I read something on social media this week that got me thinking about how some my blog posts might be perceived, and wanted to talk about it a little more. The summary of the post was:
“I get really annoyed by all this ‘polyamory’ advice about communicating. Monogamous people need to be doing that too. Communication is for everybody, not just for the poly people.”
Before I go any further, I 100% agree with this. Communication is for everybody, we should all be doing our very best to learn to communicate better and more efficiently, not only with partners but with friends, colleagues and the world in general. Here’s the thing though, we don’t. Lots of people, myself included, have not always been, or are currently not very good at communicating our thoughts. Especially if those thoughts are about a difficult subject matter.
Many of my past blog posts can be summarised by the sentence ‘Bakji and myself had a great time because we communicated well with each other’. I don’t for one minute think we’ve unearthed some unknown secret that other people are unaware of, but I do think we’ve made a conscious effort where many couples don’t. I once again include myself in this as previously terrible communicator.
I’m far from being a poly/non-monogamy expert, or a monogamy expert for that matter either. What I have noticed from personal experience and I touched upon this in my last post, is how certain situations can make it easier to neglect communication. Monogamy unfortunately seems to be one of those situations for many people. Within the safety of exclusivity and long term partnerships, I think it can be easy to become complacent about how much effort we need to put in. We take it for granted that our partner will be there no matter what, or we worry that speaking out we will cause them to leave. Alongside many other varying thoughts that are not conducive to encouraging good communication.
When you start inviting other people into your relationship, whether that is in romantic terms or purely in sexual terms, the wiggle room you have for getting communication wrong diminishes greatly. Not only do you have another person’s or people’s feelings to consider, you also have to consider your feelings towards them, and you will be engaging in activities that invite all sorts of feelings and thoughts into your mind, that do not seem as relevant within a monogamous relationship.
As an example, let’s tackle the big one that is the go to feeling people ask about when you say you’re in some form of non-monogamous relationship, jealousy. Yep the big, horrible J word. Plenty of monogamous people identify as jealous. Jealousy is a huge cause of arguments within many relationships. It is really common for someone to say ‘I could never be non-monogamous I am such a jealous person.’ One of the really useful things I learnt when perusing polyamorous resources is re-framing the feeling of jealousy. You are not a jealous person, you are a person who feels jealousy. It is not a defining characteristic, it is a feeling that highlights other issues.
When you are monogamous it’s easy to just be jealous, to put restrictions on the person or action making you feel jealous, and because of the implicit agreements that monogamy is often accompanied by your partner is likely to agree. We all know someone who has had an opposite gendered friend, but their partner got jealous and the friendship was deemed inappropriate. Whether anything was happening or not is more often than not irrelevant, the feeling of jealousy is enough to shut it down for good.
In non-monogamy/polyamory, you have agreed with your partner that other people will be a factor in your relationship. For people who are truly and genuinely committed to non-monogamy as part of their life turning round and saying ‘I’m jealous, this won’t work’ isn’t an option, because they want to work through that feeling and they want to find out what good things might come from the other people they invite into their life.
So what do we do when that happens? We talk. We talk a lot. We own our feelings, we don’t hide from them, we say them out loud in all their horrible and ugly glory and we deal with the deeper issues that are making us feel jealous.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been jealous since I’ve been with Bakji. It wasn’t pretty, it made me feel terrible and I was ashamed to admit how I felt. The reason I felt jealous? I was out of the loop, I didn’t know what was happening with his other interaction and it made me feel scared. This coincided with me realising just how deep my feelings for him were, and I didn’t want to confess that either. I felt lost in a limbo where all the feelings I had were perceived by me as awful and I was convinced that if I spoke them out loud I would definitely lose him, not only as an intimate partner but as a friend. So I kept quiet, and it never got better. That dynamic ended before I worked up the nerve to confront my feelings with Bakji, but what I learnt from that experience was invaluable.
For a long while I didn’t get to put those lessons into practice because neither Bakji or I were playing with anyone else, and it was actually kind of nice, it gave us time to explore each other in new ways and deeper ways, and we didn’t have the additional complications of other relationships to add to the mix. Monogamy in the long run has never been an option for us though, so when we came to exploring with others again I knew for sure I needed to do it better this time.
I took a deep breath, braced myself for an implosion of awful conversation and just started talking. I asked question, I gave opinions, I said what would be too much for me, and what would be super hot. I said what people had caught my eye, and pointed out when I thought someone had caught his eye and we were honest about wanting to get sexy with other people and it all became so much easier to process. The talking, the honesty, the relief in knowing you can open up and it be okay, goes a long way to making you feel better about the worries you might have and especially when the worries you have can increase tenfold when you know your partner will be going on a date with someone else or fucking someone else. It can be awesome, but that doesn’t stop it being hard, and ignoring the shitty feelings doesn’t make it easier.
That is why anyone who has any type of non-monogamous relationship goes on and on and on about communication, because it isn’t enough to communicate once, you have to constantly be making sure you are both on the same page. Even from day to day our needs can change, and that’s okay, but it’s not fair to get mad with a partner for not considering those needs if they didn’t know you had them. This doesn’t mean clamping down on them having fun, it might mean checking in more regularly at a play party, it might mean extended aftercare, or extra cuddles. The things we need to make us feel safe and secure aren’t always big scary impediments to having a good time.
This is why non-monogamous and poly folk come back to communication, time and time again. If I could give anyone in a relationship, who was looking to improve their communication, one bit of advice it would be to read blogs and books geared towards polyamory. It’s true that a lot of the information won’t be relevant, so much of it will be though. As someone who was in a long term monogamous marriage for 10 years, and for the most part I would say that was a good and wonderful relationship, I wish I’d had the tools available to me now, back then. There is so much I could have applied to that relationship from non-monogamous resources.
In a nutshell I, and I think most non-monogamous folk, don’t think we are superheroes for figuring this communication malarkey out, but without it our relationships are not only doomed, but the feelings we will end up having to deal with are hideous. I feel like this is case in monogamous relationships too, but for some insane reason we seem to be taught that it’s okay to just put up with those feelings, and that keeping things from our partner is somehow better, because heaven forbid we upset the apple cart.
Seriously take the apple cart, tip it over, throw the apples away and buy strawberries instead. Say the scary stuff, be terrified, hold your breath as you await their response, cry with relief when they say it’s all okay. Then hug each other, love each and fuck each other to celebrate coming through it as a team. If for some reason you lose someone because your honesty wasn’t what they wanted to hear, then I’m pretty sure their apple cart wasn’t worth the effort to keep tidy and in order anyway.