Communication is incredibly important when it comes to any relationship and especially open relationships. It’s almost a given that the practice of ethical non-monogamy will bring up issues for everyone to deal with. If we don’t share our experience with others in healthy ways, we put ourselves and our relationship at risk for conflict. And who wants more of that?
View more posts about how an open relationship “counseling approach” can help.
Here are a few foundational skills for healthy communication
Create a safe place to talk
Healthy communication can only happen when there is attention to the intention of making it happen. This means we need to check in before we dive into any sort of heated conversation. If things are too charged, then it might be good to hold off. Saying something like, “Wow. We really need to address this and we both seem very reactionary. I question our ability to move through this without attacking each other. Would you be willing to come together a little bit later to talk? That will give us both some time to let our emotions settle and be more available to share.” It is incredibly important for both parties to be aware of the emotional pulse. If at any point things intensify, call it out. Again, this is in service to communicate in a way where everyone feels safe to be who they are and share their experience without feeling their experience will be judged or unwelcome.
Take time to connect
Before anyone speaks, it’s a good idea to take a minute to breathe, make eye contact, and connect nonverbally. As you gaze into each other’s eyes, bring your attention to the intention to communicate with clarity and kindness. It may get bumpy every once in a while. That’s okay. The importance of this moment is to bring your attention to the connection between you and let that be your anchor.
Who talks first?
If everyone feels they can naturally flow in and out of talking, listening, and reflecting, then go for it. If this is a struggle for anyone, then consider using a talking stick. The person who is talking holds the stick or any other small object. The person without the stick listens. Decide on a time for each person to talk. Five minutes is usually a good start. And, begin. This is a great way for people to practice saying what they want to say without being interrupted and to listen to what their partner is saying without getting in the way.
The importance of checking in with yourself before speaking
Before anyone speaks, take a moment to check in and ask yourself what you want to say. Doing this before we speak brings more conscious awareness to our experience and to the conversation. This is also a good time to check in with any sensations, feelings, or thoughts you might be having. Something like, “As we’re sitting here, I’m feeling a bit nervous because I don’t want you to get upset. And, for the purposes of the exercise, I’m going to do my best to be clear so that you understand where I am coming from.” Continue to check in with yourself throughout the conversation. Observing any sensations, feelings, and thoughts as they come and go.
Own your experience
It is incredibly important for everyone to own their experience at all times. This may be hard for someone whose pattern is to blame their partner for their upset. Your upset is your upset just as my upset is my upset. When we own our experience and share from that place, we empower ourselves, our partner, and our relationship. Something like, “I’m feeling really angry that you came home later than you said you would last night. It feels uncomfortable to be angry. I wasn’t expecting this and I’m worried it will throw off my day. I just wish you kept our agreement. It’s important to me that we keep our agreements.” Owning our experience is often one of the hardest skills to learn and it is essential if we are to practice healthy communication in our open relationship.
Many times we shy away from telling a person how their behavior affects us because we are scared how they will react. And so that person continues the same behavior, perhaps thinking it’s okay with us. It’s important for us to share impact with others. If a person does not know how their actions impact us, how will they know how to change? Do yourself and them a favor and tell them.
There’s always more to say
There’s so much to share on the topic of communication and how to practice healthy communication in open relationships. This really is the core of my work. I have found that communication is the top issue that people struggle with in their relationships.
To learn more about how I use an open relationship counseling approach in my coaching and to see if working together is the best fit for you, contact me and schedule a Poly-Coach Session today!