I dreamed last night that I was in the middle of a massive screaming fight with my partner – I was screaming in his face and pushing him. I’ve never had a fight like that in my life (if anything, I err more on the side of never being angry) so woke up feeling hugely unsettled. I don’t usually put much stock in dreams, but I like to take a look at very emotional ones to see if there’s anything previously unnoticed that my brain is trying to process.
I remember in the dream feeling uncomfortable about my own behaviour; I knew I was reacting ridiculously and out of all proportion but seemed to be letting myself be carried along with it anyway. Having thought about this a bit more this morning, the explanation that seems to ring true for me is that I’m worried that I’m not reacting as well as I could to something. Someone else’s issue, perhaps; instead of responding in the calm and caring way that I’d like to, I’m doing something thoughtless or unhelpful.
I haven’t worked out what the issue might be, yet.
It’s interesting, though, as I was talking to my partner last night about one of the things I think is a huge benefit of non-monogamy: learning communication skills from relationships with other people.
In any relationship (whether romantic/sexual or not) we all fall into patterns of behaviour, sometimes good, but sometimes particularly bad ones. It can be hard to shake yourself out of unhelpful behaviour patterns, especially if there are two of you and your bad patterns correspond and feed off each other.
It’s particularly tempting in monogamous relationships, I think, to generalise from ‘my relationship does x’ to ‘all relationships do x’, simply because there are so few counter-examples – you rarely get to see the heavy lifting of someone else’s relationship up close. You might see friends or family in apparently happy relationships, but not know about the behind-the-scenes negotiation, or you might go through your friend’s relationship grievances over a beer, but hear nothing about the way they make up the next day. So it’s easy to see one’s own unhelpful patterns as ‘just what happens in relationships’ and to avoid finding incentives to change.
In polyamorous relationships, it becomes much harder to make the same generalisations; if you’re in a relationship with more than one person, those relationships are quite clearly different, in small and big ways. It’s much easier to spot your own unhelpful patterns of behaviour when you catch yourself responding to similar issues in different ways, depending on who you’re talking to.
For example: I generally try to be a listener rather than a fixer if someone has a problem and wants to talk (I’ve found most people know their solution already, and don’t need me to push them towards it) but I find it easier to do this with some people than with others. And trying to fix someone’s problem when they just wanted to vent is guaranteed to frustrate them. So I’ve explicitly used this in my own head to help me – when I’m tempted to leap in with ‘oh you should try doing x’, I think: would I react to this in the same way if a different partner were talking to me? It stops me in my tracks and helps me communicate in a different way.
I feel tremendously fortunate that the important people in my life are all so brilliant that I can learn from my connection with each and every one of them how to be a better partner, lover, friend.