Updated: Apr 21, 2021
When I was 17, I wanted to express to my first long-term partner that I felt like I wanted to be with other people when I went to college. It was my first “real” relationship and for the first time, I was really head over heels in love. I wanted desperately to be with this person and at the same time, I wanted to have new experiences with other people and explore my sexuality further. It felt like my world was going to expand and I was torn between wanting my relationship and wanting to thrive and explore that expansion.
As a young queer person whose in-school sexuality education had never even mentioned queer people, let alone relationship structures, the need to have this conversation loomed over my head for months. I pushed it until the very last moment because of guilt. Due to compulsory monogamy, I thought wanting to have sex with other people made me a bad, uncommitted, unfaithful partner. Finally, when I could not push the issue away more, I said to my partner, at the worst possible moment, “I’m scared I’m going to cheat on you when I go to college and I don’t know what to do.” Now as you could imagine, this phrasing did not go over well, nor was it what I actually was trying to communicate. Since the only model for relationship structures I ever had was monogamous, I thought this issue was black and white, monogamous or cheating. I think back to my young self and think about how now, as a non-monogamous sexuality educator how I reframe these conversations and address these topics through effective communication with partners. If I were to rewrite the moment, with the skills I have now I would say: “Hey, I love and value our relationship and also I’m really interested in having sex with other people, how does that make you feel? Can we talk about it more?”
I was never a bad evil partner, as it turns out, I am just nonmonogamous, which from parts one and two of this series you’ll learn is just another of many possible relationship structures. As mentioned in our non-monogamy primer, unfortunately, effective communication and relationship structures are not taught to youth and as a result, we’re left in a battle with ourselves around our needs and how to have them met. The first step is communicating about your wants and needs with your partner. The best way to communicate is frequently and openly. Regardless of what point of a relationship you’re at, it is crucial to have an open line of communication together and agreements on how you would like to communicate. Do you want regular check-ins? To address issues as they come up? No matter what you and your partners agree on, make sure your communication is compassionate, clear, respectful, and open.
Communicating about relationships is not only for people interested in engaging in non-monogamy but also for all relationships. As a sexuality educator, and in my personal relationships I have noticed that people do not discuss things like their communication styles, expectations, or needs with their partner. Regardless of your relationship structure, communication is crucial to making sure that everyone feels seen, heard, and cared for, and fulfilled in relationships. Engaging in nonmonogamy adds more factors to communicate about, making it more complex but not bad, simply more things to discuss! This zine and the rest of this post cover some of the basics of communication and some helpful things to keep in mind while navigating relationships.
Relationships do not just happen to us. We are not only participants in relationships but should be constantly making and remaking our relationships through communication! Change is a healthy part of this making process, we want to communicate through to make healthy changes in our relationships so they don’t break down.
Communication and the possibility of unknown change can be scary. Effective communication requires vulnerability, which can also be scary, especially if you've had negative experiences communicating with partners in the past. Remember: not all change is bad! It is possible that communicating through change might change things for the better in ways we never could imagine! Communication can be a challenge, so here are a few things to consider when working on your relationship and inter-partner communication.
Creating your own “normal” with your partner(s)
Much of what we see in the media is unhealthy communication and that’s if we get to see any at all. We should communicate out of a desire to constantly improve our relationships. Since the models, we’re shown, or not shown often aren’t representative of our relationships or identities, we get to build our own.
Let emotions happen, treat them gently with compassion!
Communicating can be hard and feelings come up. If they are too intense for you and your partner, hold space for each other, you can always take a break and come back to the conversation when you have time to calm down.
Sometimes it’s better to wait and not make decisions in the heat of the moment. Better to take some alone time than to make a rash or emotionally fueled choice.
Appreciate each other for the trust and work you’re putting in to create the relationships you want and need.
Remember, communication is an investment in your relationship!
Communicating through discomfort
Discomfort is natural and okay! It’s important to acknowledge those feelings together and communicate through them. Remember: Communication helps to avoid more forms of emotional discomfort such as resentment. Resentment and anger often stem from a lack of communication, unexpressed feelings, differing expectations, and/or needs not being met.
What are some ways we can do that?
Check-in with yourself and your partner about your discomfort and why you might be uncomfortable. Getting to the root of discomfort creates space to mutually move past issues with trust.
Check-in with yourself and your partner not only about your discomfort but why you might be uncomfortable with the topic of conversation. You may not get to the bottom of it at that moment, and that is okay however, getting to the root of the discomfort allows possible space to mutually move through it.
Setting aside time for communication and time for affirmation and fun was to reconnect after a hard talk.
Talk about fears and insecurities so everyone is on the same page, who knows you might feel the same way!
Healthy Communication Skills
Radical Honesty: the skill to tell your whole truth, respectfully. You are entitled to privacy and also your partner is deserving of your honesty. Agree together on what you will share, when, and how you would like to share that information!
Self Advocacy: the skill associated with one’s ability to advocate, speak up, request/declare their needs, wants, and thoughts in a confident comfortable manner.
Ask yourself, what do you want and need from your relationships? How can you express that?
Think about how you can communicate that and present your needs, wants, intentions, and expectations in a compassionate way to your partner(s).
Specificity: Making sure to define what you mean to avoid miscommunications.
Follow up your statements and ask questions like “Do you feel like you understand what I expressed? Do you need more clarification?”
What else do you want to know about communication and relationships? Feel free to contact us we would LOVE to hear from you!