A "relationship map," a collection of colored stars, hearts and circles with letters insides, connected to one another by lines

Please remember to be polite and respectful in the comments.

Welcome to the third portion of my four part discussion on Bad Poly.

Today I’m going to talk about communication. Why it’s important, and why I am so deliciously, delightfully, disastrously bad at it. Check the new language below!

Primary Partner: In many relationships a primary partner is the person(s) in the relationships accorded the most importance.
Secondary Partner:  In many relationships, a secondary partner is the person(s) in the relationship who, have a relationship that is given less in time/energy/etc. than a primary relationship.
Tertiary Partner: The person(s) in the relationship who have a relationship that requires little in terms of time/energy/support than primary or even secondary relationships.
Compersion: Often considered the opposite of jealousy, compersion is the positive feelings that you experience when your partner is investing in a relationship with someone else.
Metamour: Your partner’s partner.
Envy: When you want what someone else has.
Jealousy: When you’re worried someone is trying to take what you have.
NRE New Relationship Energy- The excitement that exists when a relationship is new. Can last 3 months-2 years and beyond, and is individual to each relationship.


So let me share a little something about my relationships. I have (currently) 4 relationships. To be honest, I have a few more, but I only have 4 that I’ve sat down and had conversations about “yes, we’re in a relationship”.
I used stars for my metamours, because they're ROCKSTARS!

I used stars for my metamours, because they’re ROCKSTARS!
The hearts are my partners, the stars are my metamours. You can see that there are a lot of people involved in my map (and I haven’t even started in on the partners of my metamours!). That means that there are a lot of moving parts. A lot of people, a lot of conversations, and a lot of people to give information to. Naturally, this means that sometimes, there are some serious failures in communication. Usually they start with me, and they can be such disasters.

See the thing is, I like to think that I’m a pretty good communicator, I really do. My problem is that when I want to communicate, I’m really, really good at it. When I don’t, I’m shit at it. When I want to talk through problems, issues, or concerns I spend time working through them until they’re sorted for everyone. When I don’t want to work through an issue, I’m likely to get sullen and passive aggressive until I can actually focus on it.

I hear in the poly community how poly people communicate all the time. How great poly people are at communicating. How as long as they’re communicating and being honest, all things that fail in relationships can be repaired. They’re at a better space because they communicate so often. This, can be true, sorta.

The thing that these successes about polyamory and communication don’t tell you is how fucking hard it is to communicate sometimes. It’s not even just in arguments or problems. I have differing levels of communication needs with each partner. Some partners, I need to talk to every single day. Some partners I need to talk to once a week or even less. That requirement is unique to each relationship, and sometimes changes. Even within arguments though, it’s hard to identify what is wrong with the communication if there is something wrong. Sometimes it’s not a matter of “poor communication”, sometimes it’s just a matter of what is being said, and how it’s being said.

Check it, imagine you contact your partner and you have the following exchange:

“Hey, I made plans to go out tonight for drinks with some friends. Is that cool?”

What the hell does that mean? I’m willing to bet that you have an idea when you’re imagining the situation with your partner. Really though, you don’t know what the context is from what I’ve given you. It could just be a standard “oh by the way” message. It could be the start of an argument. It could be anything. In fact, in my house, this is often the breakdown of how this sort of thing pans out:

Partner says: “Hey, I made plans to go out tonight for drinks with some friends. Is that cool?”
Partner means: “Hey, I couldn’t remember if we had plans tonight, so I made some. They can be cancelled pretty easily though if you need it.
I hear: “Hey, I didn’t check/didn’t care about/didn’t want to do our plans for tonight, so I made other ones, and thanks for not fighting with me in advance.”

I say: “Fine.”
I mean: “Well, I wanted to spend time with you, I’m feeling a little hurt by the fact that you didn’t check with me, but I’m not sure how I’m feeling/I’m not ready to talk about it/it’s not important enough to me for us argue on it.”
Partner hears: “Sure, you can do whatever you want, but I want you to feel guilty while you do it.”

Naturally, that sort of communication almost always ends up in a gnarly fight with us arguing in circles, because someone didn’t think to communicate what they felt/wanted/meant, and then I got passive aggressive instead of asking for clarification.

Trust me when I say, always ask for clarification. Making assumptions just ends in arguments.


In my relationships, it means that when I’m really, truly, voraciously angry, I get snarky and passive aggressive, I get snippy and cranky off the bat, before coming around later and apologizing profusely. I put up a snarky, sarcastic force field, because I’m afraid that I’ll get so angry that I’ll lose something that I really love. I detach from arguments until I get to a place where I can cool down and handle my shit.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t ways to be a bad communicator (there certainly are, and they can be toxic and sometimes used to abuse people), but rather to say that just because your communication skills aren’t so sparkling that you can defuse an argument with one word, doesn’t mean you’re not a good poly person, or even a good poly partner.

Yeah, communication is important. Talking to your partner is important. But the great thing about polyamory is that we have these amazing relationships that we craft and design all on our own. We can craft and design how we handle arguments and communication in ways that suit us and suit our relationships.

Unfortunately, what the poly communication advocates don’t often talk about is that sometimes misunderstandings happen. Sometimes, you feel the need to tell your partner to “fuck off” for a bit until you gather yourself. Sometimes, you just don’t want to talk about an issue. Sometimes, a tiny issue doesn’t need to be talked about into oblivion.

Sometimes, not talking can actually make things better. Not over-thinking, overworking, over-arguing a point can actually make things smoother. You don’t have to argue every point. You’re allowed to take time to figure out what the hell you want to say, and even what you want to feel. You’re allowed to step back, and realize that not everything needs to be handled right then. You’re allowed to communicate how you need to in order to feel good about both yourself and your relationships.

If we can customize our relationships, we can customize our communication, and there’s no shame in that.