Relationships are hard. Period. Trying to learn how to properly communicate with your partner is one of the toughest things I’ve ever come across. Not only do you have to figure out a way to help your partner understand you completely, but you need to learn new skills in order to fully understand your partner. There are SO many components to communication. The vast majority of our communication is non-verbal. That fact alone makes communication intimidating. It isn’t just saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ that fixes things. You have to focus on your tone and your facial expressions and your body posture. There is so much you can convey to a person without even speaking. To make that doubly complicated add in the fact that not everyone feels love in the same way (or from the same things). Learning how to accurately and adequately communicate in someone’s love language and dialect can be really difficult, especially if it isn’t anything like your own and you have no experience or skills in that area. Forget every other problem you could possibly have in a relationship – communication is hard. You could have absolutely no issues whatsoever, but if you can’t communicate properly…shit is going to hit the fan. Yes, relationships are hard. There is nothing you can say to challenge that or change it.
Relationships Come With A Lot Of Assumptions
Now think about all of that, plus adding on all these invisible and unspoken assumptions or expectations of your partner (or theirs of you). You grow up viewing relationships in a certain way. You think ‘this’ is the way you love someone. Or you think ‘this’ is the order in which you do things in a relationship. Or ‘this’ is how relationships work. Or, whatever it is you come into a relationship thinking you know. But the problem with knowing something outright is that you assume you’re correct and that your way is the only way to do it. Even if you know that there are other ways out there, people tend to assume that if they fall for someone and that person falls for them, that the other person will just know what they want or what they need or what they’re expecting out of the relationship. But here’s a little secret – nobody knows. No one will ever come into a relationship knowing exactly what the other person is thinking. It’s simply impossible. The only way for someone to know what it is you’re wanting and needing out of a relationship is if you tell them. And the only way for you to tell them is if you recognize your own wants and needs as separate from other people’s realities.
If you go around assuming everyone thinks the same way as you, then you won’t have any reason to explain yourself. You won’t even have any reason to think about what it is you’re thinking, or why you’re thinking that way. This can cause you to believe something should be a certain way because that’s how you perceived it to be while growing up, even if it isn’t truly what would work best for you. You can spend your whole life trying to shove, not only your partner, but also yourself, into a relationship box that doesn’t fit you. And that can cause some serious damage in one’s relationship. A person needs to know themself. A person needs to know what they truly want and need in order to have a healthy and beneficial relationship with another person. This means you need to spend time thinking about what you want and need. Thinking about what you’re thinking. Thinking about why you’re thinking it. Really examining and analyzing the way in which you think, to determine if your thinking is beneficial to you. This is why one of the things I recommend to people (especially people who are new to polyamory), is to spend some time being single. Spend some time getting to know and love yourself so that you can come into a relationship truly knowing what it is you want and need. I wrote an article about being Polyamorous & Single that you can read here. It’s honestly one of the best things you can do for you and your love life. Actually, it’s just one of the best things you can do for your life. Period. If knowledge is power, then knowing oneself is like a superpower.
Okay, so moving forward. Let’s say you’ve done all this soul searching and you’ve grown and you know who you are and you love yourself and everything within that aspect is hunky-dory. Great! First step can be crossed off your list. Next step is to form a relationship with another person that allows both you and that person to get what they’re wanting and needing from the relationship. This means there will have to be some compromising. However, the compromising should never look like ‘Fine. I guess I’ll do that for you if you do this for me.’ No. That’s not compromising. That’s pushing yourself into something you don’t really want in order to get something else out of it. It’s uncomfortable, and unnecessary. You start a relationship by doing that, and you’ve instantly turned that relationship into a transaction. Transactions are not meant to be long-term. Transactions are meant to be one-and-done. You can’t treat a relationship like a transaction, because then the whole relationship is a back and forth of ‘Well I did this, so now you have to do this.’ And you completely lose track of the fact that the reason the relationship started is because you care for the other person. The relationship, then, just revolves around whether things are ‘fair’ or ‘even’ or ‘equal’. You end up relying on a points system and it becomes some sort of distorted competition of trying to gain as many points as possible so that you can make the other person do whatever it is you want. What kind of psycho actually wants that to be their relationship?
Relationship Anarchy Smorgasbord
No, you never start out thinking that’s what you’re getting into. That’s never what someone comes into a relationship saying they want. Nobody wants that. But, again, we don’t know what the other person DOES want. So, how do we figure that out? Well, there’s a nifty tool for people who are forming new relationships (or trying to reconfigure old ones). This tool was meant to be used for those who believe in relationship anarchy; however, it can be used for anyone. It could be used for other people in the polyamorous community who don’t particularly care for the concept of relationship anarchy. And it could also be used for people in monogamous relationships. It could even just be used as a tool to help a single person decipher what it is they truly DO want or DON’T want out of any future relationships. So, what is this amazing all encompassing tool? It’s just a piece of paper with some words on it, or an image file on your phone (depending on how you decide to view it). It’s called the Relationship Anarchy Smorgasbord, and here’s what it looks like:
There are a few different versions of the Relationship Anarchy Smorgasbord (or RAS), and feel free to go look them up, but this one is my particular favorite. It seems to be the most all encompassing and thus can allow for the most options. Of course, if there’s something that isn’t on the smorgasbord you can still add it into your relationship (or keep it out of your relationship). But the main factor to the RAS is that you can’t add something into your relationship without consent/agreement from all parties involved in the relationship. If you want some kink in your relationship, but your partner isn’t up for that, then you can’t add it into your relationship. The nice thing about polyamory (and all forms of consensual non-monogamy) is that if one partner doesn’t want something that you want, you are able to stay with that partner while also looking for someone else who wants the same thing you do.
Limits to Relationships
Now, there are times when you may realize that you and your partner (or prospective partner) don’t want any of the same things. In which case you can decide you simply aren’t compatible and you’ll be able to make the choice of whether or not you want to move forward with things. No hard feelings, of course. Not everyone IS compatible. That’s perfectly fine. No reason to hate the other person for it. Just accept it and move on. Of course, if you’re using the RAS as your main tool to configure your relationships…most likely there will always be SOME way to have a relationship with someone, even if that relationship is only companionship (or business partners, etc.). Though, you should really think about whether or not you are compatible with someone before trying to fit them into a tiny slot (of any kind), opposed to just casting them out entirely. Just because both of you want to be business partners doesn’t mean you’ll be particularly good at working together. You need to take into consideration your own abilities and the other person’s abilities to actually engage in any of the above ‘items’. For example, simply wanting to be co-caregivers with someone doesn’t take into account whether you’ve actually got time, or the patience, or any number of other factors that could affect your ability to take part in it. Consider what you want and need, but also think about the reality of things.
Ideally, however, you’ll be able to configure all sorts of types of relationships within your life with the help of this smorgasbord (whether on paper, on your phone, or committed to memory). It can help guide you in the way you form relationships, as well as the way you think about them. Because, let’s face it, who wants to be in a relationship where they feel their needs aren’t being met, their wants aren’t being taken seriously, and their stuck with a person who doesn’t understand them? This is why communication is so important. Without it you won’t be able to get what you want, or what you need. You won’t even be able to tell someone you aren’t receiving those things.
It’s All About Culture
Again I’ll return to the major difference here between polyamorous and monogamous culture. It isn’t that polyamory and monogamy alone create this disparity with how people go about relationships. But the culture around which each relationship type exists holds strong ideologies about relationships in general. Though it may not be true for all people in monogamous relationships – a large portion of monogamous culture tells people that once you’ve found your ‘one’ that you should look to that person, and that person alone, to fulfill all of your needs. Basically, if you aren’t happy (or you aren’t getting your needs filled) it’s your partners fault. And it’s them who needs to change something in order to cater to you. The problem with this isn’t just that it’s unrealistic, or that it sets a huge amount of pressure on the other person where none needs to be, but that it isn’t, in fact, anyone’s responsibility to make sure that your needs are being met…except for you. You are the only one who is responsible for getting your needs met. It’s that simple.
Yes, sometimes your needs involve other people. For instance…my love language is quality time (and my dialect is quality conversation). Does this mean that I need every one of my partners to be amazing conversationalists? Does it mean every person I’m with needs to give me 100% of their time? Definitely not. If one of my partners is unable to give me as much quality time as I’d like, or is unable to talk with me as much as (or how) I’d like, then I can find another partner who can. I can spread my need across all my partners. I can also go to a friend. Or a family member. Or a counselor. Or whoever. The great thing about the concept of relationship anarchy is that I don’t have to hold my romantic relationships in higher degree than my other types of relationships. I can get my cuddle needs met from a friend (or my kids, or my dogs). I can get my intellectual conversation needs met through colleagues or schoolmates or through people I meet at community lectures. I am able to realize what I need, and find a way to meet that need that doesn’t put pressure on anybody at all. I allow people to give what they can – what they want to give. And anything else that is unmet by that I find a different way to acquire.
Polyamory in itself is about redefining relationships. It’s about allowing yourself to love in the way you want to love, and allowing others to do the same. Relationship anarchy is neither separate, nor a part, of polyamory. It’s a concept that weaves its way in, out, around, and through polyamory (and all types of relationships). It’s a way of thinking about relationships that broadens your abilities and possibilities and allows you to take even more control of yourself and your life and your relationships. Relationship anarchy is for everyone – monogamous and polyamorous folks, alike. After all, who wants their relationships to be predefined by society? Don’t choose a relationship monarchy. Choose relationship anarchy.