I got an interesting letter from a reader who was concerned about a forthcoming Heavy Discussion with their own Poly Group. There was nervousness. There was concern. There was a desire to Get It Right.
Ya know, knowing how to have a Heavy Emotional Discussion is an important skill in any relationship. I mean, when you’re dealing with relationships, you’re dealing with people you love. You’re dealing with your own deepest vulnerabilities. And since ya know, there’s that love thing going on, you want to make sure that you’re communicating openly and honestly without being a dick.
In thinking about it, I did come up with some things that should be helpful:1
In theory, you all love each other, yes? Don’t lose sight of that. Even bring up your desire to make sure that everyone keeps that in mind as you have your discussions. Yes , yes, yes people who love each other sometimes have conflict. That’s just part of being human. But if everyone is willing to act out of love, it really helps. If they’re not, you might have some thinking to do. While people who love each other do screw up and hurt each other from time to time (goes with being human), there’s a tipping point where it ain’t about love any more. Let your intimate relationships be about love.
I am in favor of limiting the scope of discussions when it’s something formally planned. It’s not that digging doesn’t sometimes find issues you didn’t realize were there. It can happen! But it can also happen that people can let discussions go on long after they are no longer being productive. If it doesn’t involve blood or fire, decisions do not have to be made hungry or sleep deprived. Do not be urgent about matters that do not require urgency. The occasional all-night session can bring insights and that’s awesome. But they’re not so awesome when you need some damned sleep because you have work the next day. They’re even less awesome when they cease to be very occasional.
Know your personal boundaries as best you can going in. Know as best you can where you are coming from. If you think boundaries are about how you get other people to behave the way you want, read the Boundaries article. Yeah, it’s five years old. It’s also a really core concept to being able to conduct good relationships in the first place.
Think carefully about what it is you want to bring up. Then think some more. Think about the essence of what it is that makes it an issue for you. Sometimes the surface stuff isn’t really the problem, but a deeper principle. Do your very best to know what it is going in.
Be willing to listen. This isn’t All About You. Group relationships require more than one person. Yes, you have issues. Are you willing to listen to the others’ issues? Are you willing to respond and think about them? If not, what in hell are you doing in that relationship?
If this is going to be a group discussion that’s planned in advance, ask everyone if they want to agree to the principles in Edward Martin III’s most excellent essay On Civilized Discourse. They may not want to, and that’s not evil or anything, but it might help a lot – a whole lot.
If you need to think about something before giving an answer, give yourself a finite time to do it rather than letting the “think about it” be a passive-aggressive attempt to get your own way through non-answer.
On the flip side, a week or two to think about something is reasonable. Don’t push other people to make decisions that don’t involve blood or fire hastily. Sure, that pushing for a quick answer thing is a great manipulation technique. But you love these people, yes?
And that’s the core of it. You love these people, yes?2
1Every single one is based on a personal mistake I’ve learned from.
2I recognize that not everyone in a poly group necessarily loves all the others. That’s okay, but at least go for mutual goodwill, ‘kay? If you can’t pull that out of your hat, then you really do have some pretty hard-core thinking to do about your life and relationships.