We talk about communication being important between polyamorous people all the time, and with good reason. It is important.
I got to thinking about ways to ensure good communication and came up with the following:
- Tell the truth
- If you have a choice, presume benevolent motives.
- Avoid sarcasm.
- Ask questions to try to understand. Then listen carefully to the answer!
This seems really basic and you know, it isn’t. I’m not talking “Brutal Honesty” here. That’s usually more often an excuse for bullying than it is being genuinely honest. What I mean is that it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re first being honest with yourself, and knowing your motives, then being honest with the person you’re talking to. You can do this kindly.
When you’re communicating with a partner, make sure you’re letting him in on what you’re really thinking and feeling. Your partner has to have accurate information to work with. If you’re not comfortable telling your partner what you’re thinking or feeling, either you’ve got a problem being honest, or you’ve got a problem with your partner that goes a lot deeper than “communication”. A good way to know which it is is to check out how close you tend to play your cards to your chest with intimate friends. If you have a problem telling them the truth about what you’re thinking and feeling, too, take a look at your driver’s license. There will be a pic of the person at fault right there.
You and your partner(s) love each other, right? Of all the people in the world that want your good, surely this person or these people will be them. Sure, people can be thoughtless and hurt feelings, but you can say your feelings are hurt and give a person a chance to explain. “I statements” 1 are great for this. If you say “I feel X”, you’re owning your own feelings without making the other person responsible for them. It’ll also give the person a chance to elaborate on what’s going on in his or her head, and you’ll have more information to work with. Sometimes you’ll get an “Oops, my bad” or “I didn’t mean X quite that way. Lemme ‘esplain”.
If your partner is actually out to get you (or at least if you have such a deep belief), chances are good you’ve got something more than communication going wrong. For the record, punishment doesn’t belong in any adult relationship outside of the fantasy of a BSDM scene, ‘kay?
I was discussing this article with a friend of mine and she wisely pointed out that the allure of sarcasm is rather like the allure of almost all humor. It’s about pain and the reaction to it. The thing is, while sarcasm may be a reaction to pain, far too often it is often an attempt to cause it as a punishment to someone for being wrong somehow2. I don’t need to point out that good communication comes from benevolent motives. If you’re using sarcasm, maybe your motives aren’t as benevolent as all that and your partner(s) are right to feel as if they need to back off and defend themselves.
When you don’t understand something, ask a question. Listen to the answer. It’s a simple, yet powerful technique. Far too often when people are talking, they’re just flapping their tongues. Don’t blow your partner off by asking a question and then wait to find something you can jump on to prove your point. Listen to what they’re saying.
These habits are relatively simple, yet very powerful in relationships. Though, like many good habits, do you practice them? Have you made it a priority to learn good communication skills?
If you haven’t, that’s okay. You really can change how you behave. Don’t expect people in your life to fall all over you accepting the change all at once, though. If you’ve made it a habit not to listen, to use a lot of sarcasm or presume malevolent motives, you may have to go through a trust building period — and I don’t mean just a couple of weeks here. People who’ve needed to protect themselves might be slow to open up. But just be patient and practice your good habits.
The results are really fun!
1When used properly. I’ve seen some sneaky and passive aggressive uses of “i statements” that would curdle the blood of any person whose goal was actual communication.
2We who have the character flaw of being judgmental can be just awfully sarcastic!