Category Archives: Communication

Polya Relationship Expectations: Nothing for Granted

Updated version of a previously published article on Postmodern Woman.

Up front and honest. Heard and understood. Let’s both (all) be right. No either-or thinking. Surface vs. Substance. No expectations. Humanity (individuality) first. No defaults.
In all things, my values came (and still come) first. I didn’t grow up with stability or honesty or respect. More often than not I was the wall at which everyone decided to throw their shit. I grew up seeing humanity’s worst. Yet, instead of giving into it, instead of becoming a statistic, I chose another path. I’m addicted to discovering new things. If I don’t consider at least five different perspectives on something before settling on the most rational one then I haven’t done my job. As the world fell apart into nonsense around me I sought knowledge about anything and everything. I incorporated that knowledge into my writing, into my books. I’m especially partial to philosophy and the way that brains and minds work.
Being on the outside of the world’s typical human experiences allowed me to come to certain conclusions more quickly. I was (and am) living proof of an extreme intersection of categories that shouldn’t even seem possible to most. Much of the world can’t conceive of a person like me existing, rendering me effectively invisible by default. People tend to search for the familiar. This phenomenon does serve to leave me alone more often than not. I learned to love my own company very early on.
These experiences made it easier for me to put my values into practice; they made it easier to clearly define what was truly important to me. They allowed me to see through the layers of bullshit societies build up around things like family, romance, sex, education, and so much more. I literally cannot take anything for granted. There are no defaults in my life save change (and perhaps pain, if my physical ailments are any indication). My bedrock has always been a shifting, amorphous blob. So I learned to dance. Buddhists meditate for years to learn how to remain unattached from outcomes, people, and things. People try for years to be comfortable being alone (being single). People hurt one another so much before they realize that you must treat people as people.
Many polya people (or people in general) have disastrous relationships because they are embedded into common cultural narratives that separate human beings into categories. Most of us grow up learning to see people by their attributes first. Using those categorical lenses serves to help us miss one another on a most basic level. I couldn’t understand why labels were so important to others, why people built tribes along arbitrary lines, why they couldn’t conceive of a person being both or neither instead of always either-or, why they only extended logic bit by bit to each facet of their life instead of universally.
It’s because I’m such a weirdo. Most people don’t experience the world like I do. I have several forms of synesthesia, I’m left-handed, an atheist, Aspie, and noetisexual. I’m many other very queer things that are normally listed on the fringes of every scale. I cannot afford to take anything for granted. I can’t rely on heuristics to run my life. I don’t have defaults to fall back on to build the illusion of safety around me.
Going back to that list at the beginning, those are my only “rules” for dealing with reality. How much heartache would be avoided if people dealt with humans first and foremost instead of labels? Most people don’t have that sort of focus, that self-awareness, that desire for autonomy and that willingness to see reality as it is. We learn to view ourselves as empty halves needing to be filled. We expect others to fix us. We open ourselves up to abuse because we don’t even see ourselves as human first. There’s a reason people learn to dehumanize the enemy. You can do anything to a non-human. The more human someone becomes, the less likely you are to want to hurt them.
I find a lot of people tend to run aw`ay from me. I’m much too honest, and perhaps too serious, from the start. I value my time and others’. Because there are so many things about me that I know many might have issues with I’ve taken the up front and honest route. I’d rather have people in my life that truly want to be there than to take their time and have them feel I’d tricked them later. I have no expectations for how things need to shape up. Knowing what others expect allows us to discover what actually works, even if that means saying goodbye. I don’t dump everything on a person at the first meeting, obviously, unless it naturally comes up. But I do make certain to state my intentions and to inform them I’m not anything close to normal as soon as possible. Informed decision-making all around!
The purpose of heard and understood is to communicate diametrically-opposed ideas without devolving into an argument. My longest-term partner (and my deceased partner) and I have never yelled at one another. I can count on my fingers the number of times that I’ve yelled at him (and I can be a very, very, angry person). We keep in mind that the goal of communication is to understand one another. And even if we don’t agree, we search for a “let’s both be right” solution. That goes right along with the “no either-or thinking”. It’s not us against each other; it’s us both searching for the truth. Meaning, if we come to an impasse about something we go out and do our research before making our own decisions. Heard and understood also works well for sharing thoughts that may be difficult to hear, fears that could eat us alive, and experiences we’d rather forget. We’ve learned things about each other people don’t even write down in their diaries. It may be that most people are fine knowing much less about their significant others but my partner(s) and I do tend to be a bit nosy. And our trust was (and is) built gradually and actively.
Having no expectations requires you to be active and vigilant when dealing with other people (or ideas and other things). For instance, the ideas of romance and marriage were always suspect to me. I see people as individuals; couples (or other configurations) don’t matter to me. I’m a person first and foremost; my relationship configurations aren’t relevant to how I define myself or how I feel about myself. Knowing the history of marriage, I never saw a reason to tie the knot. I thought it was odd that two people being in love was such a big deal that it needed to be flaunted in public and then shared with friends and family with a ceremony.
I knew it was mathematically impossible for “the one” to exist. I knew that “safety and security” were illusions. I knew that love didn’t mean availability, longevity, stability, or compatibility. I knew that most people are hurt by their own expectations rather than by others’ actions. I knew that most people will naturally leave your life; that everyone is walking along their own unique paths and, though your lives might entwine for a while, inevitably you are the only one following your path to completion.
I know that every second, every breath, every step is a moment full of awe and worship of life. I know that substance (reality) trumps surface (illusion). I know that endless possibilities echo in every moment. I know that life is short. I know I’ll spend mine in appreciation, wonder, and awareness. I take nothing for granted. I never get comfortable (which he always playfully complains about). I never default. There’s so much to learn and see, after all.

When Communication is a Bad Thing

I’m amused by the first line of this post. I’ve realized over the years that actually, 90% of what I do is give relationship advice. It’s just a broader variety of relationship advice than you’ll find in books and blogs that are focused on ‘fixing’ relationships or how to have a healthy relationship. Major change here is I originally talked about “good communication” and “bad communication”. I’ve changed that because communication is sharing information and ideas. Not all types of talking (or writing, or signaling) are communication. Sometimes telling someone something is just nagging. Sometimes it’s abuse. Sometimes it’s venting. And those things aren’t ‘bad’ communication. They plain aren’t communication. (Okay, sometimes venting can also be communication. Grey areas. They are a thing.) This is also the first post where I am using “connection” in place of a generic “partner”. Revised 2/20/17

I am straying dangerously close to relationship advice today, but what the hell.

Yes, I said it. I said it and I will stand by it. Communication is not always a good thing.

As heretical as it can sound, too much communication can be a bad thing. Or maybe it is better to say telling someone how you feel is not always communication.

Today, I read a post on Sex Geek by Andrea Zanin, about the 10 rules of non-monogamy. Overall, I think they are great rules. But this line:

Is there something on your mind that you don’t want to tell your partner? MAJOR warning bell… this is almost a guarantee that you should be telling them!

kinda jumped out at me.

Things I Don’t Want to Tell my Partner

I am sick today. Stuffed nose, sore throat, exhausted, and generally feeling like shit. My partner is disabled. He needs me to fix his meals, and help out with a lot of the day-to-day stuff that he ’should’ be able to do himself, but often can’t.

There are things that have been on my mind all day that I do not want to tell my partner. I do not want to tell him that I am sick of being the one who does everything. I do not want to tell him that he can take care of himself today because I’m done doing it. I do not want to tell him that I am sick and he can just suck it up. (Believe me when I say that if he could take care of himself on his own, he would, if only because he is a better cook than I am!)

I feel these things, I think them. But I do not want to say them to him. I’m pretty sure that Andrea would agree with me that this time, not wanting to say these things that are on my mind is a not major warning bell. Why? Because it is one thing to sit down calmly with my partner, discuss of my frustrations with his disability, and what, if anything, can be done to make things easier. (Which we have done. He is well aware of how frustrated I am and has taken the time, spontaneously, today, to tell me that it is okay if I can’t do everything, just do my best – throwing my own words back in my face :D)

It is another thing entirely for me to say these things that are on my mind, which would be very hurtful to him, would not provide any information he doesn’t already have, and that I am really only thinking because I am sick and miserable myself.

So When Is Talking NOT Communication?

What are some other times when telling someone how you feel isn’t a good thing? How about when you are crossing the line between communication and nagging/haranguing.

Say you don’t like your connection’s new girlfriend. It is important and good communication, to say ‘I really don’t like her, and this is why.’ But if every time they have a date with her you say, ‘I wish you would stop dating her, you know I don’t like her’. . .

Not so good. If their dating her is getting to you that much, then it may be time to have a long sit-down discussion to sort out how to handle the situation. But that kind of discussion is very different from making resentful comments as they are heading out for a date.

Similarly, it’s fine to say ‘I wish you weren’t going out tonight, but I hope you have a good time.’ or even (sometimes) ‘I really need you to stay home tonight, is it possible for you to reschedule?’

Txting every 15 minutes to say that you miss them and when are they going to be home is definitely not communicating anything. Except that you don’t respect their time with their other connection. And it’s guaranteed to cause resentment and problems.

So, what is the difference between communication and telling someone how you feel in an unhealthy way? I’d say that communication is when you are in control of and expressing your feelings to tell someone what they need to or should know. Bad communication is when your feelings are in control of you and expressing themselves in a way that is hurtful and shares no new information. Often in ways that are either aggressive, passive-aggressive, or just plain inconsiderate. (Yes, there is a gray area between the two. No such thing as human binaries-even, or perhaps especially-in how we communicate.)

It’s Okay to Be Human

I don’t know about you, personally, I am not a Zen master or any other form of super-evolved being. There are times when my emotions are in control when I am that stressed, that angry, that tired, and I say things I probably shouldn’t. It happens. But when it happens, I recognize it as harmful, something that shouldn’t have been said and I try to keep it from happening again.

Time to Talk about Linking

As some of you know, I’ve teamed up with Michon Neal of PostModern Woman to start an online conference—Accessible Multi-linking and Polyamory. As part of putting this conference together, we coined new terminology for referring to having intimate connections with multiple people.

Multi-linking—(n)
from multi (many) + linking (connecting, relating)
the personal quality or practice of co-creating or wanting to co-create intimate connections with multiple people. Connections may be romantic, aromantic, sexual, asexual, platonic, kinky, or take other forms of intimacy. Connections can last a few hours or a lifetime. The nature of connections are determined only by the individuals who are connected.
“I prefer multi-linking to monogamy. I like to have lots of different relationships and intimacies.”

Multi-link—(v) to intimately connect with multiple people. Connections may be romantic, aromantic, sexual, asexual, platonic, kinky, or take other forms of intimacy. Connections can last a few hours or a lifetime. The number and nature of connections are determined only by the individuals who are connected.
“I multi-link. Right now I’m partners with Dan, nesting with Gloria and sub to Jesse. There are also several people I don’t have defined links with, but who are part of my chosen family.”

Link—(n) an intimate connection with another person. Connections may be romantic, aromantic, sexual, asexual, platonic, kinky, or take other forms of intimacy. Connections can last a few hours or a lifetime. The number and nature of connections are determined only by the individuals who are connected.
“I prefer having one stable long term link and lots of fun and exciting short term links. My friend Jen wants to find several people to link with for long term.”

Mutli-linking—(adj) of or relating to multi-linking (n).
“Our multi-linking Facebook group is usually pretty active.”

I’ve avoided using multi-linking and link on this blog partly because A) this is still a polyamory blog and B) introducing new terminology always causes confusion and I didn’t want to do that when I didn’t have the spoons to keep up with the blog.

But I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated with the assumptions built into using “relationship” and “partner”. So I’m making the break. This blog will start using “link” for an intimate connection with another person and “connection” for the person you are connected with.

I am linked with Michael. Michael is my connection. Our link has lasted nearly 8 years. (Wow, it’s really been that long already…) I am also linked with Candi and Michon. Polyamory is my preferred form of multi-linking.

For the next few weeks I’ll be linking (the internet version 😉 ) back to this page when I use ‘link’ or ‘connection’ in a post. Hopefully this will smooth the transition and reduce the confusion.

​Clarify Your Silence In the Name of Love by Michon Neal

Updated version. Previously appeared on Postmodern Woman.
Are you one of those people who hates awkward silences? Do you feel like you have to fill in the quiet with something, anything? Have you ever dated or talked with someone who went silent and assumed they were bored, angry, or shutting you out?

My longest term partner felt like that a lot. He still isn’t very comfortable with silence. And he couldn’t stand it whenever I would go quiet, or when I wouldn’t respond, or when I’d simply sit on my own without making conversation.
There has been a lot of talk going around about how silence is a form of violence. And this makes a lot of sense. After all, we all grow up with the messages that to be shunned (usually depicted by people literally turning their back on a character) is awful and that the silent treatment is a go-to move (especially for women). And we’ve all had that person drop out of our lives without even a parting word.

Silence has become the enemy.

But this is missing the ‘words’ for the trees.

    There are two types of relational silence — one that serves the connection, one that damages it. In the first, silence comes with the qualifier “I need some quiet time to reflect”, which is healthy and respectful to the connection. In the second, silence comes with no qualifier and others are left to wonder what is actually happening. In this case, silence is actually violence — a passive aggressive attempt to cause suffering, or, at the least, a negligent self-absorption that makes things worse. Given that so many of us grew up with the silent treatment, it is essential that we let others know what is happening when we go quiet. It is respectful and it keeps the love alive. Even something like “Time out!” can be enough to keep silence from turning into violence. (~an excerpt from ‘Love it Forward’)

For those of us who are introverted, who value our independence and individuality, who are autistic, who are empaths, who have been abused, who are creative (especially writers), who meditate or think a lot, or who are simply naturally quiet it is our default state.

For us, silence means many things:

  • It may mean we’ve been hurt.
  • It may mean we’ve been ignored.
  • It may mean we recharge with silence.
  • It may be that we’re just one of those who revel in it.

When people constantly talk over you, when you’ve been belittled or abused, when you think before you speak, when you recharge by focusing inward, when you need to focus it is by being silent if you are a person who is quiet.

Yet for those who don’t understand this sort of silence things can go terribly wrong. People have their feelings hurt. They don’t understand what went wrong. Like the quote above says: there are two kinds of silence. How are you to tell the difference? How can these types of people come to a healthy understanding?

Well, each one has a job to do.

The onus lies on the quiet person to speak up about their need for silence. Tell your partners what duration works best for you. Tell them if they’ve triggered you. If you’ve shut down then tell them why at the soonest possible moment or warn them that it’s coming. Tell them you need time to think about your reply. Tell them you enjoy having them near because being in the same space is a way to share yourself.

For the not-quiet person here are things to try: listen (quietly) while they speak. If you’re the type to interrupt or if you’re thinking about what to say next then work on that. You need to give them the space to open up in their own time. Instead of assuming they’ve shut down or shut you out, ask if they’re thinking or need time. If you find it hard to sit without talking then play some music.
Because for the empath, autistic, or the introvert it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Think about it as a smell. At first the scent is light and pleasant. But as the day wears on, the scent grows stronger and stronger, until you can barely concentrate on anything else. Even if you love the smell (say it’s your favorite perfume) you definitely feel uncomfortable when it’s caked on too much.

So the next time you find yourself panicking when your partner takes a breath that lasts three seconds (even if it seems like an eternity) or if you panic because only three seconds have passed before you’re being asked another question (they’re not trying to bombard you) please keep in mind that everyone is different. Remember that you must speak up so that they know your experience. Remember that you must listen so that you don’t miss anything. Remember that there are as many kinds of silence as there are people.

It is not something to fear. It is something to embrace. Because even if the silence is intentionally meant to hurt you, I can guarantee it still has nothing to do with you. And either way, you have to learn to deal with it. Let it go. Let it be.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: Avoid the Drama Triangle

Standard poly advice: The drama triangle is bad.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the drama triangle goes like this:

Ashely, Brenda and Charlene are part of the same polycule. Charlene does something that upsets Brenda.

Brenda to Ashley: Charlene did x and I’m so upset!
Ashley to Charlene: Brenda is really upset because you did xy. I think that was inappropriate and…
Charlene to Ashley: WTf! I didn’t to y!
Charlene to Brenda: Why did you tell Ashley I did y! I didn’t do y and now Ashley is mad at me because of something you said!
Brenda to Ashley: Why did you Charlene I’m upset about y? Charlene did x. Why do you have to go causing trouble?

And round and round it goes.

This is an extreme example. The drama triangle may not seem very drama-filled at first. And it is rarely intentional. Brenda wanted a shoulder to cry on, she didn’t want Ashley to fix things. Ashley wasn’t trying to make problems, she was trying to help. If miscommunication hadn’t happened, Ashley may have helped, right?

Maybe in the short term. In the long term, the drama triangle undermines honest communication. It also sets up an unhealthy dynamic of Ashley ’rescuing’ Brenda from Charlene. Sooner or later the whole polycule blows up.

Which is why standard poly advice is, just don’t fucking do this.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: When Mental Illness prevents one of your partners from communicating, it is sometimes okay to step in.

Last night, my partner Michael hit a mental infinite loop. Something C did upset him, and he needed time to process. But he and C has plans to spend time together. Ever see a computer given circular directions that it cannot complete? That’s what Michael’s brain did.

Need time before I talk with C about this.
Supposed to spend time with C tonight.
If I tell C I need space, I will be cancelling our date night.
I cannot cancel our date night without telling her why.
Need time before I talk with C about this.

Eventually, he managed to break the loop and talk with C. If he hadn’t, he would have stood her up because his brain broke.

If he hadn’t broken out, there was a simple solution. I could step in and let C know what is going on. In fact, when Michael hit that mental loop, I tagged C on Skype and had just started explaining when he managed to break out of it. As soon as I realized he’d broken out of the loop and was talking with C, I stepped back and let them hash it out.

I was telling C about Michael needing to cancel their date because he was upset with her. The drama potential in that just kind of screams at you, doesn’t it?

But when Michael literally can’t tell C what’s going on? Better C hears from me “Michael needs to reschedule your date night (additional details as necessary).” Going silent and leaving someone in the dark is (almost) always the worse option.

As a routine thing the drama triangle is a recipe for disaster. But sometimes it is that dreaded lesser of two evils. Use it only when necessary and cut the cycle as soon as possible.

As a side note, I just want to say that C is seriously awesome for putting up with both of our shit.

Telling a Date You Are Polyamorous

One of the major hassles of being poly is finding other poly folk to date. Some of us only date through local poly groups or online, where we can be sure our date is poly friendly. Some of us can be more comfortable diving into the local dating pool. But when you are dating someone you don’t already know is poly, or poly friendly, sooner or later you’re telling a date you are polyamorous and seeing how they react.

Bringing It Up Immediately

Ideally, honesty and respect require telling a potential date immediately. If they ask you:

Them: Hey, would you like to go out for dinner tomorrow?
You: Sure, I’d love to go out with you. Um…I should let you know, I’m polyamorous, I don’t do exclusive relationships.

They’ll either be cool with that or not. I suggest always adding some explanation of what polyamorous means. At this point, you don’t want to get bogged down in long explanations.

  • I don’t do exclusive relationships.
  • I have an SO, and we have an open relationship.
  • I’m dating two other people.
  • etc.

What you don’t want is to have them asking “Polyamorous, what’s that?” You can explain the details over dinner.

If you ask them, same deal.

You: Hey, would you like to go out for dinner tomorrow?
Them: Sure I’d love to go out with you.
You: Great! I should let you know, I’m polyamorous, I don’t do exclusive relationships.

Bringing It Up on the Date

Sometimes, you don’t want to or can’t say something immediately. Maybe you are still in the closet and they asked you at a company party. Or somewhere else in public. In that case, bring it up on the first date.

You: While we’re getting to know each other, I should tell you that I’m polyamorous. I’m (currently in/currently not in) other relationships, but I believe in being able to have multiple relationships and won’t be exclusive.

Waiting Until You Feel Safe

Some people live in areas where just up and saying “I’m poly” is not a good idea. If this is you, wait until you feel safe saying something, but do make sure you aren’t starting the relationship with dishonesty.

You: So we’re clear, I’m not ready to have an exclusive relationship after one date.

You: I like you, and I’d like to see you again, but I’m not ready to be in a committed relationship right now. Are you cool with that?*

When you are ready to say something, start with what you said on the first day: You know how I said that I wasn’t ready to be exclusive? Well, I need to tell you that I actually don’t do exclusive relationships. I’m polyamorous.

*I know, I know. But to monogamous folks “commitment” means exclusivity. Sometimes you gotta speak the other person’s language.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Your Polycule Isn’t Your Relationship Counselor

There is a reason marriage counseling is a thing. Sometimes you and your partner(s) need help understanding each other and working through problems. Mental illness can increase the (actual or perceived) lack of understanding as well as clashes of personality and/or communications styles.

Many people will turn to friends or family to help them sort through these things. I’ve ended up helping out this way fairly often, and I call it being a translator. It’s (usually) less sorting out problems and more
Me:What X is saying is 123. Is that something you can work with them on, Y?
Y: Why didn’t X just SAY that?!
X: I did, but you never listen!
Me: And this is why you need a translator. Getting back to the point, Y, can you work with X on this?

In poly relationships, it can be tempting to go to another member of your polycule to help you and one of your partners sort out these kinds of things. After all, if someone is going to help you, it needs to be someone you both trust, who you are comfortable talking with about very personal and private issues, and aren’t afraid to say potentially embarrassing things in front of. If you are trying come up with someone who both of you will be comfortable talking with, a member of your polycule will probably fit the bill better than most.

Bluntly: don’t do this to your poly partners. If they volunteer to step in, well…that’s on them. But don’t put it one them. In most cases, and especially when dealing with the irrationalities of mental illness, having a member of your polycule try to mediate is juggling a live bomb.

Assuming it is a situation where neither of you are in the wrong and really do just need a translator, the two of you in the disagreement may still feel that your loved one who is trying to mediate is, in fact, being biased or taking the said of one person over the other.

If it’s a situation where one of you is in the wrong, then your loved one actually needs to take sides on this issue, or it won’t get resolved. Especially when mental illness involved, this can lead to feelings of betrayal, abandonment, and a great deal more.

Finally, your loved one may not feel able to speak their mind freely because they don’t want to be perceived as taking sides or choosing one of you over the other.

It’s a shitty situation to stick someone you love in, and may make the whole mess worse instead of better. Just don’t do it. If you can’t afford a relationship counselor, consider reaching out to a community leader, peer counseling group, respected elder, or hell, this is one place where the anonymity of online can seriously work for you. Sometimes going on a forum together and saying, “Help, we’re having problems, is anyone willing to be a sounding board/suggest solutions,” can help.

This post is (sort of) part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory Etiquette: Informal Invitations

Last week we looked as best practices for addressing formal invitations to poly folk. This week we’re going to take a look at informal invitations.

There are lots of types of informal invites. Everything from calling someone up “Hey, you want to come over?” to sending an email to inviting someone to an event on Facebook. The big challenge of informal invitations is they tend to be vague. “Would you guys like to join us for dinner tonight?” is a very friendly invite, but it isn’t exactly specific.

For informal invites, we’re going to break this down into direct and indirect invitations.

Direct Invitations

A direct invitation is anytime you are saying to someone directly “I want you to join us.” This includes phone calls, emails, letters, and in-person invites. The most important thing to do with a direct invite is to make it clear who you are inviting.

Instead of “you guys” you can use:

  • “you and your household”
  • “you and your partners”
  • “you and [SO] and your kids”
  • “you”
  • “you three”

Which one you use will depend on who you are inviting. “You and your partners” is the most open-ended–you may not know all your friend’s partners or even how many partners they have. “You and your household” is very clearly “everyone who lives with you”. “You and [so]” is the best way if you want to define exactly who is invited. You can invite just the person you are speaking with and one other person, or “You and [so] and [so] and [so]” etc. But you are naming the specific people you want to come.

I suggest avoiding “family.” At first is sounds specific, but different people have different ideas of family. Are you inviting the nuclear family that lives together? Everyone that they consider part of their family whether they live together or not? Some other configuration? Avoid this.

Indirect Invitations

Indirect invitations are things like inviting someone to a Facebook event or saying to a group of people “Please join me/us for…” You can’t be very specific here because you aren’t talking to just one person.

In this case, you can add invitation details to the event description. Anything from “and bring all your friends!” to “children welcome” to “this is a private event–please don’t bring anyone with you unless they were specifically invited.” All of the phrasing from direct invitations can work here too: “you and your household are invited.”

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: You Need Talk about Problems

Standard Poly Advice:
You need to talk about problems

I have no objection to this very important advice. The problem comes in when people hear this advice as meaning “You need to talk about problems RIGHT AWAY.” Someone in the middle of a mental health crisis is probably going to be behaving or speaking in ways that are upsetting, that cause problems, and that people are going to want to address. This is like having a discussion about the damage caused by a fire, while the fire is still burning.

Yes, you need to see what damage the fire does and figure out how to fix it. Or even if it can be fixed. But for god sakes let the firefighters put the fire out first. Let the fire marshall take a walk through and certify that it’s safe to enter the building. Then you can check the damage and worry about repairs.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill:
You need to talk about problems when everyone is ready.

This actually isn’t just a mental illness thing, but it is even more important when mental illness is involved. Sometimes we need to say “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m not thinking clearly, and any conversation we have now isn’t going to be productive.”

Of course, when mental illness or strong emotions are involved, that thought is more likely to be expressed as “I can’t deal with this right now!”

It’s okay to come back ad talk later. Really. It is. If you need to, pick a day each month to have your “later” discussions, make a note each time someone needs to say “Not now.” and when that day comes, sit down with the notes and discuss them.

Alternatively, if something has upset you and you need to say something now, but your partner can’t listen, try writing. Write an email and wait to send it. Or write a note, fold it in up and pin it to the refrigerator. “When you are ready, here’s what I need you to hear.”

But What if They are Never “Ready”

Sometimes you can wait weeks, or even months, for your partner to be ready to discuss something and they never are. Two things usually cause this. First, they may have so much other shit they are dealing with that they literally don’t have the spoons. Second, they might be playing you.

If your partner is constantly battling suicidal thoughts and you want to talk about how they never do their share of the dishes, stop. Is it fair that you are doing most of the dishes? No. But they are literally fighting for their life and asking them to take energy away from that battle to hash out a schedule for the dishes isn’t fair to them either.

Being in a relationship with someone who is severally mentally ill (or physically ill, or sometimes just dealing with life shitting on them) means prioritizing. Yes, it is annoying as fuck that you are doing all the dishes. But who does the dishes is not as important as keeping everyone alive and healthy. Before you can fix the dishes problem, your partner needs to heal. That, as I have said elsewhere, takes time.

You have three workable options.

1)Accept that your partner simply isn’t able to do as much as you are and deal with it as best you can.

2) Try to find another approach–“Hey, I know you can’t do the dishes. Can you put them away after I wash them?” “Okay, I don’t want to push you when you’re already struggling, but I can’t do all this on my own. How about you tell me what you can do, and I’ll do the stuff you can’t?”

3) Decide that being in a relationship with this person is more than you can deal with and leave.

The other reason someone may never be ready to discuss something is they are playing you. The shitty part about this is you can never know for sure are they just putting you on or are they really not able to deal with whatever it is.

Try looking at how they are handling whatever is keeping them from being able to discuss it. Are they trying to get help? Are they working on getting better? If you bring up dishes do they say “I can’t talk about this,” but a few days later try to do a few dishes to help out? Then they are trying, they are making the effort, go back up a few paragraphs and work from there.

If they keep saying that this needs to change or that needs to change but not making any effort to change it. If they don’t do anything towards getting help or healing. If they not only aren’t able to talk about it but don’t seem to care that something is upsetting you… they are probably playing you.

Again you have some choices, but only two I think are workable.

1) Accept that whatever it is is something they are not willing/able to discuss or try to address, and deal with it as best you can.

2) Walk away.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Formal Invitations for Poly Folk

The nice thing about formal invitations is you are expected to list everyone who is invited. If someone’s name isn’t on there, they aren’t invited. This solves a lot of this “who is included?” of informal invitations.

This post generally assumes you are issuing an invite to people who are out about being poly. If your guests are in the closet, respect that and address their invites to match the way they publicly present themselves.

So let’s look at some of the problems that do come up with formal invites.

How Do You Address an Invite to a Triad, Quad, etc?

If you can fit it on the paper, you could list everyone on one invite. Or you can send separate invites to each person. If you are paying to have the invites professionally printed that ups the cost, so take finances into consideration too.

I Don’t Know Everyone’s Names!

You want to invite your poly cousin to your wedding. You know they are living with tow other people, but you don’t know the names of their poly partners. The first choice would be to call up and ask. If for some reason this isn’t an option, you can do a variation on the old +1. [Name]+1 is traditionally used for single people to tell them they can bring a guest. But there is no reason you can’t address the invite to [Cousin]+2, so they know both their partners are welcome.

I Don’t Know How Big Their Family Is!

Poly families can be confusing. So you love your sister, you want her to have everyone special in her life at your big event, but you don’t really know exactly how many that is. The three people that live with her? The boyfriend that doesn’t live with her? the partners of the people that live with her? Who do you include?

I’d go with [Sister]+family, and drop a quiet word that “family” means whoever she wants it to mean.

They Have a Huge Network and I’m On a Budget

Not everyone can afford to invite an unknown number of people to a big shindig. And if it’s a choice between including your cousins and your brother’s boyfriend’s wife who you’ve never met, I gotta admit I’d go with the cousin too. Here the old +1 standby can again be a great tool.

Figure out how many people you can afford to include from each family. Maybe you are including kids, and none of your guests has more than three kids, so you go for a max family size of 5. Your brother’s invite can be [Brother]+4. This allows your brother and his family to decide among themselves who is going and who isn’t. If there is someone in your brother’s family that you have a separate relationship with–say your brother’s boyfriend and you hit it off over Superman and have been getting together weekly to watch old Smallville reruns, send boyfriend a separate invitation so he knows you want him there as your friend, and not “just” as your brother’s boyfriend.

If you need to do this with a group relationship as opposed to a poly network, again drop a quiet word: you can’t afford to include everyone, and you hope they understand.

Ideally, we want all of our poly families to be welcome and included in our lives and with our families. But reality is a thing, and reality includes by budget limits and (in many places at least) fire codes dictating how many people can be in the building. As long as your poly friends and relatives don’t feel like they are being deliberately excluded or forced to “pass” as monogamous, they’ll understand.