Poly 101 : Communication - Part 2

Composed on the 11th of August in the year 2014, at 06:47PM. It was Monday.

Welcome back; for some of you this article was a single click away. For others it's been a week long wait. Either way I appreciate both your patience and attention.1 In an effort to not have another "to be continued" in this article I am going to come at you fast and furious. Buckle up.

My last article covered a lot of ground; a large part of it was a mock dialogue between two people to illustrate that though we all use the same words for a lot of things we may not all mean the same thing when using those words. Without clarification that can lead to some unfortunate results. The couple in that dialogue were negotiating how much physical intimacy was ok for the person going on the date to have with their date.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that this type or level of negotiation is what everyone should be doing in every relationship. This is an example of what has worked well for me in some of my relationships. It may work for you and it may not. Either way that's ok. One other thing that I want to be crystal clear on is that you should NEVER offer to modify your behaviour to lend someone else some emotional safety if you don't actually intend to follow through with your offer. You will end up doing far more harm than good.

When communicating make sure to be respectful and compassionate. If it's your turn to listen, listen. You may end up hearing some less than flattering opinions about yourself or your actions. Sit with that and do your best not to react.2 Once it's your turn to talk you can speak to those points should you choose to.

More important than being respectful and compassionate is to be honest. No relationship works without trust. There is no trust without honesty. I put honesty above respect and compassion to remove any "sugar coating" excuses. That is to say that some folks may alter the truth in an attempt to "soften the blow" to their partner/lover/toy etc... They misconstrue facts in an attempt to make the information being shared more palatable to the listening party and less awkward/emotionally charged for them to share. DO NOT DO THIS, EVER.3 I know it is often done with the best of intentions; but what you're really doing is both removing the opportunity from your partner to process fully what is being said and therefore develop in your relationship as well as creating the potential for a rift and disharmony in your relationship through an intentional lack of honesty.

Everyone has an internal bullshit detector; some more sensitive than others. Attempting to manage someones reaction to something through managing the information you're sharing is a surefire way to get that alarm going. The feelings/subtleties can manifest in a variety of ways but the end result will be disharmony of some sort and likely diminished trust; regardless of your intentions.

What's a good way to avoid falling into the "sugar coating" trap you ask? Great question; the answer is simple but far from easy. Listen to yourself share, what you cover what you don't. There will be times you notice yourself omitting things, or altering events a little. You will also likely notice that you're feeling vulnerable, nervous, anxious...etc. Take that thing you've omitted/altered and force it out of your mouth completely unedited. Anytime you find you're hiding thoughts/feelings away force them to the surface and share them. This will be difficult at first but will get much easier the more you work on it. Sometimes what you're sharing may be of little importance to the person you're sharing it with. That doesn't matter; the trick is to break your cycle and become more transparent. Share even the most trivial things if you find yourself hiding them away.

If you're on the receiving end of this conversation do your best to listen as skillfully as you can. Be thankful that the person talking to you has a high enough opinion of you that they feel they can be completely honest with you. Remember the last time you had to share something big and scary and do your best to treat your partner the way you would like to be treated in a similar circumstance.

When sharing try to use "I" statements. They tend to come across a lot less accusatory than "You" statements. That doesn't mean you can't say "You". Just know that if you find yourself using "You" a lot more than "I" you may be communicating a manner that is more adversarial than you intended. Most people that feel attacked will respond accordingly and you may quickly find yourself in a fight where previously there was none.

Not everything needs fixing. That sounds pretty straightforward but it's easy to lose sight of. Sometimes when you're communicating or processing you'll hear about a specific situation or internal dialogue that you've also had experience with. Offering up a solution may seem like a great idea at the time. If the person sharing is looking for a solution it may very well be a fantastic idea. If they're not it may end up being just the opposite. Sometimes what they're looking for from you is an "I hear you" or "that was intense" or some other verification that they've been both listened to and heard.

If you're not sure how to tell if this is a "fixing" situation v.s. a "listening" one, ask. A simple "Are you sharing to share or are you looking for suggestions/solutions right now? I want to be certain so that I can act accordingly."4 can go a long way. If they are looking for solutions try framing them in a "feel, felt, found" sentence. It goes something like this:

"I know how you feel; I've felt the same way when I was in X situation. I found that when I did Y I was all the better for it."

This kind of sentence not only lends credibility to your solution; it lets the person on the receiving end know that you empathize with them.

Back to the subject of weekly check-ins and note taking. If you are doing weekly check ins and have some complaints/actionable items to bring to your partner figuring out how to create solutions/implement them can be a tricky task. One way to handle that is to bring some possible solutions with you to the meeting and share them, then not implement anything until the following week/meeting. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive but what you're doing is giving the person you're sharing with some time to not only separate their emotions from the issue but to mull over some possible solutions including the ones you've suggested. Rather than giving you an in-the-moment knee-jerk response they can give you a well thought out, skillful response. That kind of response often has the best chance of giving you what you were looking for in the first place. It will likely be well worth the wait. When trying out the "Not solving things until the next meeting" rule do be sure to give some examples of possible solutions when giving your complaint. They may not be the solutions that are implemented but they will give your honey something to start with.

During your weekly meetings have one of you take notes. Make sure to gift the note taker for their effort. This can be anything you folks decide. Maybe one person makes a nice snack and the other takes notes, perhaps there's a foot rub involved; it's really up to you. Having good notes is important because they are what you'll use the following week when recalling anything that was brought up the previous week that required a response. They are also the basis of what can become your relationship "contract" or "agreement".

A relationship contract is not a legally binding document. It's living, changeable documentation of the understandings you've come to from your weekly meetings. It is super helpful when you're trying to recall what is and isn't ok behaviour in your relationship(s). It's a great tool to force you from the realm of "you know what I mean" to saying what you actually mean. It's also good for finding areas where you may need to have more discussion. E.g. When reading through your contract you may notice you don't have a heading for "Safer Sex Practices". That would be a good discussion point to bring up at your next meeting.5 Make sure to go over your contract at least once a month. As your and your partner develop in experience, trust and emotional maturity so will your boundaries and understandings.

This concludes the "Communication" section of Poly 101. If you have any questions please feel free to send me an email.6

Please do keep in mind that I am a busy person and may not be able to respond immediately.

Thanks for reading.

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1For the previous article in this series click here.

2This is where having read Against The Stream comes in handy.

3Especially if you are talking to me.

4This is another great sentence. Mark it down and make it your own. Seriously.

5J-Tip: If you're physically writing your contract out in a notebook leave lots of space for/in each section. It'll make updating it a lot easier down the road.


Good Times!

© Jason Clarke 2014 All rights reserved.