focus on being specific.

When people communicate they use words that they believe are understood by everyone in the conversation. The trouble is that the other people in the conversation also often believe that everyone participating understands what's being said by the words used and therefore folks often miss the bit where they confirm that to be a fact. This is particularly true when talking about embarrassing and/or emotionally charged topics. If your conversations sound like this, you may need re-think your approach.

"So I met this new person, I think there's some definite chemistry."

"Great, I'm happy for you. New relationships are yummy and exciting."

"Totally. Thanks for being happy for me. I plan on seeing them later this week for dinner and a hang out. What do you think of that?"

"I think it sounds like good times."

"Cool. So, I want to make sure you feel safe and well cared for. What can I do to facilitate that?"4

"Ummmm, maybe don't have sex with them just yet....if the opportunity arises that is."

"Ok, I can totally do that. How about messing around, is that ok with you?"

"For sure. Messing around is all good, just no sex."


For the most part this is a great dialogue. Folks are making sure others are feeling cared for. Everyone is hearing everyone else. It's near perfect. Can you spot where the room for error, issues and some level of heartbreak is? If you said "somewhere around talking about not having sex and being ok with messing around" you'd be bang on.

Just because you have an internal definition for what "having sex" and "messing around" mean doesn't mean everyone else has that same definition. In our society a lot of these differences don't get considered or chatted about; largely because we're not communicating or negotiating around them very often. For many the closest they get to that sort of conversation is "did you get some?" followed by "yup". Thanks monogamy.5

When you find yourself negotiating anything with anyone make sure that the other party means what you think they mean. This is especially true for any negotiations around any charged topics. This is where you may feel the most awkward but it's also the most important. Embrace the awkward, it'll get easier with familiarity. Lets get back to that conversation and see one way to handle this situation.

"Ok, I can totally do that. How about messing around, is that ok with you?"

"For sure. Messing around is all good, just no sex."

"Done....and now that I've said that I want to make sure that I understand you correctly. When you say no sex; what do you mean by that?"

"Good question. I was thinking of oral sex and penetrative sex."

"Ok, what about touching or heavy petting."

"Above clothes or below?"


"I think that under clothes is sex, above clothes...well that's just messing around...and pretty goddamn hot."

"Hhahaha right! Totally. Ok, so if I'm hearing this right sex to you is any genital stimulation involving bare skin. Does that sound right?."

"Yes, that covers it."

"Ok, good to know. You did say messing around is fine. What does that mean?"

"Making out, heaving petting...clothes on. That stuff."

"What about shirts, should they stay on or is shirts off ok?"

"Oh yeah, shirts off is fine. It's the bottoms that I was worried about. Those need to stay on."

"Ok, roger that, bottoms stay on, hands stay on top of the fabric. If I keep to that is there anything that I might do that you might have an issue with?"

"Hmmmm.....nope. Keep to that and it's all good."

"Ok. What about if either of us get off? Is that ok?"

"If you get off while sticking to those guidelines....well, I think that's the best possible outcome you could have."

"Awwww, thanks for that. I appreciate you taking the time to help me get this sorted. As I said earlier, it's important to me that you're feeling well cared for."

"Well, mission accomplished. Have a fantastic first date."

See what I mean about all the talking needed? It definitely adds up; and it's critically important. It can be the difference to you having the time of your life only to find out that you unwittingly betrayed the trust of someone you care about and having the time of your live and finding out that someone you care about feels safe and secure in their relationship with you thanks to your actions and consideration.

The trick I use for this is to repeat back my understanding of what I've heard to see if I'm understanding it properly. A simple "When I hear you say 'X' I understand it to mean 'Y'; do I have that right?" can go a long way. Try it out.

This is quite a large topic, unsurprisingly I will need at least a second post to wrap it up.

...to be continued...

For the next article in this series click here.

<< Past Future >>

1For the previous article in this series click here.

2EM = TX
EM: Emotional Convergence
T : Time spent talking/processing
X : Number of people involved

3J-Tip: If you're printing them from a computer, use a really large font. Something you can read easily, even if you're crying.

4This is a good sentence, use it or some version of it, often.

5This is mostly tongue in cheek. If you're monogamous and you've chosen that; awesome. It's the "monogamy by default and never talking about the deep dark scarys because that what western society says I should do" that I take exception with. That's the shit that needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt into something a lot healthier and functional. That's also what I'm ripping on.

Good Times!

© Jason Clarke 2014 All rights reserved.