Communication is the cornerstone of all relationships. For some, communication is easy and for others it can be a challenge. Our communication skills as adults are often a reflection of our upbringing, and of relationships we had while growing up. That is not to say that great communication cannot be learned. On the contrary, learning how to be a better communicator in your relationships is a an important and life-long endeavour. It will enhance many aspects of how you move about the world and interact with others. Conscious communication with a romantic partner is just the same, and in many cases holds an extra weight of importance. But where is one to begin when learning how to better communicate with their beloved?
Polyamorous Values, Applied
The value of communication within polyamorous relationships can be especially important. Just think, by having more partners to manage, and the feelings of each individual mattering deeply, the topic of communication in a multi-partner relationship becomes a necessary landscape to navigate.
Those who have toyed with the idea of polyamory, or even successfully lived out polyamorous relationships, are aware that to keep things in the spirit of love takes work. As such, there are many resources, and methods of communication that can be employed. However these tools aren’t only beneficial to those in the world of polyamory. In fact, a lot of these principles can be explored in most relationships, and positively apply to monogamous couples as well.
In a successful polyamorous relationship, informed consent is a primary ingredient. Let’s set the stage - informed consent is granting permission with the knowledge of any potential consequences that can occur as a result. Naturally there are outliers where the boundaries of consent get fuzzy, but theoretically even non-consent in a polyamorous relationship is agreed upon. Consent can apply to a multitude of things, whether it means taking on another lover, having casual sex, where you agree it is safe to meet people, and so on. To understand how this applies in a monogamous relationships though, we first must understand why informed consent is so important.
The thing is, consent eliminates assumption. By being honest with a partner, you are forced to be honest with yourself. And knowing yourself can only help your partner to know and understand you better. Assumption opens the doors to misunderstanding which often leads to misalignment. It is a societal condition to assume you know or understand what another is thinking of feeling. When we ask our partner for consent, be it to date someone else, try something new in your sex life, or even to just take some time alone, you are being encouraged to lay out your needs in a way that they can be understood and henceforth met. If that consent is not met with assurance, then it opens up a doorway for further discussion to gain a better understanding of one another.
The words we choose to use in our communicative efforts might mean one thing to us, and something completely different to someone else. Awareness of this is key. When your relationship, or relationships, hinge on open communication, including what some may call “extreme honesty”, the language chosen must land on all parties involved. Making sure you are on the same page with someone in the way you communicate is tricky. For example, in many relationships just the word “sex” can be a recipe for a communication pitfall. When one pivotal word can be interpreted in so many different ways, it is impossible to provide informed consent without meeting on a common ground. It is worth taking the time to get really clear about these things. Just as we want to eliminate assumptions surrounding feelings and actions, we want to eliminate assumptions about what you mean with your language.
Exploring the pitfalls of semantics and how each person relates to different words is important. Avoid words that are vague or could mean many things. ‘Respect’ is a good example of this, and a word that is often thrown around in fights. “You don’t respect me”, or “You need to respect this decision”. What does respect actually mean to you in various contexts? Does it change based on the topic or situation? And most importantly, what does respect actually look like when it is given or felt? Once you get into the nitty gritty of what things mean and how they are interpreted by someone else, you can begin to communicate on the same level. It is worth the work.
You don’t need to wait until there is a trigger to exercise your communication muscles, in fact scheduling communication on a regular basis whether you need it or not can have tremendous benefits. A common practice in many polyamorous relationships is to engage in regular check ins. This can take many different forms, but the underlying commonality is that it is consistent and involves some sort of organizational tactic. For instance, setting a regular time once per month, or even once per week, to run through a standard set of questions encourages positive communication as a habit rather than a response. These questions should be well thought out and agreed upon by both partners. There are several examples of this, but here are a few to get you thinking…
- What is one thing I did this month to make you feel loved?
- What are your current biggest worries, stresses, or concerns?
- Do you have any grievances?
- How are you feeling about our intimate times? Is there anything else I could be doing to sexually satisfy you?
These questions are not meant to limit you to the topic at hand, but rather provide a starting point to engage in a deeper and more profound conversation. By opening up a platform on which you and another can share your feelings, you eliminate tension surrounding other moments when communication is challenging. This will also result in preventing further miscommunications down the line or the feeling of things being left ‘unsaid’. An open and ongoing dialogue about anything and everything will make you feel closer to your partner (or partners) and keep the flow of communication moving.
Above All, Get Compassionate
Like with anything in life, practice makes you better. The more you practice communicating, the better you become at it. It takes commitment, time, and patience. As you and your partner learn how to communicate more skillfully with each other, you will notice that communicating with others becomes easier as well. You won’t always get it right at the beginning, and neither your partner(s). With that in mind, a little compassion goes a long way. Happy communicating!
More Than Two - Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, 2014 https://www.morethantwo.com/
Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life - Amy Gahran, 2017 https://offescalator.com/
The Random Show with Kevin Rose - The Tim Ferris Podcast, episode #586