For the past few months I’ve been posting on a social media platform where people ask questions about different things. I’ve been particularly active about my journey through a faith crisis and on another part of the platform about some alternative sexual lifestyles. The main advice I’ve been giving people experiencing either of these, is to have good communication with the people who matter. Watching what is going on politically at this point in time, I’m more convinced than ever that good communication is needed in all relationships, whether between two people, between two business organizations or two political parties.
I will write about two people but the concepts would apply to the other situations. Also a polyamorous triad would need to do similar things with each pair (that’s three groups of two) but could perhaps do all at the same time if they are good communicators.
What I see as necessary for two people is they share with each other their hopes, desires, and fears. They then decide on boundaries to protect those feelings. They can then develop rules to protect the boundaries. I think of the boundaries like property lines. They are abstract but very real. They are difficult to see. The rules are like fences. The fence may be on the property line or just near it to keep things working. Fences can be moved if for some reason they aren’t keeping things on the correct side of the property line, but moving the property line takes nearly the same effort establishing it took. To change the rules of the relationship should be fairly easy when they aren’t protecting the boundaries, but changing boundaries because of new found feelings or because they aren’t working should take a similar discussion as establishing the boundary.
I use the following example, as I’ve heard a few people discuss these rules but never why they have them. Think of a heterosexual couple that are thinking of an open relationship. The male is concerned about the safety of the woman as she meets other guys. I don’t care how well he feels he knows her other men, he is still going to be concerned. So they come up with a rule of her never staying over night. It turns out that there are times this really makes her time with the other guys too difficult to enjoy. They could try a different rule of her texting that all is well at certain times. There are probably many other ways to deal with protecting this boundary of not letting him worry too much.
So how do we establish these boundaries and rules? The most important tool, in my opinion, is communication. The two have to be able to openly express what they want out of the relationship. They have to show each other respect so they can share some things that are very personal. I grew up thinking intimate meant sexual. I have since learned that a person can be committing a rape that involves sexual activities but is not intimate. Intimate means private, personal, familiar, close. When used as a noun it means a close friend. Rape would be none of these things. A successful personal relationship needs to have the respect and caring so the two people can become intimate.
Our culture doesn’t really teach people to communicate well about such topics. It seems our government leaders can’t even communicate about how to secure the borders but instead show disrespect by telling lies about what is going on. I don’t mean the political moves of spinning a situation, I mean total falsehoods, lies. For any of the relationships I mentioned earlier to work, takes respect. If the people feel respected they can be honest about feelings that they would only share with an intimate friend. The two people must share their hopes for the relationship, they must share their desires, and they must share their fears.
If the two honestly and clearly share these then the other can come to understand what boundaries are needed to protect and encourage those feelings. Boundaries don’t take much negotiation, they take understanding and communication. Rules then are negotiated to protect those boundaries.
The only expectations should be that the communication should take place in a respectful, honest, and open way. Everything else should come from the process and will be somewhat unique to every pair.
Another problem I see with our culture is the expectation of monogamy. Couples don’t learn to communicate about what they want out of life. They learn to expect certain things. When monogamy is expected, they don’t have to work at making the relationship happy, only tolerable. Many who live in non-monogamous relationships know they have to put effort into making things work as they have an idea of what they want. Many monogamists just do what they think is expected. Eventually they rebel against these expectations with results that are seldom good for the relationship. I don’t know if it is human nature or just those I’ve come to know well enough to have them share these feeling with me, but many people put a lot of effort into doing things other than what is expected of them. If couples were monogamous because that is what they find works best to protect their mutually discovered boundaries, then it would be a far more successful model of a way to live a happy life. If people just worked out what lifestyle they will live as a couple, then people would be prepared for what it takes to make non-monogamy work as well.
So I think communication is the key to make any relationship work. I see the expectations of our culture as making communication seem unnecessary and weakening relationships. The goals need to shift to teaching that we treat others with respect by dealing with them honestly. All people are in many relationships. It is up to each person to decide how many of those include sex, and they need to communicate that decision to anyone else they decide to have a sexual relationship with.