The following is an example of a form of miscommunication commonly seen in polyamorous relationships. Although your situation may be different, it is my hope that you can use this as a way to address miscommunication when it comes up.
You call your partner and ask them where they are. They tell you they just pulled up to their new love interest’s house.
You were expecting them to be home. When you learn they made another choice and they did not share this with you before they did it, you become upset.
Technically, your partner didn’t do anything wrong because there is no established agreement saying you will tell each other the details of your whereabouts 24/7. You are aware of this and yet you are steaming with emotion. There is a part of you that wants to be understanding and supportive. There is a part of you that wants to be “bigger” than your emotions. And yet, your emotions are intensifying with every breath you take.
You begin to experience what I call an inner conflict between your activated parts:
- Part #1: The part of you that wants to be okay with what happened.
- Part #2: The part of you that is definitely not okay with what happened.
- Part #3: The part of you that wants to ignore the whole thing.
This experience intensifies and you’re not sure what to do. You ask yourself:
- “Do I share my experience with my partner knowing that it may turn into an ugly fight?”
- “Do I leave the situation alone completely and pretend nothing happened?”
- “Do I keep it to myself and let this energy build inside of me knowing that in time this will build resentment?”
Fight, flight, or freeze? All three options seem to end in pain.
Here’s what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation:
Invite a dialogue
So often we dive into our reactions about something before we consciously get a grip on our emotions. Speaking from our emotions generally leads to more conflict. When we are triggered, we need to avoid pointing fingers and blaming someone for our experience. This can be challenging. Consider saying one of the following:
- “Honey, something’s coming up for me that I’d like to share with you. Do you have a few minutes?”
- “Babe, I’m finding myself distracted by how things played out earlier today. Can we talk?”
- “Sweetheart, I’m feeling a little nervous bringing this up because I don’t want you to get mad. And, I’m having an experience now that I want to resolve and I need your help. Can we talk?”
Sharing impact is a way of verbally expressing how someone’s actions affect us. When done in a healthy way, sharing impact allows for all parties to be able to hear each other without blame or shame. The following is an example of how to the share impact from the above scenario:
- “When I called you and you told me you just pulled up to [name of person’s] home, I felt my heart sink. I had the impression you were going to come straight home.”
- “I’m aware of my thoughts trying to create stories around why you chose to go there without telling me. I’m feeling uncomfortable with these thoughts and my reactions to them.”
- “I know we don’t always share our whereabouts and I can’t help but wonder why you did not share this with me.”
- “This situation triggers a part of me that thinks maybe you are hiding something from me. And that thought just makes things even more intense.”
Express your need
Getting clear on what might help the situation moving forward can be incredibly helpful. This is where agreements come into play. For example:
- “I have a desire for more transparency without having it come across as controlling.”
- “I would love for us to share with each other when we want to see someone else so that it can be on the table and not an afterthought.”
- “I get that spontaneity is important and I want to support us both in our spontaneity. And, since this is new for us, I’d like for us to be mindful of how our desires and actions impact one another.”
- “Do you think we can come up with an agreement on how to address this moving forward in a way that both supports transparency and autonomy?”
In situations where partners seem to be at odds with each other, it’s important that everyone has a chance to speak and be heard. In the above scenario, it’s possible that there was no malintent in stopping by a love interest’s house. However, because it was not shared, there was a gap in communication. Gaps in communication create gaps in connection. The takeaway here is an invitation to check in with ourselves before taking action, and consider how our actions might impact others.
There are a number of ways we can react in the face of miscommunication. Getting clear on the situation and how it impacts us, helps us get clear on what we need and how to get our needs met. Communication is key. This is where polyamory coaching can be an asset to any poly relationship. Getting the input from an experienced poly professional can help everyone understand the situation more clearly and create a plan to move forward.