Thursday, 23 September 2010

Intimacy and the art of patience

Being an incoming partner in an already established relationship, there is something that might be forgotten in the drive towards feeling secure about your place within the relationship and that is intimacy, if you are in a comparatively new relationship with two (or more) partners who have had years to build up their intimacy levels over time, it is easy to lose perspective of this reality when faced with the evidence of this imbalance, it might easily get mixed up with general insecurity.

So what do I mean about intimacy?

Well firstly it isn’t about sex, another common mistake.

According to Wiki, ‘Intimacy, generally refers to the feeling of being in a close personal association and belonging together. It is a familiar and very close affective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability and reciprocity. As a verb "intimate" means "to state or make known".

In addition I would add that Intimacy is feeling free to be yourself 100% and the total safety and security in being accepted as yourself, warts and all. It is the lack of self consciousness that only comes in a long term relationship when you cease trying to keep up the pretence that you are flawless (and flawlessly beautiful) and amazingly hygienic without any effort at all…it is the intimacy of being able to be the occasionally spotty, farty, sicky, smelly selves. It is feeling comfortable enough to use the toilet in front of one another, not dying of embarrassment if you happen to have a bad evening of wind etc, these are not (unless you are unselfconscious to a fault) the kinds of things you feel totally comfortable with after a week, perhaps not even a few months or a year, but sometimes many years until you totally let your guard down.

You have to keep in mind that the intimacy level of your dyads are in the right place for the length of time of your relationships, if you were in a mono relationship you would not notice any difference, you shouldn't (though I appreciate that it is difficult not to) compare it to the dyads your partners have with each other, because the dyads you have are just fine the way they are and will develop at their own pace.

Intimacy takes time, it just does, you can’t rush it, though it can possibly be helped along by open and honest communication, you can’t possibly compare the intimacy levels between a relationship that is a year old, than one that is twenty years old.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Twice the Fun and Half the Trouble! (The Trouble with Triads 3)

You’d think so, anyway. It seems as though it should work that way. The joys of two relationships, but less trouble, because, after all, your partners can always entertain / comfort / be company for each other while you slope off to do your own thing. You could maybe even avoid the fallout of your own miscalculated comments or actions since the injured party has someone else to console and commiserate with them. After all, they’re mad with you, right, so why would they want to talk to you? You might as well go and sulk / watch TV / read by yourself till the injured party Gets Over It.


Well, half-wrong, anyway. Having two primary live-in partners does mean that there is usually company when you want it, that you are usually not left home alone with the kids while a partner has classes or club events. It is twice as much love and affection, definitely (often more than you have time to fit in). Twice as many people to coddle you when you are unhappy or ill. Twice as much companionship.

But. It does not absolve you of relationship responsibilities to either partner. Each of your partners need to know that you care for him/her as an individual. Yes, it’s great to know that another partner loves him/her, but s/he needs to hear it from you too. S/he needs to see that you care. That you are prepared to put in the time to listen to her/him, empathise with her/him and care for her/his needs. S/he definitely needs to have it out with you if s/he is unhappy with something you have done. This cannot be resolved by weeping on the shoulder of another person, no matter how loved and trusted. S/he may become less emotional about it, but the issue will be there, lurking beneath the surface of your every interaction, just waiting to explode again.

In a triad, just as in any other relationship, you can’t afford to focus only on the benefits to yourself. You have to focus on your responsibilities as well. You have to accept that relationship responsibilities have to be prioritised in your life, and that you will probably be spending more time dealing with relationship issues than you ever have before.

A little forethought will go a long way to making your life easier:
Think things through in advance, considering how your actions and words will impact each person in your relationship before you speak or act.
Empathise: Learn to put yourself in your partners’ shoes.
Work on developing a non-judgemental, non-confrontational, non-melodramatic communication style, and ask your partners to do the same. But then remember to take their words just as seriously as before: just because s/he is speaking calmly rather than screaming the roof down does not mean s/he feels it any less intensely than before.

Each romantic relationship in a triad has to be a full relationship, not a superficial one. It’s no good hoping that your partners will fill each other’s needs and that therefore they don’t need you so much: now you are needed by two people instead of one. To ignore this is to exclude yourself from the functional heart of your relationship; to risk your relationship becoming, emotionally at least, a simple dyad. Without you.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

All Together Now... (The Trouble with Triads 2)

Well, that was a much longer delay than I was expecting. Life foiled my plans yet again!

So... Ahem.

One reason I am focussing so much on the difference between Vs and triads right now is that all of my past experience has been with Vs. Actually, strictly speaking, all of my past experience has been as one arm of a V. Two relationships, one lasting four years and the other lasting two, spread out over 15 years. Consequently, I feel that I know my way around Vs pretty well and I understand what makes them work. But for the last year I have been in a polyfi triad. A permanent commitment to both other people in my relationship. Group marriage, if you will. And it turns out that that is a whole different ballgame.

Poly internet forums are a rich source of information on how poly works in practice. I am truly grateful to all the people who have posted about the issues they have faced and are facing in their triad relationships, as it is amazingly helpful. It is so very much easier to see to the heart of an issue and to see a solution when it is Somebody Else’s Problem than when it is your own problem, because you are deeply emotionally immersed. Analyzing other people’s problems can help us to avoid the same problems in our own relationships, as we can usually see them coming when we know what to look out for.

So. Togetherness...

In a V relationship, when your partner is with you, s/he is with you. By which I mean that you are the sole focus of each other’s attention as partners. Relationship-wise, you have little to concern you at those times beyond your dyad: each other. When you have a relationship conversation, it is usually just the two of you involved (though there should always also be conversations involving everyone in the V, particularly when it involves scheduling time with the hinge of the V, or any relationship issue that involves or will affect everyone). At these times, you only have each other to please or to consider – at least, once the workday is over and any children you have are in bed.

Conversely, in a triad, you are often all together. Your attention is usually divided between both your partners, and your partners’ attention is usually divided between you and each other. This can be tricky enough in a social situation with friends; it can be much trickier when you are dividing your attention between your two partners.

Our monogamous-minded society has trained us to expect our partner’s undivided attention. This is usually not what happens in a triad, and it can be difficult to come to terms with that. It is easy to feel overlooked or neglected by both your partners even when you know that it is not actually what is happening, especially if they are strongly focussed on one another; for example, if they are discussing an interest which they share and you do not.

It is also much harder to paper over the cracks in a triad than as a couple or in a V situation which is essentially functioning as two completely separate dyads. If a person is prone to emotional manipulation of a partner, however mild, it is likely to be picked up and challenged by the third partner, even if the partners concerned were themselves totally unaware of this dynamic. If two of you have been arguing, you can’t leave the argument unfinished and sulk at each other for the next few days as the third partner is likely to be crushed by the atmosphere and demand a resolution. Even lazy household habits, such as a poor diet or bad housekeeping, are more likely to be challenged when there are three adults sharing space. It is also much harder, if you are inclined that way, to continue to be abusive, to be an enabler or to be co-dependent, unless you all have a spectacularly damaged dynamic. On the whole, then, this is a Very Good Thing. But it is not necessarily always a comfortable thing. And everybody gets to take their turn at being criticised. You have to try desperately hard not to respond defensively, and to listen carefully and mindfully to what is being said.

Being all together for much of the time can, in some ways, make it more difficult to resolve some issues. This is because it is harder to state (however gently) a criticism of a partner when your other partner, whose opinion you are not certain of, is part of the discussion. It feels uncomfortably like – well... being mean or selfish. It is just as hard when you are certain that the third person agrees with you, because then it feels as though you are ganging up on your mutual partner. And yet, we all need criticism to develop. Similarly, it is much harder to take criticism when there is a witness, even when that witness is your other partner. Perhaps especially if your other partner agrees with the criticism.

And yet, if you wait to have these discussions one-to-one, then whoever is left out of them feels... well... left out. Of their own relationship. When they might have had a valid opinion or solution to the problem. Feeling rejected can hurt as much as physical pain. So you all have to work a lot harder on your communication skills, and on addressing issues in a non-judgemental way. Which is a Good Thing of course. But three-way relationship conversations can take an awfully long time.

I suspect it is probably best to choose in advance which hobbies you are going to drop, at least for the first few years of a triad relationship, while you are all working things out. Honestly, the benefits are worth it, and as with any relationship, a half-hearted effort is almost as bad as no effort at all, and is just as likely to lead to a break-up.

And just so I don’t end on a note of total doom and gloom, I want to emphasize that there are huge benefits to togetherness in a triad. Sharing good films, TV series and books. Good conversations. Silliness and hysterical laughter. Shared hobbies. As much affection as you could possibly need. Support in the rough times. Ultimately, close friends who don’t have to leave at the end of the day to go back to their own homes, because they are already home.