Communication

We Need To Talk

As mentioned on the Benefits page, poly people talk about everything and are in tune with their partners inner worlds. This means that when they are loved they are truly loved for who they are rather than who they seem to be on the surface. This is the essence of intimacy in a truly poly relationship.

In contrast, mono people are less likely to openly communicate their deepest feelings and desires because they are connected to natural non-monogamous instincts that must be repressed in order to keep the relationship intact. Somewhat ironically this strategy for preserving the relationship can result in a complete relationship breakdown.

Consider the case of Bob and Lisa. By not being aware of what's going on each others hearts and minds, over time Lisa's husband became someone she really didn't know. Note that the names have been changed to protect privacy, but the story itself is real.

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Bob's Briefcase

I know of this story because my former life-partner Patricia was a master stylist and colorist who had been in the beauty industry for all of her adult life, and something I came to appreciate over the length of our relationship is that hairdressers are often as important to their clients as their therapists and closest friends. In fact, sometimes people confide things to their hairdresser that they'd otherwise keep entirely to themselves, and Lisa happened to be one of Pat's long-time clients.

One day Lisa came into the salon for her appointment and things seemed to be going fine, when all of a sudden she crumpled in her chair and began sobbing uncontrollably. Patricia came immediately to the rescue, and as she investigated the cause of Lisa's breakdown, the story came out about her husband's infidelity. However this wasn't just a simple affair and the way Lisa found out underscores the value of open and honest communication in a very dramatic way.

Lisa and Bob had decided to have dinner out to celebrate their anniversary, and had pulled into the restaurant parking lot. Bob's jacket was in the back seat, so when they got out of the car he opened the back door to fetch his jacket. By then Lisa was on her way around to Bob's side of the car.

Bob reached into the back seat to retrieve his jacket, which was with his briefcase, and somehow his briefcase got caught on his jacket. The briefcase fell out onto the pavement where it cracked open, spilling a bunch of papers onto the ground. As Lisa stepped in to help pick up the papers, she noticed the image of a woman on one of the pages. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be an online dating profile.

As the situation unfolded it turned out that Bob's briefcase contained numerous profiles of women with whom he had been in contact with, some of whom he had met in-person on more than one occasion over the course of a couple of years.

After finding out that her husband had a whole other secret romantic life, Lisa was completely devastated. But it also turned out that Lisa wasn't the only one who was unaware of Bob's briefcase. The other women he'd been in contact with were equally oblivious to each other.

Obviously there are some serious ethical problems associated with the story of Bob's Briefcase, and virtually all of them appear to stem from a lack of open and honest communication. In contrast, this type of thing would never happen in a truly poly relationship.

Now, social scientists embarking on brand-new research into these types of relationships are finding that they may challenge the ways we think of jealousy, commitment and love. They may even change monogamy for the better. "People in these relationships really communicate. They communicate to death," said Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont. - Scientific American
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Direct Communication

The intent of direct communication is to tell it like it is without innuendo or allusions that imply something unsaid is what is meant. Words are taken at face value, hopefully within the context they are intended. Because of our personal biases, that is sometimes easier said than done, but it's still the essence of direct communicating.

For example if one partner would like to go out for dinner, they should simply say, "Honey I'd like to go out for dinner", and their partner shouldn't interpret that as a slam against their ability to cook unless it has already been firmly established that their ability to cook is the main motivation.

When communicating directly, it is important for the listener to understand that direct communication is taking place so that they don't start making assumptions that have nothing to do with the message that's intended. So don't be afraid to inform your conversation partner about direct communication.

Over time when partners become familiar with the nuances of the way they communicate, then indirect communication and suggestion are more safe to use, and can even provide some comic relief if it is done respectfully. But when things get serious, it's better not to make assumptions or treat things too lightly or it might be taken as a sign of disrespect or a lack of caring.

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Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is the listener's role in Direct Communication. It involves listening to what is said, taking it at face value, then responding by telling the person who did the talking what they ( the listener ) thought was said and what they think it means. This technique helps immensely in avoiding misinterpretation because people are prone to running what's said through their personal bias filters, and sometimes what comes out the other side is nothing like what the speaker intended.

One example that almost never fails of how people run what's said through their personal bias filters and turn it into a negative assumption about themselves or the speaker is when someone brings up the subject of pets, and it's pointed out that pet ownership presents an ethical dilemma for some people because it seems socially irresponsible to provide food, shelter, and medical care for animals when so many people in the world are dying of a lack of those essentials.

In only two cases among dozens of instances I've been privy to has anyone ever not taken it personally. Such is the effect of people's bias filters when the subject matter is of a highly emotional nature that in some way might be connected to their own situation. Because poly people are notorious for digging into exactly these sorts of subjects, direct communication and reflective listening can be very helpful in avoiding miscommunication.

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Summary

Poly people have the right idea when it comes to communication, but without reflective listening and direct communication skills they're actually more vulnerable than most people to miscommunication. That's because poly people communicate more often about more touchy subjects, so there are more opportunities for things to go wrong, and when they do, it's more challenging to get the discussion back on track.

On the other hand, mono people tend to avoid communicating altogether about subjects that conflict with their mono lifestyle, and that presents a whole other set of problems. So both lifestyles have their own set of challenges. Either way, the communication skills outlined here might be able to help.