We talk about the polyamory mantra being communicate, communicate, communicate. Do I agree with it? Good Lord, yes! Communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship. When you stop communicating, things fall apart.
Most people who’ve been on this spinning globe more than twelve years or so have had the dubious pleasure of entering into a situation where people are flapping their tongues at each other with about as much noise, but less information delivered than if they’d been Howler Monkeys. At least with Howler Monkeys you know what they really want is for you to go away.
I want to outline a few things that communication is not.
Communication is not agreement.
“My partner won’t stop seeing his SO with the drug problem who keeps stealing from my purse. I feel like we’re not communicating here.”
We’ve all heard stuff like this. If you’ve stated, “I don’t like it when you’re involved with people who steal from me” and stated it that baldly, the problem isn’t communication. It’s that you’ve got a partner that isn’t agreeing with you. Different other problem. The statement was also a little badly-framed, as you’re still directing the other person’s behavior. A better way to put it would be, “I don’t like it when there are people in my life that steal from me.” and outline what steps you’ll take to keep from being stolen from, up to and including leaving the relationship).
Sometimes when you’re communicating effectively, you’ll find out that you might not be in agreement about something. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re communicating badly. It might mean… well, you don’t agree! My son and I have hung up on this one a few times. He’s still at the stage where he thinks if he explains Transformers well enough to me, I’ll get the point and become a fan. That’s not gonna happen any more than if I tried explain how cool it is to get up at five in the morning and go out in the cold to hit the pool and swim laps until I’m out of breath. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about the sleek feel of the water over my body, the sense of accomplishment when I come home to the hedonistic pleasure of a bowl of plain oatmeal. He’s still gonna look at me like I’m Calvin’s dad or something. We don’t agree. We’ve communicated our viewpoints well, thoroughly and clearly. We’re just never gonna agree on it.
I make part of my living teaching various MS Office programs. As a teacher, I often lecture. You teachers out there are probably already grinning and nodding, knowing where I’m going with this.
When you lecture, you’re looking for feedback, scanning your audience for clues that they understand, that they’re absorbing the information. You stop at frequent intervals to ask if there are any questions or comments. You do everything you can to make sure that you’re getting feedback. If you stop getting feedback, it’s become a one-way deal. It’s okay to stop trying at that point. In fact, it’s a good idea. You can go back to it, later, when people are ready to communication. (If they stop wanting to communicate, again, you’ve got a different problem. You cannot make someone want to communicate).
Effective communication is about giving the accurate information, not telling the other person what to do with it.
The point of communication is to help everyone make as accurate choices as possible (though we know nothing is perfect). If you, say, hate country music, saying you hate it might not be enough information. You might never want to hear it ever. Then a partner knows not to invite you to the Willie Nelson concert. If you dislike it, but are willing to put up with it to hang out with someone, you can say that, and the person knows that hang out time is valuable enough to you that you’d like to go with him to see Willie. But, even if you can deal with country, but your partner has another partner who adores it and would be eager to see that concert. Just because you communicated that hang out time is important, your partner doesn’t owe you that concert. He might decide any of a number of things based on a dozen factors (as do you). The best choices are usually made with the most accurate information. So your job is to give such (and ask for it!)
So yes, communication is the cornerstone of a decent relationship, do doubt about it. But don’t expect “good communication” to mean, “this is the way to get other people to do what I want most of the time”. That’s not what good communication is about.