Tell the truth?
Hi guys, I have a question regarding communication styles and poly. My GF and I are doing pretty well, but there is a continuous stumbling block around one issue. (ack, long as always!)
I believe in open, honest, regular communication. No blame crap - just "this is how I feel, I'm working on it, I wanted to be honest, you don't have to change anything" OR "I'd find it really helpful if you altered (x) behaviour/situation" If I feel like crying, I'll cry. If something's on my mind, I'll bring it up. If I need something, I'll put it out there. // My GF, in contrast, believes in filtering information/communication. She does not believe that we always have to be entirely honest about how we feel - we should internalise our emotions and work through them solo; only asking for help when it is absolutely necessary, if at all. She will often say she is happy about something, i.e. a date of mine, when in reality, she is struggling. I'll find out the truth much later.
This leads to the following problems:
The obvious problem is that I never know how she really feels; therefore, I can never congratulate her on overcoming something, or reassure her if she's struggling. It has also led to her belief that I struggle much more with poly than she does. I find this destructive, because it leads me to feel like a failure, or a burden.
blame and apologies
I believe in both parties saying sorry after most arguments; sorry for any miscommunication and upset. GF has a hard time saying sorry. The communication part comes in because it seems that because she internalises a lot, issues get raked up that I had no idea about and then I end up feeling as if I am to blame, even if it was me that raised an issue initially.
For example, I identify as a Domme, but experimented with some bottom play with her over the summer. This was highly personal for me and caused a lot of confusion in my mind. She shared this information with a woman I'm interested in and I expressed my upset. Instead of simply apologising, she launched into a big talk about how pride is hampering my sexual growth. This then spiralled off into remark about how she's spent two years dealing with my "mountains of issues" with her partners. (Such comments are damaging, because I go to great lengths to promote her freedom and happiness in poly). When I bring up an issue with her, she dredges up issues that I didn't even know she was having. Sometimes she goes the complete opposite way and sarcastically says that she is obviously 'the bad guy', or, occasionally, really takes it to heart and beats herself up. This leaves me feeling that I should not express my issues at all.
one person needing something at a time
Finally, the communication issue manifests in another way. GF believes that in many situations, small or large, one person is more hurt than the other. GF is currently going through a breakup with her submissive of two years. She has been very withdrawn for the past month. This partner of hers was a best friend of mine, so I am sad too. But, I acknowledge that she is suffering much more, so I have tried to offer my full support. I got upset a few days ago, broke down in tears, because I'm exhausted from a month of her being withdrawn, depressed and lashing out. I wasn't asking for anything - I just got tearful when we were talking about their breakup. She became very upset with me, saying that I was being self-centered and need to learn to filter my emotions.
Lots of information here, but I'm looking for outside perspectives on how this kind of things works in your relationship. I'm not perfect and I'd like to hear your thoughts. Do you just accept communication differences? Does it generally feel better for you to have all feelings out in the open, or is filtering necessary? Is saying sorry important? How do you balance who needs care and who needs to provide it?
I wave my hands around. I need at least an hour of Crazy Lady processing and waving before I can be logical and reasonable. You know... do the BRAIN DUMP thing first. DH is not that way. People who do not know him well do not know his tells. I do know them. I watch for the eyebrow wrinkle. That's about it for clues.
You don't have to know me well to see me "all excited" to know that I am all excited! ;)
But neither of us behave in ways that are an impediment to clear communication. The communication will be HAD. Serve it in whatever style you want, with or without a cherry on top. But HAVE it.
You list an awful lot of examples there where your GF does not move clear communication forward. She blocks clear communication. I don't know what that's all about inside her, but I can see where it would frustrate you. :(
Here is a feeling. There it is! You don't have to share the VOLUME of your feeling experience with everyone -- even me. But let me know it's going on if it affects me?
That's keeping the communication flow going.
Easy example? My loved one dies. I can tell that to my coworkers and get what I need from them. Space, time, make allowances for a bit if I seem blah at work and not taking things in.
To my DH? He will get the heads up and at a bigger "volume." Cuz my spouse? He's going to get to see my crying and mourning and being a lot more wobbly.
My friends get something in between. Some wobble, but not like emotionally distant people like just coworkers.
Because I have different volumes for different audiences? No matter. I am still communicating what is going on with me to people in my life that it could affect so they know what to expect from me. They know the THING is happening. Even if they don't hear the thing in "full volume. "
It depends on the situation... who I ask for comfort.
I stub my toe, anyone could comfort me. Just tell me "Aw, that stinks! Sorry you hurt your toe." My kid could do that. So could my bank teller.
Say my mom dies -- that's a team job there. DH could be part of the comforting team, but that's a large burden best spread around other people. My sister could be on that team -- she's more comforting in this situation than ... my bank teller. YKWIM?
Right person(s) for the right job.
Sometimes if the thing involves a communication problem with DH, and I need comforting before I can call him into account in a healthy way (versus being tempted to sail into him and escalate tension rather than descalate)... I have to farm that one out to a close friend so I get comfort and encouragement to get ME to the healthy zone first. THEN do what I need to do with DH to get back into right relationship.
I just tell him or he tells me. Something like...
"Look, we've tried. We are banging the wall here. Not moving forward. Let's just agree to farm this one out. Get other perspectives and then come back and regroup and try again fresh. Cuz if we could do it alone, we would have already. "HTH!
Just this weekend I felt compelled to bring up something on my mind, without the expectation that he do anything about it, but because I would feel stressed if I didn't let him know what was in my head. I don't think he enjoys it, but he is very tolerant of our different communication styles, and I do my best to just accept my partners as they are (which is MUCH easier when you dont live with them...)
From all the other stuff you say - I'd have to recommend a poly friendly therapist that specializes in communication. It doesn't look like your GF is playing fair and healthy, respecting your privacy, or accepting that you are different than she is and that you have the right to have different boundaries. You might be doing unhealthy communication things too that you don't list here because you can't see them about yourself, a counselor could help identify these things so both of you could be working on them. It sounds like you two are pretty firmly entrenched in some negative cycles, stopping them can be hard work.
About apologies...my husband will apologize and it goes like this. "I'm sorry, but I did it because of X and Y and Z " As soon as he launches into the reasons it appears as all he is doing is explaining and justifying and then the apology isn't heard (and sure doesn't feel meant). After a lot of work on both our parts we've made it so sometimes he stops after "I'm sorry" and that is enough for me. Problem is both people have to be working on changing things for it to change - the 5 languages guy also made a book about different types of apologies which might be useful for you to read together.
So for the last bit - yes, I accept some communication differences, but if they are negatively affecting my relationship, I try to change them. I try to change MYSELF by not taking the other persons issues personally, but I try to make my partner see the damage it does, and try to recruit them to make changes too.
I won't stop communicating my way, I can't be present when something is bothering me if I don't say it. No matter how much I'd like it, my partners aren't going to start being more like me, so accepting as much as possible is smart. I don't know about providing care or not...I'd probably try to provide loving support for your gf when you see she needs it, but the onus on your gf to ask if she needs care and wants me to provide it. I'd refuse to let her treat me badly if I didn't magically read her mind and know what she needed. Being sad isn't an excuse to hurt other people.
I wrote this in response to another thread. I do see a bit of this dynamic in how you describe your relationship with your GF. There is a therapy truism that the person who desires the least sex controls the sexual activity in a given relationship. I think there is also a similar dynamic of the person who emotes the least, or covers up more emotion, also controls the emotional balance of a relationship. This is just my personal observation - no research to back it up.
'Also when someone says they are simple, AND refer to you as complex or hard or difficult, what they are actually saying is my way of seeing things is superior and you need to change to accommodate my better way.'
He recently expressed to me his lack of understanding as to why people make so much noise, without communicating. I'm so glad I was actually able to *hear* that.
[What really fascinated me, was that just a few days later, an ex-bf said the same thing to me. His (ex) gf had called, she was traveling, and told him every detail of her every moment. Then he says to ME (!) 'why do you women DO that? You all do it' And I put that in the context of what FBF had said. And quietly marveled at myself, that despite ex's complaint, I really don't do that. I talk more than my boys would *like*, but I don't talk nearly as much as most women I know.]
So, even after understanding all that, FBF knows that I am an emotional creature. There have been times when I was down on myself for whatever, or expressed that CBF was down on me for some emoting, and FBF would say 'of *course* you're feeling x, you're a girl.' Although I know it sounds awful, I did take comfort in it. 'You're normal.' 'You're okay.' even 'there, there' is very comforting. I don't care so much about the words, if someone's intention is to comfort.
My principle has always been the one that's hurting the most gets care first. I can't recall very many times when I've even needed to ask; I guess I've been lucky that way.
I guess I was raised up not to share my feelings much, so one of my life challenges has just been to figure out what I actually feel. For me, a way of finding out how I feel is to talk about it. That has not worked out so well to do that with a partner. So I tend to talk to non-romantic friends more with those types of conversations. [One way they teach to find out what you feel, is to pay attention to the body. I have an additional challenge in that my body lies. It doesn't give me accurate information, so I have to do a lot of analysis.]
I actually think part of the attraction is the difference. (oh this sounds dreadful, this part) I think FBF is more serious, more deliberate, and it helps me to be so. I think I'm more open and spontaneous, and that helps him to be so.
Sorry is pretty important, but it is so rarely necessary, I work harder at choosing people who don't step on me in such a way as I will need their 'sorry.' I was quite taken aback in a conversation recently. I was going to a movie, and I'd asked FBF if he'd seen it. He said no, and did I want to do that when I saw him next. So I didn't go. Then when I got to him, he didn't want to go. I said, 'I *knew* it! I knew I should have gone last weekend.' (when I was ready and had the time). He said, 'I'm sorry' quickly and with a sympathetic and distressed voice. It really was okay, I suspected he wouldn't want to, and I was just expressing. I didn't *need* the sorry, but found it quite touching.
omfsm, THIS! so very this (also my observation, Opalescent):
Our ways of thinking and seeing the world seem incredibly simple to us, we're sort of biologically programmed to smooth over conflicting ideas and make our worldview as simple and obvious to us as possible.
That doesn't necessarily extend to the viewpoint of others.
Someone referring to themselves as simple while calling someone else complex may simply be articulating is that they dont entirely understand your viewpont. That doesn't immediately mean they feel their's is superior and you need to change.
As to the OP, I generally strive for open, direct, and unsubtle honesty in virtually all situations with a relationship and its a formula that has worked in the past. From what I've seen, trying to construct an elaborate delivery mechanism for information usually means no small number of the bolts holding it together are misconceptions or massive problems that haven't been addressed or uncovered.
You dont have to throw tact out the window but most people I've dealt with confuse tact with redacting what they say.
If someone absolutely cant deal with that kind of interaction all the time, it helps to have conversations where its established beforehand as a "no bullshit" zone. Issues need to be dealt with directly and tip-toeing through the tulips will generally cause more problems than it solves. If someone really and truly cannot handle that kind of directness, that's a problem unto itself.
I had an ex who was very fond of sugarcoating and it led to incredibly enormous problems because invariably messages got crossed and distorted. This led to someone doing something wrong because they got the wrong message, hurt feelings, anger, recriminations, and fighting. It wasn't because she was being deliberately obtuse or had a hard time making herself understood but she was so prone to self-censorship about needs and wants that a lot of the time they just got missed and that kept happening until she'd get to a point where she was so stressed she couldn't deal with it anymore and just explode then we'd have a knock-down drag-out fight about who was using more shampoo or something equally stupid.
I played my part in that mess because I indulged the sugarcoating. I didn't make my distaste for it known and I played along with it because doing so was easier. Nowadays, I tell my partners to do ANYTHING to directly tell me when they want or need something; write it down, tell me directly, throw a punch, ANYTHING! Just to say it straight out and direct.
Re (from Helo, Post #7):
@ sparklepop: The biggest obstacle I see in your situation is that you and your girlfriend *disagree* about what constitutes good communication, and about what constitutes due cause for communication to occur. Your girlfriend believes that stuff should be internalized as long as possible. You believe in putting all the cards on the table, always. I happen to agree with your philosophy, but that doesn't make your girlfriend agree.
You can, of course, try to reason with your girlfriend about this. You can point out how bottling things up causes resentments to build, and while the problem may be swept under the rug for the moment, it will tend to re-emerge later at the worst possible time, after it has grown in size by tenfold.
However, your girlfriend could take that as a personal affront, or she could just dig her heels in and turn it into an argument in which nobody wins and nobody's opinions change.
It's even possible that she may agree, but won't be able to follow through because she's just not good at this whole communication thing. Or she might defend her reticence if she knows change would be hard or impossible.
Some people have communication handicaps. They don't know how to express themselves appropriately on a personal level. Sometimes they can learn and change, but sometimes not. So it is possible that this stonewalling by your girlfriend may be something you'll have to learn to live with and work around, if you decide to stay together. She may get a little better about communicating over time, but it might not be a big improvement. By the same token, your girlfriend may need to get used to the way you communicate.
Re: apologies ... I feel that they're important for good relationships. However, your girlfriend seems to have developed a way of looking at things that always makes you the culpable party. So she sees no reason to apologize. She needs to realize that her withholding communication makes her responsible, and that you aren't obligated to be a mind-reader.
Re (from sparklepop, Post #1):
I'm really sorry things are rough right now. It sounds like you are really trying to make things work, and I think that's awesome.
I do have one question, and maybe you already answered it and I just missed it - you said you are a Domme and your GF was also getting over the loss of her submissive, so it sounds like you are involved in some types of power exchange relationships. Is there a power exchange between the two of you? I only ask because power exchange brings a whole new level of complex to poly dynamics, and especially communication in relationships.
In terms of communication differences, in my opinion, yes you do have to accept them. But that doesn't mean you can't work through them. My partner and I have very different communication styles, but we find ways to make it work. One of the best questions I have become accustomed to asking is "What do you need from me right now?" To me, that question says "I really want to be there for you, but I'm very confused about what is going on, so please help me help you."
In terms of the filtering, it really depends on the person. I am a filterer. I can't just openly talk about my feelings as they come up, because usually they are complicated, and I need to actually figure them out. Most of the time, I change my mind after thinking things through for a bit, and I am always glad I didn't just say what I felt at the moment because it would have done more damage, and made things pretty confusing once I actually figured out how I felt. To me, it is important that I have space to sort through my things, but my partner wants open and honest communication. So, the compromise we have come to is that I will tell him what I am feeling when I am feeling it, but that I get to choose when we talk about it. So, I say things like "I'm feeling really upset about what you said right now. I would really like us to talk about it later once I think about it more. Maybe we can set aside some time tonight. I am ok, and I absolutely love you, but I just need to figure this out." That type of thing works well, because he knows how I'm feeling, but I get my space to think it out before we talk, so I don't say something I regret. Also, I find reinforcing that I am ok and that I love him really helps, because then he's not sitting there freaking out until we talk.
In terms of saying sorry, I think it really varies. Have you ever heard of the 5 Love Languages? There's a great book about it, but on the website you can also take a quiz and find out which ones are most important to you - it just clarifies which kinds of things express love to you most, like gift, or kind words, or physical affection etc. Well, on that site, there is also information about the 5 Languages of Apology, and that might be something you and your girlfriend can look at together. It's also a quiz, and it shows what things are important for you to hear in an apology. So, maybe you really need to hear the words "I'm sorry" whereas she really only needs a promise that it won't happen again. Anyway, something to think about.
About the care - we just take it in stride. Just do what works for you. I know that sounds stupid, but if you absolutely can't provide care, then you can't. But if your partner needs something, and you can push your stuff aside for a while, then try to be there for them. It's hard, but it can be balanced.
Anyway, hope some of that helps. Sorry about the length...apparently I don't do "concise" well. :p
Hi guys, I'm sorry it has taken me a little while to respond - I wanted to take the time and come back, because every single one of you put in some greatly appreciated effort here for me.
Just a little update, for anyone who's interested. Things have been going remarkably well. Between acting on some of the advice here and some situations that have happened, it's like a huge wall has come down. She is being more communicative about her feelings, calmer when I talk to her about an issue, saying sorry when it's needed, showing great appreciation for my support and understanding... I'm just amazed at how she has been over the past couple of weeks and really feel thrilled.
We came up with a useful phrase... "I know something is wrong, but the reason hasn't clicked yet". This has helped us not to push each other to talk; but also not to avoid talking altogether. We also came up with a mantra: 'experience: analyse: communicate: conquer" which, to my surprise, she really loved. She said it helps her to keep focused three steps, instead of either bottling thing up or yelling them out.
So, a great big thank you to everyone!!
I have written individual replies below for each of you - but no response is necessary!
What you said about volume really got me thinking and I appreciate that a lot a lot; thank you as always!
Your response really comforted me. What you said about ensuring we communicate the positive thoughts reminded me to do that and it has helped - we've become a lot more conscious of praise over the past few weeks and this has helped on the tricky-communication side too. I agree that she wasn't playing fair and healthy - she was expecting her way to be the best way. Counselling is something I've always been interested in, because she went through marriage counselling with her husband and the therapist said to her, in front of him, "he has a really good wife here and should remember that". She has held onto that and has sometimes been guilty of taking that to mean that she almost has a therapist's approval for everything she says and does in a relationship. Thank you for your response - it genuinely really helped me a great deal.
Your therapy truism made me laugh, because I completely agree with it. There is certainly a control dynamic in our relationship that I have noticed and have tried not to let myself fall into. The 'referring to someone else as complex' struck a chord in me, because this is exactly how I'd been feeling - that she felt her views were superior. I actually brought this up to her and said that we have to stop this unspoken idea that because she is a decade older than me, she knows more about everything. She was shocked to hear this, having not realised that she came across that way, and I've noticed her being very conscious of it since.
I do agree with open, non-violent communication and honesty.
Your post was extremely helpful, also. We have talked a great deal over the past two weeks about communication and even managed to put some guidelines in place about how we communicate (i.e. don't avoid and don't blow up). We have been trying to meet in the middle, reach a communication compromise and this has helped a lot. Thank you very, very much for your post.
Your reply was really sweet - I loved it. You were insightful to pick up on the power exhange dynamic. Whilst *we* do not have a D/s relationship together, I do think that since we are both Dommes, we most likely both have some power issues. I tend to be unwittingly forceful when I am suggesting things that might help us to improve our relationship. She tends to be unknowingly right-all-the-time. ;) I am trying to ensure that the dynamic between us does not become a power struggle - because, for me, control is only healthy in the bedroom. I like your idea of "what do you need from me right now?" I used this and added "to listen quietly? to explain myself?" This seemed to help. I did take the 5 Love Languages quiz a while back and I think the answer was touch. Which is amusing since we are in a long-distance relationship. Hahaha. I never knew about the apology section though - that is amazingly helpful, thank you!
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