Like many of you, I am a great believer in the power of communication. That’s not to say I find it easy, or have mastered the courage it often takes, but I do believe, especially when it comes to relationships and especially when it comes to polyamory, that honest conversation can save everyone many headaches. But as with everything in life, it’s not that simple. There are as many nuances to communication as there are to relationships themselves, and knowing what to communicate and when is no easy task.
Two years ago I was in a (very) long-distance relationship with one of the filthiest perverts I have ever known. At the time I was monogamous (in name at least) and he wasn’t. Although, in the end, I think it was the distance that broke us up, this discrepancy between his relationship model and mine didn’t help. So later, when things had changed and I started writing for Life on the Swingset, I dropped him a message, and he smiled with proud nostalgia and through the course of our conversation he gave me one very solid piece of advice about communication: do not triangulate relationship problems. For instance, if I am having problems with partner A, I should not take them or bitch about them to partner B. This advice has stood me in good stead, and when the course of love is running a little less smoothly, it is his wise voice I hear in my head, reminding me to employ some diplomacy in my communication. It is never a good idea to drag more people than necessary into my relationship problems, and that is even truer when I am talking about people in whom I already have a vested emotional interest. Furthermore there is always a danger that in sharing problems in this way, I may be pitting paramours against one another, inciting unfavourable judgements. On the whole I would say this is one case where a problem shared probably isn’t a problem halved.
At the same time, depending on the possible enormity of the problems I am facing with partner A, I may owe partner B some explanation for why I am being so moany/bitchy/grumpy/weepy. It then becomes a matter of the ways in which I can communicate those problems. Sometimes a brief “partner A and I had a fight”might be enough to explain my demeanour and keep partner B in the loop. In other cases, say if the fight I had with partner A had something to do with partner B, things may be a little more difficult to navigate. The fact that the argument was about partner B does not necessarily mean that partner B is implicitly involved in the argument; however, not sharing a little more detail may just mean building up to a much bigger problem later. On the other hand, sharing too much detail may make matters worse. In these cases I think rules have to go out the window, and informed judgement seems like the only way.
Another thing that I find complicates the matter of triangulation, is that when I am facing any kind of problem, like many people I confide in my friends; I seek advice and support from the people I love. This seems to create a little grey area, especially when one of my best friends is sort of my partner, and her partner is my partner…it gets complicated. But even without the complicated relationship web I enjoy, it stands to reason that many of us are in relationships with people we consider to be friends; and sometimes, when things aren’t going well, it takes some strength not to reach out to those friends for that much needed advice and support. I know that in the end I have to do what is best for my relationships and my friendships, and often that means finding a different friend with whom to talk, but it is a little difficulty that adds to the various nuances of this discussion.
Moving on from triangulation to communication about paramours in general, one of the things I find hardest to judge is how much to share. When it comes my sex life, as a writer and especially a twitter addict, I am very open. I don’t tell all, because I often enjoy suggestion above explicit description, but I am by no means prudish about sharing photos of my bruises or my rosy, post-orgasmic cheeks. However, one of my partners is quite private about his sex life, whilst my other partners are most definitely not. On the other hand, there are some voyeuristic tendencies on both sides, and judging not only what is appropriate to share, but also what might be happily heard is another kind of difficulty. There are things that I feel are just too intimate and often defy explanation. These are the things I do not share with anyone, allowing them to exist purely in the moment. I feel, and hope others feel, that this shows some respect for each individual relationship. However, when it comes to the literal, physical actions, I have fewer qualms about sharing or even, perhaps, making them public. I am not afraid to tell – nay, show! – twitter that I have misery stick marks on my thighs, or that I have been delightfully fucked. Additionally, one of my partners often feels a slight pang of jealousy from time to time, and I know telling him what I’ve been up to in a particular light, can turn those less happy feelings into lust. But it can still be tricky to know what to share and how to share it without compromising or belittling the things I have enjoyed with my other partners. For me, what I do with one partner cannot be for another partner’s sexual enjoyment. (Although I can imagine very specific scenarios where that could be possible.) However, sometimes a little glimpse and the right turn of phrase can achieve both.
But sex is by no means the most poignant catalyst of my own internal turmoil. Where communication and particularly knowing what to share becomes most complicated is in the case of my partners’personal matters. It can be difficult to hold in my mind that as close as I am to all the people I love, they are by no means that close to each other, and it is not my place to divulge personal information about one partner, to another. However, when something happens to one of my partners, and it affects me deeply, I also feel it my duty to explain not what is happening to my partner, but what is happening to me. On occasion this means sharing some detail in order to illustrate what I am going through. This is where speaking from myself becomes most important. This is where communication has to be very directed; where I make it as clear as possible that I am not here to share gossip, but instead here to ask for support.
I still hold firmly to the belief that communication is key to making any relationship work. But communicating is not just about sharing everything. It is about being diplomatic, about understanding the point from which and the reason I am speaking. And whilst it may often be for myself and my own peace of mind that I strive to be a good communicator, it also serves me well to remember that everyone deserves their own consideration.