In my experience, the single most important element of any successful relationship is communication. It’s surprising to me how little attention is given to communication in our society (despite the fact that we can’t seem to get off our cell phones). There is scant emphasis except for writing in traditional education, whether elementary or university. And it seems most people are unlikely to receive any kind of formal training on assertiveness and communication unless it occurs in association with their employment.
Let’s face it, conventional romantic or marital relationships rely on open and honest communication in order to flourish. Partners must be able to express needs, desires, concerns, and feelings, and be able to trust one another to grasp both the obvious and the subtle in the message; but when it comes right down to it, we seldom make it very easy for our partner.
How many of us might offer up a half-truth because we fear being judged if we really opened up about something we want?
Which of us hasn’t expected our other half to be a bit of a mind-reader, to know what we’re saying even when we aren’t actually saying it?
How many of us make a point to sit down with our spouse/partner for the sole purpose of talking about our relationships?
Non-monogamous relationships require a heightened degree of active communication; it isn’t enough to be transparent about what is happening, with whom, when, or why. A polyamorous arrangement involves the needs, desires, aspirations, dreams, and fears of all its members. If any of those relationships involve kink (as is the case with my hubby, my lover and me), where the potential for physical and psychological harm is as real and likely as emotional harm, communication is essentially as important as breathing: if you don’t do it, something very bad is guaranteed to happen.
My hubby (my sissy, my pet…I hope all my terms of endearment don’t become confusing) and I have made a point to sit down once a week for the specific purpose of discussing our relationship. We talk about events and situations from the week before, and cover our initial and ongoing reactions. We share our emotional states and thought processes, and we ask one another a lot of questions. We also end up having these conversations far more than once a week. In fact, it is an odd occurrence if we don’t spend at least 15 – 20 minutes discussing a situation, question or concern every day.
Because there are many aspects to polyamory that are new to us, we often lack a frame of reference for them; we simply won’t know how we’ll feel about something until it happens. A particular experience could sound incredibly hot as a fantasy, but be unpleasant – even hurtful – in practice. As a group, we need to be certain we all understand the risks of our exploration (transparency), that we all are willing to work through them (intent and consent), and once we’ve moved forward with something, we all are as clear and direct about the experience with one another (feedback) as to further guide and direct our pursuits.
A good recent example of this complexity comes to mind…my lover and I have been seeing each other for several weeks now. While my husband and I have known him for about 8 years, he and my husband never conversed a great deal. And since I’d become romantic with my lover, the two had spoken perhaps a dozen words to one another. Their individual relationships with me were changing; and so their relationship with one another was now nebulous…how should they interact? In particular, with our D/s (Dominance and submission) dynamic, how did this affect any power exchange between them?
For the first few weeks, I acted as a go-between. But I soon realized that by playing intermediary, I was preventing them from doing what they needed to do: sort out the details of their relationship themselves.
The crucial conversation, which was met initially with much anxiety, took place at my lover’s the night of a party (the first the three of us were attending together). The conversation took 15 minutes at most. Far more time was spent on both sides working up the nerve. Simply by admitting the awkwardness they each felt in the moment, they could let go of it, and begin to find their common ground.
When it comes right down to it, virtually every relationship we have – romantic or otherwise – has the potential to be healthy, strong, and amazing…if we’re willing to use our words.
If you’re interested in learning more about effective communication, here are a few good resources: