We put out a request for topics from the group and I was so excited to see a question about how to build lasting foundations in poly. I think it’s a synthesis topic that involves both some theory on relating and some practical tools, it is also a wide subject that we can’t cover all of in one single meeting but if we discuss it today we can go deeper next time. More than this, I’m just barely touching on some subjects that I feel could have a whole discussion on their own but are also necessary for us to consider this subject. A theme I want to identify early is sustainable relationships. We achieve these through boundaries, communication, transition and listening to ourselves and knowing what parts of our personal foundations are being activated when we engage specific subjects and how we want to build onto our lives for the future.
I’m Amie. I am not an expert in lasting foundations and feel like a sham for even talking about it because I’m pretty sure I am an expert in short lived connections. I have borderline personality disorder as a result of complex trauma from multiple situations and I have had to learn a number of things about boundaries, communication, and other people very intentionally because what was natural for me was not healthy or conducive to my continued living. I’m going to stress a lot of concepts that are hard to understand fully because I have this idea that understanding is a may layered concept of itself. That we can understand something through one perspective and yet still there are other perspectives through which a thing can be understood; and through a synthesis of these perspectives we MIGHT find out the truth behind something… but more likely we will uncover the ‘truth’ to the depth we find comfortable and go no further. But if I wanted to be comfortable you’d better believe I’d be with the husband I met when I was 19, with our white picket fence house and 2.5 kids and six dogs and I’d be very comfortable. But that me isn’t the only me there is, and for that me to exist I was told I could not be all the me I am. So here I am. Deeply uncomfortable but the me-est me there ever was.
(Welcome to group intro things and housekeeping. Trigger warnings and personal introductions)
Building lasting foundations for a polyamorous lifestyle: is just the same as for monogamy but with more steps; more complex but essentially the same. Skills that work to build lasting polyamorous foundations would help people build lasting monogamous foundations. In the end, building lasting foundations is something that all people can do with each other. You don’t need to be in a relationship with someone to do it. But we are going to talk about it with regard to polyamorous relationships … but really most poly information to me… is interpersonal information that you can use anywhere.
For this not to go down the rabbit hole of personal foundations, I had to cut a lot of what I’d say about personal foundations OUT. Then I had to cut a lot of different things back in and realized I ended up saying most of what I wanted to say about personal foundations in an indirect way. I don’t think I can avoid talking a lot about this concept.
So your personal foundation is everything you are, everything about how you move through the world: your privileges, capabilities, power, disadvantages, resources; both internal and external, and everything that happens to you is going to affect it. Your personal foundation is the place from which you perceive the world and build all connections… to people as friends or lovers, to places like school or work, to hobbies, to anything. And understanding what your personal foundation looks like is going to MONUMENTALLY help with building onto it in a lasting and sustainable way and the sad thing is that because finding out what your personal foundations are IS SO SUBJECTIVE …. all the advice that is so abundant in our world about ‘finding yourself’ might never help you because those other people figured something out for themselves and you aren’t necessarily them. And so we have a lot of advice like “You can’t love someone until you love yourself.” And that quoteable STILL offends me even after I did some work on it to understand it for myself… So I will show you my work on this quoteable to give you an idea of the process these little formulas can incite:
“You cannot love someone until you love yourself”
What is love to another person? When I don’t love myself, how am I using other people to distract, run away from, or obscure the fact that I don’t love myself? If I don’t love myself, how respectful does it feel to expect someone else to love me?
Do I expect that my partner also doesn’t love themselves? (Probably not) Do I expect that they will come to me for love and I shall give them love and when I need love I will get my love from them?
If I love myself does that mean I don’t need another person to love me and thus I will be less likely to find one because the need behind me looking for another person to love me is less? What’s stopping me from loving myself?
Is it good for me to address the reasons I have for not loving myself? What’s stopping me from addressing those reasons?
If I end up saving myself from those reasons… does this mean I should never have been having problems in the first place and it was all my fault? (NO. You are a new person with new information and new approaches if you are addressing your reasons for not loving yourself and so being able to solve your problems eventually doesn’t EVER mean you never had to go through them).
What pressure does it put on my partner to have me not loving myself? Is it fair to them to expect them to love me for me AND them?
These are the things I had to ask myself before this quoteable made any kind of sense. You might ask yourself different things. If you don’t feel like you love yourself I argue that you are listening to the voices in your head that have protected you by whispering your fears into your ears and it is HARD to address that voice. Lisa Roth does it beautifully here.
Now I’m going to talk way more than I want to about trauma and abuse in a discussion that’s not about trauma and abuse. But these things affect almost all of us and I believe that we need to be aware of trauma issues. I came to understanding my personal foundations through understanding my trauma and this is just an extension of what I want to say on personal foundations. But more than that… even if you don’t believe trauma has affected your life. You’re likely to run into people for whom trauma HAS affected their lives.
If you have trauma issues they will arise in various ways and be found in your personal foundations. If you have triggers because of various trauma issues they will be found in your personal foundation. Please come to the talk on abuse and trauma to learn more about how triggers can affect your life. The only thing I want to make clear here is that though they look the same, and the process to deal with them is the same… there’s a difference between things that trigger you to unreasonable behaviour and trauma based triggers. Anyone can get triggered to apply their own understanding of a situation to someone or something that doesn’t necessarily warrant it.
Now. Some people might take issue to the term ‘unreasonable behaviour’, but I’m attached to the description. Triggered reactions in my experience as a person who has triggered reactions still, to this day… I have rarely been reasonable when in the midst of being triggered… and never before I knew what triggers were, that I could have them and what a triggered reaction even was in me. I found the modern discourse on what triggers are to be extremely unhelpful. I am not triggered by most things people think are triggering, such that I’ve been very surprised each time I realized I was triggered. I only started being aware of what my triggers were two years ago and I’ve been having triggered responses and understood that I probably have some trauma issues for over a decade.
Friends of mine use ‘trigger’ in their discussions to allude to anything that evokes an unpleasant emotional reaction. And I think it is important to mention that just because you are triggered doesn’t mean that you are traumatized, but people with trauma issues have triggers and they don’t always know what they are. So the process of knowing what to do when you are triggered is REALLY IMPORTANT. It is essentially the same for traumatized people as for neurotypicals: take a step back, see what about the situation is bothering you…. and address it… this could be a ten year process…. each. TIME. So for people with trauma issues, they may have to spend longer to uncover far more unpleasant feelings and their causes, then address them and then that doesn’t guarantee that you will be done. Because you’re going to be triggered again. Possibly with the same root cause… just in a different way. Only after you have addressed the issue should you even consider whether it’s right for you to reengage the issue.
Your Family of Origin is a big part of your personal foundation. Knowing whether or not your family was abusive is subjective… My family of origin contains emotional, verbal and physical abuse and those building blocks in my personal foundation weren’t things I acknowledged for years. I didn’t realize that my home life was as bad as my sufferings at school because I never really realized that my father was a god damned adult and I didn’t know what being an adult meant. I have a better idea now.
Abuse cuts your ability to know what your personal foundations are on their own because an abusive environment warps reality. Healthy coping skills will not work in an abusive environment because the abuser (be they a friend, parent, a partner, a boss, an institution, a school, or an environment) will not let them and so the coping skills a victim learns are either flawed, damaging to themselves, or both. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible as a victim of abuse to heal and victims of abuse are not broken. Humans seldom break in a way that is not mendable. We just need to relearn ourselves and how to move in the world in a healthy way intentionally because we were TRAINED not to be healthy for the benefit of someone else.
If you have spent time in an abusive environment; be that work, school, growing up or in a relationship: you MIGHT have some problems addressing what your personal foundations are. If you don’t understand now, it’s hard for me to describe what your brain needs to do because the worst part about healing from abuse is that nothing makes sense until it starts working… and once the things you’re doing start working it is hard to look back and wonder how you didn’t come to the conclusion your newly rewired brain is making now… all along. But you REWIRED YOUR BRAIN. You could not come to these new conclusions before and holding your past self to your new self’s standard is a recipe for feeling bad. You can’t have known in the past what you know now. Don’t beat yourself up.
Disassociation is the last part of the trauma talk I want to include here; which is a huge un-weildy confusing thing for people with trauma issues. I learned about it in a sociology class about what kinds of problems people can have when they have been traumatized. Disassociation will make someone not pay attention to you. You can actually have conversations with people who are disassociating and they won’t remember it, or they won’t remember the details because they weren’t with you. Coming to understand whether or not YOU are disassociating is hard because you aren’t in your body.
Disassociation is the most dangerous response to a trigger. It is the “freeze” response.
There’s fight; which is my ‘make you understand how bad a tactic yelling is by yelling at you myself’ there’s flight; which is my ‘you never gonna see me again.” There’s freeze, which often looks like no response because the disassociating person (me) has left their body because that’s how they’ve learned ends the yelling fastest… and there is the fawn response: where you attempt to keep everyone happy as a method of safety. Read Pete Walker’s article linked. A traumatized person might do every single one of these things at different times, or they might do all those things at once in different parts of their brain which is AS confusing to witness as it is to live.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am assuming that if you’re looking to build lasting foundations with other people that you have might have done some work to understand what some of your trauma issues are and perhaps a process for what to do with unaddressed trauma issues. Once you deal with one trauma issue, dealing with the rest become both easier and harder. You can’t always deal with every trauma issue in the same way, but the processes come to be familiar.
This process can look like: being present with your emotions and feeling them rather than being either driven by them or driven to avoid them, or being aware of what your own motivations are… Finding out what thinks you will shy away from in situations can help you find out what you want to seek out in life… Why do you want to get that feeling/thing/experience. Do you know why the things that make you feel good make you feel good? Do you have judgements about how you are feeling? Can you separate yourself from them? If you can do this about things you like… you can do it about things you don’t like. Why didn’t you like something. What were you feeling? Some people need a chart for how they are feeling in their body and have to really sit with themselves. There are people who can’t tell you how they are feeling at any moment in time because they are so consciously living outside their body at any given moment because their feelings are so bad they cannot deal with them. If you don’t know how you’re feeling reading this… try this.
So please don’t read this or hear me as saying that if you have trauma issues you cannot have long lasting connections… Don’t let yourself walk away with the idea that people with trauma issues are risky or to be avoided. Let me be clear. You cannot avoid the traumatized people who don’t know who they are. . You don’t HAVE to be alone to work on your trauma issues and other people can be very helpful… but they have to know what they’re getting into and you have to know what you’re asking of other people.
If you don’t know what you’re asking of other people… the answers you get won’t make sense. “Love me” is nebulous and confusing because what love looks like for different people can be very different. This goes into and beyond the five love languages. Which can be found discussed everywhere as well as here, here, here and in a wide variety of very religious places.
The five love languages are a good concept to get the idea that different people find different things loving.
But when we consider inequity and love and that we all must love in a profoundly unequal society we may have additional work to do if we find ourselves interested in cross class relationships.
Inequity is the unequal distribution or efficacy of resources. Here’s a blanket statement: People in our North American society who are more unequal TEND to have more trauma issues. This DOES NOT mean that people who are privileged cannot also have trauma issues; and I argue that trauma issues have the potential to bring us together far more than to drive us apart. The reason for this is that there are very VERY few people who have actual free access to in person mental health care, these are people who have it covered through work and they span through every class in society because different jobs cover different things. This is not always really free access because the employee might worry that they are ‘taking company resources’ and fear reprimand or discovery of their issues leading to dismissal. There are a lot of people who can ABSOLUTELY afford mental health care… if they can justify the expense to themselves, which is cruel on it’s own to do to a person with a mental health issue. There are significantly more people who can theoretically afford mental health care but it might mean no summer camp for the kids or a less awesome summer camp for the kids. Which is cruel to do to a struggling middle class person with mental health issues. There are EVEN MORE people who can access limited mental health care resources that may or may not work for them because they’re designed for the most ‘bang’ for the buck that gets spent on them and such systems providing services for people who are . This issue of mental health care and trauma issues in our society is an access thing and almost none of us have actual free access that we don’t feel judged (even just by ourselves) for accessing. So if no one actually has truly free access to mental health care and the tools to overcome trauma issues, we can all be on the same footing. We can all help each other in this journey and be united.
When we’re talking about inequity and lasting foundations… your class background is going to affect your relationships. This is not new informtion… This sort of thing gets tossed around a lot in ways like this, and this, and this. And I have found class to be a bigger culture shock than travel and so fun! I don’t need to do anything for it to happen! It just happens. My parents were poor adults who were not poor as children. I believe that this gave my mother a number of skills that people mired in generational poverty don’t necessarily have. I also think it gave my father some expectations of ‘what a good life is’ that weren’t reasonable to expect while you’re lying to welfare and growing weed while your wife is working. Either way they worked it out and I had a really *really* weird childhood with some markers of poverty and some markers of classy bullshit. Example: we didn’t own a microwave until I was 12 or 13. But dad traded weed for a sailboat shortly after the acquisition of the microwave. His weed sales benefited him on an absolutely personal level more often than it benefited the family, it’s how dude on welfare had more than one guitar.
Your class background may not be the class you’re experiencing now. You may or may not have the skills to deal with this. You may need to learn skills to deal with the class you are now. In my class travels I have discovered that poverty skills that help you in poverty DO NOT HELP in the middle class. Similarly the skills that help middle class families get the most out of life simply aren’t usually possible for poor families…. Most millennials will not manage to be an adult in the same class that they were raised in. This can be found discussed here, here, here and here. Class consciousness is the first step to revolution. (;
The only way to make sure people understand your class background is to talk about it. And that’s not a guarantee because you can explain something to someone but they won’t always take the meaning you want from it. There are a lot of unconscious stigmas associated with class in both directions
If we understand that a person’s class identity can change over time and that this might bring some perceptual changes to the world that we see, can we also see that a person’s gender identity, sexuality and expression of those things can change over time? I argue that a well versed understanding of this part of your personal foundation will help you build onto it in a lasting way. I would guess that everyone coming to a poly 101 meeting has an understanding that our relationship styles can change over time and we also all have a bit of understanding that the way we express our relationship style isn’t always how we feel in our heart. Many of us have been in monogamous relationships, many poly people go back into monogamous relationship styles for various reasons and many people feel that they have always been non-monogamous and that this is part of their identity. Many people feel that non-monogamy is part of how they are wired, that they were born this way.
So we have a part of our identity and then we have the expression of that part of our identity and those things can be very different. People with eating disorders have body dysmorphia. This is a distorted view of how they look, which is not what people suffering from gender dysphoria have.
Just because you experience a form of dysphoria doesn’t mean you understand transgendered people OR non-binary people…. it just means you might have the empathetic building blocks to listen to someone who is going though trans related dysphoria and hold space for them; and if you don’t experience these things this doesn’t mean that you can’t listen and hold space either.
Not everyone experiences significant issues related to their ability to express or understand their sexuality, gender or relationship style identities. But many people do and so understanding sexuality, gender, relationship style identities is as important for anyone who wants to build lasting foundations with others because even if you don’t feel these ways, someone you love might already or come to feel these ways in the future.
The only thing that I can say as someone that experiences a high degree of weirdness to my experiences such that I find relating to others hard… Listening is the biggest skill I have utilized in my ability to connect with people who have had VASTLY different life experiences than mine is to truly listen to what their lives are like and try to meet them where I can carry myself as equally as I can. Many of my long term friends have different resources than I do. Like cars. And some of them will come to meet me places and take me places in their cars that I could never go on my own. This is a small version of how people with different resources an help each other and form mutually beneficial sustainable relationships that build each other up and leave each other better than when you found each other. That’s what I aim for.
So I’ve been talking about personal foundations this whole time. All these areas I’ve covered are part of a person’s personal foundation. Another important part is ability: what do you take for granted? Everyone knows someone with a food allergy. People are pretty up on food allergies lately, but full accessibility tends to be something that people rarely have to think about unless they know someone with a disability… despite the fact that our lives will become less able the longer we live. But more than that, ability ABSOLUTELY affects how we organize our lives. Spoon theory is a glorious blog post from someone with an invisible disability that describes a way that people with disabilities move through life in a way that is highly accessible to people without those problems.
My whole life is organized around the fact I can do almost anything I want to put my body to. I can bike as my main method of transportation, I have enough memory and sight to find my stuff when I misplace it, I can take the short flight of stairs into and out of my home and I can listen to music to dance to. If I were dating someone that couldn’t take a flight of stairs, we wouldn’t be meeting or staying over at my place often. And this is just a little example of a behaviour change that might happen in a relationship where two people have differing levels of ability. Finding out if events you want to invite your friend or partner to are accessible to them becomes a part of life when you love a person with a disability. Or even a person with a very serious food allergy. But we are all hopefully going to grow older and less able through time and it is important to acknowledge this.
So thinking about ability is absolutely a long term foundation for life. The longer you live the more likely you are to suffer some change in your ability, be that physical, mental, emotional, or financial.
This article refers to a term called Forced Intimacy.
This often takes the form of being expected to share (very) personal information with able bodied people to get basic access, but it also includes forced physical intimacy, especially for those of us who need physical help that often requires touching of our bodies.
Forced intimacy can also include the ways that disabled people have to build and sustain emotional intimacy and relationships with someone in order to get access — to get safe, appropriate and good access.
I have experienced forced intimacy my entire life as a disabled child, youth, and adult. I am always expected to do the work of opening myself up for others’ benefit, education, curiosity or benevolent oppression.
This can look like random strangers asking you random questions that are anywhere from innocent seeming to rude, to overtly religiously or otherwise judgemental, to wildly hurtful and then expecting you to patiently answer your question just because they saw you in the coffee shop… and having that be just what happens in coffee shops when you go to get basic access to coffee while out… This can look like an event organizer being resistant to stating whether their events are accessible without a lengthy explanation of why you need to know if there are stairs… this can look like them refusing to return your ticket when you can’t even get into their event. This can look like a receptionist calling you to book a medically necessary appointment and not telling you that there are unavoidable stairs at their office preventing you access to medical care. This is BASIC access and it is often barred in our society to anyone remotely deviant from the norm.
The author states that forced intimacy is also a part of other oppression: “I have experienced forced intimacy as it relates to other forms of oppression as well, and it manifests itself in all kinds of different ways.” As with most things, I believe that the root of what keeps us all downtrodden finds a voice in the oppression of people based on their ability, class, gender, ethnicity and other identities. Many of us in the poly community experience forced intimacy where because we organize our lives differently than our loved ones they feel they can ask us inappropriate questions about our sexuality. In this way, disability awareness is like class consciousness because the fundamentals behind what keeps disabled people in Canada from participating is the same as the processes that keep children raised poor in Canada from participating fully. The fact that someone else (your family) is ACTUALLY supposed to give you the skills and resources to survive and thrive with…. and people in Canada having children have stunningly inequitable access to the tools with which to do this.
A person with different abilities than you might do different things than you do to get their needs met. Most people who are aware of their differing access needs are able to communicate what they need from their partners. But this isn’t always the case and when people aren’t communicating what they need and are able or are not able to give to their partners things can get out of hand and go sideways really hard and really fast… and there are a lot of people out there with hidden disabilities that don’t really understand that they are suffering lack of access when they are moving through the world.
Physical ability, mental ability and emotional ability all impact our relationships. Knowing what supports you might need from a partner; or in general, to engage subjects or places or spaces will help you move through life and relationships.
So if you thought that was long and boring, now we come to definitions, tools and tricks. First: Definitions.
- Wants versus needs: This is subjective. Only you; not even Maslow, get to determine what it is you want versus what you need. Asking yourself if what you desire is a want or a need allows you to be flexible on how you get your wants fulfilled and helps you be firm on your needs. ALSO. An understanding that other people have wants and needs helps you respect other people’s needs.
- The help you want to get versus the help someone wants to give you: This is a nebulous concept and all I really want to get across is that the help you’re willing or able to give might be different than the help someone wants. The help someone ASKS for might be different than the help they want. Either because they don’t understand what they want or how to get it or because they just don’t know how to ask. This really is an overarching principal thing and not really as relevant to the rest of this conversation. But it is important to note.
- Privilege/disadvantage: is a spot in a spectrum that defines external constraints on your access to; or efficacy of, resources… which we will discuss at length.
- Resources: The things you have access to in your life to make it better. The place from which you stand (your personal foundation) is composed of these building blocks, and they compose a part of our experience that can shared; however, the shape of them can be different for all of us and that affects how we use them. How we use our resources is resource mobilization and that is a skill of it’s own.
- Inner resources, we carry these with us all the time. Though they can be depleted or made less effective by mental illness and inequity, once you have them they are often with you for life: creativity, intelligence, discipline, courage, knowledge, perspective (which was called attitude but I like perspective more), skills, passion and awareness.
- External resources, are things we build to or build from. These resources tend to compound. Any one on it’s own isn’t perhaps enough to get by, but the more you gain, the more likely you are to keep gaining them. Sadly this works on the way down too. Once you lose one, you’re more likely to lose others and if you lose them all and end up with only your inner resources you’re going to have a BAD TIME… but you might not have as bad a time as someone who lacks the inner resources that you have. Some examples include: Money and opportunities to make money, with which you can attain Assets; like housing, technology to work with, a vehicle, or a bike. People, through which you can gain opportunities to make money or to help you through hard times.
Resource mobilization: How are you mobilizing your resources? Having all the resources in the world won’t help you if you don’t know how to mobilize them sustainably. And this is important. Sustainable versus unsustainable resource mobilization features in my actual description of what abuse is: short term rewarding, unsustainable behaviour towards another person.
- Last points on resources. The article I link to about inner and outer resources in my critique of said article is really a love letter to inner resources. As if inner resources are the be all and end all of resources and one SHOULD desire to remove external resources. This is because the external resources are the most linked to privilege and inequity. Inner resources are EASIER to harness and mobilize in a positive way that is celebrated by our society. And I don’t think that judgement of unsustainable resource mobilization is helpful to anyone.
- Final thoughts: Boundaries are how you can prevent someone from using you unsustainably so that you may remain a resource in their life forever and also keep them in yours. The sad part here is that we are pretty aggressively trained to believe that we don’t need boundaries with the people who really love us and that having boundaries is unloving. But knowing what your boundaries are, knowing how to have them with others and knowing how to communicate about them underpins everything I have said and will say.
So how do we communicate these things? Before I give you some techniques, I really want to drive home how hard it can be to communicate with other humans.
When we as humans want to communicate something we start with a concept in our brain that we can only communicate about as well as we understand it ourselves. How well we understand it depends on EVERYTHING that has ever happened to us (our personal foundation) and beyond that, includes our awareness and perceptual abilities AND HOW WE ARE FEELING AT THE TIME (I will be gesturing wildly here). And all this happens before we speak. When we speak we use ALL of our communication abilities. Presence, physicality, tone of voice, words chosen, and empathy. All these things are skills of their own right and require knowledge… either intuitive or actively sought. Our emotions, if we are trying to control or hide them can bleed out if we aren’t good at controlling or hiding them and sometimes when you are good at this… to control or hide an emotion will cut the meaning from what you are trying to say. And you risk failing to communicate what you mean.
So you’ve said a thing. Now it’s up to the person you’re trying to communicate with to understand what you’ve said as you have said it. They use all of their experiences, knowledge, and skills (the same ones you used to say the thing) from their personal foundation to understand what you’ve said and formulate their response. Then through their own communication ability they speak their formulated thoughts back to you.
And this is how we get to be humans that can have COMPLETELY different ideas; feelings about, and understandings of, the SAME THINGS differently.
This is symbolic interaction, humans are GREAT at it and it fosters our sense of belonging. Shared meanings are just another way we bond as humans. How great is it when people just seem to GET what you mean? It’s so great. How great is it when you find out that they fundamentally did NOT get what you meant? It’s so not great. This is how you get to be at the end of a six year relationship wondering how you explained to your partner. Your partner was present as you explained to every roommate you guys ever had. Your partner watched you bitch people out for using soap on your cast iron pan… AND STILL. They believed that it was leaving the pan in water that was the problem (which I did all the time and he was very confused by but still never asked, because I didn’t cultivate a relationship where stupid questions were safe to ask. Which is crappy. And I have learned.) and he had been washing my cast iron pan with soap for six years.
So knowing these things and having these thoughts, I have struggled with how do I EVEN communicate with other people. Should I try?! Should I just be a hermit in the woods? I
would die of exposure so it’s not an option.
So I have these tools for communication and they’re all individual topics of their own.
A personal user’s manual: a concept attributed to Cunning Minx at polyamory weekly everywhere I find it attributed. This is a fun way to figure out what you would communicate to a partner. What sort of things would you only like to explain once to someone? What things would you want to just hand a prospective new partner a booklet to explain about you? Many people just like the idea of a personal user’s manual as a tool for self discovery. Writing one can be personally therapeutic. But here’s some people who put theirs online as shining examples: This one’s super creative. Here’s cunning minx’s example. And here’s one not geared to poly, but to the military and it’s great.
You can include your approach to polyamory, your thoughts on hierarchy and what that means to you, you can explain triggers and any trauma issues you know of in a personal user’s manual. Anything you feel would be helpful for a stranger to interact with you. The best part? You NEVER have to share it with anyone.
Scheduled check-ins: You can do this weekly, you can do this monthly, you could do this daily. But I argue that setting aside a time to intentionally check in about anything you might want to bring up with your partner will help create a safe space to do so. This is the time to state any expectations that you have had and been let down on, this is the place to state any worries about unsaid expectations you worry you’re subject to.
If there’s nothing to bring up, using the time to create space for gratitude can be super nice but dedicating the time to what can become obligatory congratulatory adoration instead of potential check in time isn’t great. Scheduled check in times are the place to bring up what you worry will become a pattern. If someone, like say young Amie who didn’t understand how abusive her family life was, responds to questions in general or especially at check in time like the question is stupid or as if they are offended the question needed to be asked. This is not a safe space. And it won’t be very useful as a communication method.
Non-Violent Communication: This the art of really listening to other people and hearing the needs behind their words or their behaviours. People get down on NVC because the book reads like a religious text… It’s a practice and as an example: I’m not good at it. But I try. We have a PDF download available on the group and I can only summarize it by explaining that the way that we communicate as a society tends to be violent and it doesn’t need to be that way. NVC is a GREAT tool and it actually dissuades people from diagnosing others in their lives. I run afoul of this ALL the time when I am engaging people and asking if they have trauma issues. I am diagnosing them and that’s not really listening. This is why I’m REALLY bad at NVC.
- The four agreements: more not poly theory. Very helpful for poly people. I used to think they were trite and I still think they’re espoused to people who might not have the fundamental skills in order to uphold the four agreements.
- Be impeccable with your word. Only say what you mean. Seriously. Do not say what you think someone wants to hear; a) you may not be correct in thinking what they want. b) you risk getting responses you don’t want. Now. What if you thought you wanted one thing and now it is clear that you do not? You can only be as impeccable with your word as you can be in any moment. Part of being present is looking at your own actions and maybe finding evidence that you don’t know how you feel… and saying that instead.
- Don’t take anything personally: While some people MIGHT do things because of you… the WAY they are doing it is all on them. They have a choice and they are making it. That has less to do with you than them. But if you have to deal with it it might not be pleasant take solace in the fact it’s about them more than you even if you have to deal with it. Or take steps so that you don’t have to deal with it. If you’re feeling like you might be taking something personally. Admit it. Don’t make assumptions. Ask. “Is this about me?”
- Don’t make assumptions. ASK. CHECK-IN. “I’m worried that you don’t like me as a roommate and I should try to find another place to live because of the tone of this conversation?” is something I do all the time. “I don’t want you to feel pressured to do something, but I’d really appreciate if you did this thing, am I pressuring you?” “I’m worried you’re taking my personal story of an issue with someone else to mean that I feel that way about you.”
- Always do your best: Your best changes from moment to moment and this isn’t some kind of justification… ‘whatever you did was your best so you should never be held accountable for anything because you were doing your best’. This is about acknowledging that if you don’t feel you did your best there may have been external constraints on your ‘best’ at that time that you can have power over.
And in conclusion: Transition. I’m starting to believe that transition is either a trap, or the one true way. I can’t decide.
Transition requires trust, communication, awareness, the ability to be present with whatever you are going through at any given time and a host of other things. Many people are able to navigate it. Many people don’t. The only transition I’ve ever gracefully navigated was transitioning out of people’s lives. But I often look back and wonder if there was an alternate reality where alternate universe Amie and the person she needed to not be in that relationship that way with someone did manage to transition to friends or a different style of lovers.
I may never fully understand this and I’m hoping the group has some lived experience for me to draw on.
Question for readers: Have you ever transitioned a relationship? How did you do it?