We all know how paramount good communication is to maintaining healthy relationships, poly or otherwise. And I admit that I have fairly good skills in this department, as do my Guys. It’s one reason we get on so well, and have for so long–and will, hopefully continue to do.
But everyone stumbles occasionally, and there are always going to be bumps in the road to negotiate. This weekend was one of those “bumps.”
One of the challenges in poly relationships is that oftentimes we aren’t with our loved ones when something goes awry. Many polyfolk, us included, don’t live with their OSO’s, either by choice or because they can’t. And so when you hit a bump, you aren’t right there in the same room or house with your SO, and working through the issue has to be handled from afar. Over the phone, in email, maybe even in blogging or (heaven forbid) texting. And if, in the process of addressing the issue, that communication stops…well, you can’t just follow the person into the next room and say, “What’s up? What’s really going on? Why did you say that?” Or, “I’m feeling hurt and angry and here’s why.”
I don’t live with W. We communicate a LOT via email every day. Little unimportant things, news and tidbits, shared stories and online Scrabble/Lexulous. As if we were in the same room, chatting back and forth. We also use it–cautiously–to work through the occasional flare-up or issue that comes up. He’s much better than I am at knowing when to say “stop” to the email and insist that we have a phone or face-to-face conversation, though, as so much can be misunderstood when you don’t have verbal or physical cues to clarify things. As I discovered recently when I had to work from home, I need those verbal/physical cues much more than I thought I did. I always knew that I need a lot of communication, but I was surprised at how much I rely on those other indicators as well. And if the email communication stops and I have no indicator of the other’s emotional barometer? Bad bad news for Jade.
Saturday night an issue came up. It is one that frustrates me in my relationship with W, but that I usually deal okay with. Well, for whatever reason, Saturday night it came to a bit of a head. I didn’t want to address it right then, as we were in the midst of a night out with the three of us, but I’m not that good at compartmentalizing, and it soured my enjoyment of the evening to the point that I called the evening short and left W’s feeling angry and resentful, something I have seldom–if ever–done in the past. The next day, yesterday, he sent me a short email that he considered an olive branch, but which I felt trivialized or ignored the real issue. I sent him a terse response back, fully expecting, as one would do in person, a “Hey, what’s going on here?” communication. Which would then allow us to talk through the original issue.
(And yes, I recognize that as passive/aggressive. Rather than simply saying I had a problem, I wanted him to want to know what was wrong. I realize now that the reason I had reacted so negatively the night before was not just the usual issue, but something in addition to it that both hurt my feelings and made my rejection-meter go up. So, things were a little more complex than usual, and my reactions were not simply to what was actually happening, but colored by other emotions/baggage.)
I didn’t get it. I didn’t hear from him at all, in fact. And as the day wore on, and I still never heard from him, things began to get ugly in my head. I was convinced he didn’t care, or worse, was oblivious, or perhaps even punishing me. The silent treatment = withdrawal of love to me, something that I recognize is not reality, but a product of my own baggage. My stepfather punished me with silence, with ignoring me, with withdrawing his love. My ex punished me by first badgering me, and then by silence. So it has heavy emotional triggers for me. I read it as rejection. And we all know how I react to rejection (badly.) And so, instead of simply writing to him, I wrapped myself in my wounded pride and didn’t communicate either. And that led to a day of misery and sadness for us both.
We did end up communicating, finally, at about 3am, when I couldn’t sleep and finally emailed him about how upset I was. And we learned that, for us (as he said), “Silence isn’t golden.”
It’s all a learning process. Learning ways to communicate effectively is probably at the very top of an poly person’s “to do” list. And even after two years, we are still learning.