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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sensitivity training.

I write a lot about communication. Have you noticed? I believe in it very strongly and think it forms part of the foundation for any good relationship. I also enjoy it. But more than that, I live what I preach. I've been told by several of my partners over the years that my level of communication when it comes to relationships, problems, and feelings is far beyond anything they have experienced before. And I don't just expect communication from others, I deliver it as well.

Something else I believe in strongly are rules. I may not have a lot of them, but those I have are important. They form another piece of the relationship foundation providing guidelines and expectations. My partners know they have complete freedom to follow their hearts. They know I expect reasonable consideration of my feelings and respect. And again they know I walk the walk, considering their feelings against my actions and striving to respect them always.

Now so you know I'm not just patting myself on the back I will get to the point.

No matter how well you communicate with your partner(s), how well you have defined the rules, or how strongly you respect one another, people are still sensitive. Feelings can still change in an instant. Something that has been agreed upon in many previous conversations can still be a struggle when you find yourself actually in a situation.

As often happens with me, I found myself in a challenging situation that made me examine my own feelings and mentality.

My partner Lucy and I were recently visiting with a friend of ours I'll call Fred. Fred has an obvious interest in Lucy and has for a while. Lucy isn't very interested in anything more than a friendship with Fred. Lucy and I have talked about Fred quite a bit and I've said many times I wouldn't be surprised if Lucy and Fred develop more of a physical relationship at some point. I've even told Lucy (though she doesn't need it) that she has my blessing to do as she will with Fred. We had been visiting Fred at his house for quite a while, having good conversation and laughs, when I had to step away for a few minutes. I returned to find Fred and Lucy cuddling together which seemed like quite a sudden shift and caught me a bit off-guard emotionally. I quickly decided to give them some privacy and try to center my emotions before reacting.

After a few minutes to myself I realized I was simply surprised because the cuddling had been completely unexpected. The fast rising feelings of jealousy started to dissolve as I realized Lucy wasn't doing anything we hadn't talked about already and I felt much better.

I busied myself in the kitchen for a bit when Lucy popped in to tell me she was going to take a shower. This is often code for "Want to join me?" or (since she knows how I love a freshly showered woman) "Meet me in the bedroom after my shower". I continued what I was doing, keeping an ear open for the sound of running water. When I heard the water had stopped I headed to the bedroom, entering after a quick knock on the door. What I found was Lucy on the bed naked while Fred gave her a massage.

My brain went from zero to 60 faster than a Maserati on steroids. I had just recovered from the earlier shock of my partner suddenly cuddling with a guy she professed not to be interested in, to now being naked in bed with him massaging her. Realizing once again that I needed to center myself, I quickly apologized for the interruption and left the room. Again it only took me a few minutes to realize that Lucy enjoys a good massage and Fred has some massage experience. What had happened was that I had simply been surprised by something I didn't expect to happen. At the same time, I remembered conversations Lucy and I had previously and wondered how I would have reacted had I walked in on more than an innocent massage.

The point I'm trying to make is that no matter how experienced you are with polyamory, how good your communication is, how well you have defined rules, expectations, freedoms, or scenarios, you are still a sensitive human being capable of being surprised. And you are just as capable of surprising your partner. It may not be that what you are doing is wrong at all, just simply unexpected.

Thinking back, had Lucy just quickly told me she was going to cuddle with Fred I wouldn't have been shocked at all. Had she casually mentioned he was going to give her a massage I wouldn't have been surprised by it when I walked in on them. (Actually I would have given them peace and privacy and not walked in at all). Does that mean she has to check in with me and tell me what she is doing? Not at all. We have an open, adult relationship and I'm able to deal with my feelings as such. At the same time would it have avoided an emotional roller-coaster ride for me? Definitely. Could it have minimized the potential for problems? Absolutely.

So next time you are in a similar situation think about your partner a bit. Even if what you are doing is acceptable, is it expected? Would your partner be surprised if they walked in on you? Would they come looking for you if you suddenly disappeared to go cuddle with someone? And when they found you, would they be surprised? If so then maybe casually mentioning your plans isn't such a bad idea. Telling a potential playmate you need a moment to check-in with your partner shouldn't be a big deal. If it is do they really respect your other relationships?

Just take a moment and ask yourself; how would I want to be treated? I know I will be asking myself that question the next time the situation is reversed.

P.S. With the owl picture I was trying to show sensitivity with a picture of a person or animal squinting. The owl looks somewhat angry rather than just squinting but I really liked the picture so I used it anyway.


  1. Ok, to me this is a case of words and actions being contradictory. I need words and action to match. If you say something I expect your actions to follow suit until you have told me you have changed how you are thinking about it.

    A double whammy was the shower incident. If her telling you that she is taking a shower usually means an invite for you to join her I wouldn't expect to walk in and find someone else with her. I know you said that you'd join her after she got out but it's still the same concept to me.

    Knowing you were on the way up, I feel she should have alerted you to the possibility that a massage was in her plans.

    At the least, just taking a moment to let you know that she had changed her mind about anything physical with this man would have been respectful.

    I'm a firm believer in communication as well. And I'm a firm believer in respecting your partners and treating them with such.

    It isn't that you would have minded any of this. To me, it's that you just weren't prepared for any of it. She told you one thing and then did another.

  2. Lovingmorethanone,
    As always, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    My partner and I have talked quite a bit about all of this since it happened and she has assured me her feelings about Fred haven't changed. She doesn't want to have sex with him or more than a close friendship. At the same time, cuddling with close friends is okay with us both, and the massage really was innocent.

    The problem really was communication and how she viewed something as completely innocent yet from my perspective it was a surprise. We both now understand that at least casually mentioning things, particularly those that can look questionable to the other person, is more important than we thought.

    Thanks again!

  3. Learning process! Glad you both figured out what it was you needed here.

  4. Thanks Lovingmorethanone, that's exactly how we viewed the situation as well :)