I recently read on a swinger forum a question by a newbie asking what advice people could give. They gave pretty standard advice:
- Go slow, followed by people saying don’t go too slow or you’ll never actually try it and just overthink it and end up as picture collectors getting off on the idea but not the actuality of being a swinger.
- Go to house parties and sex clubs, followed by people saying that is a terrible idea and that really you ought to try to meet people online and focus on those who like to mentor newbies.
- Establish clear rules, followed by comments stating that most rules are due to insecurity and likely to be broken anyway.
- And then of course the most classic advice that Communication is the most important thing. This is generally followed by a condescending idea that if you aren’t great at communication that you ought to just give up before you even start.
To which I say, Bullpucky. The problem with most advice on being strong on communication, in addition to the fact that it is a complete cliché, is that generally no one actually gives you advice on how to be good at communication or how to improve it. I also think that most people think their communication is pretty good, not perfect, but generally I don’t know anyone who thinks they are incompetent at communication. I think that swinging will in fact improve your communication even if you aren’t that great at it to begin with. Communication is like a muscle which will strengthen with use and swinging should force you to start flexing it.
So assuming you decide to jump in but want to work specifically on strengthening communication, there are nearly a hundred thousand books that come up on Amazon when you look for books on “Communication Skills.” Presumably some of those have useful advice although if it is like any other self-help advice it is probably highly conflicting depending on which one you pick.
I can’t say I’ve read many of them. I like John Gottman’s Why Marriages Succeed or Fail which discusses a lot of ideas but particularly highlights the importance of not displaying contempt to your partner. Other than that here are some things that I have learned over the years on the subject of communication.
- Don’t try to communicate or have a conversation when you are in your “Lizard Brain.” That is to say, once your Fight or Flight response is triggered and you are thinking with your Amygdala, admit that you aren’t thinking rationally. You aren’t listening or communicating if you are running from confrontation and trying to get the issue over. The same is true if you are in fight mode, not listening while thinking of what you are trying to say next to prove your point and win.
- Don’t try to resolve an issue if the other person is in their Lizard Brain. Take a break and resolve the problem later.
- Try to figure out and be aware of those things that put you in your Lizard Brain. For me, it is very likely to happen if I am too stupid to eat. Low blood sugar makes me go from fine to crazed bitch in 0.001 seconds. Being sick, tired, or PMS can do it too. Then of course there are issues likely to put me in Fight mode such as passive aggressive comments like “You Win” or “If You Say So.” I hate “Whatever” (in that disrespectful teenage way of saying it) so much that we taught our preschooler it was a bad word and banned it in the house the way some families ban “fuck” or “cunt.” Everyone’s got their buttons that can be pushed. It’s helpful to communication if you figure out what yours are.
- Being poly magnifies communication’s importance exponentially. I don’t think it’s something that you just suddenly are an expert at. I think at this point I have the assumption that miscommunication, hurt feelings, confusion are going to happen. That’s part of relationships and we just keep working at it while learning from mistakes and being forgiving to loved ones.
- Specific poly communication rules: Thou shall not triangulate. That is to say don’t talk to a third person about an issue with someone else and try to get the third person involved to fix it with them. Communicate directly with the person who you have an issue with. A corollary is: Don’t get involved in disputes between other members of the poly family. Don’t take sides in issues that aren’t your issue. Make them work out their own disagreements.
- Finally, to actually do the above for a poly quad, we have developed a pretty practical method whereby we periodically have family meetings. Sometimes these are by Skype if we can’t all be present physically. Anyone can call them whenever to discuss important topics. Mrs. Fox started these and would show up with her legal pad of things to discuss. Now the rest of us keep track of what we want to discuss that way too. It gets things out in the open in a non-confrontational way and all four of us can say what we think without it becoming an argument. Usually issues get resolved. Sometimes they get continued.