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The Polyamorous Misanthrope

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Welcome to the The Polyamorous Misanthrope, in which myself, the Goddess of Java, or some guest columnist will rant, rave and otherwise edify on some poly subject.   If you have an idea for a column or a rant on spike, contact me and we'll talk it over.   For past articles, check out the Archive .


Mama Java, she said that if one more person wrote her bragged about getting a score of ten on the Group Marriage Quiz , she was gonna rant about it in her column.

Well, one more person did, darn it.

No, I'm not going to rip anyone apart with sarcasm. Well, not much anyway. Hey, I did refrain from titling the column "You're all Fucking Idiots!", right? Oh... no credit for that. Ah well, life goes on.

While I don't want to rip anyone up for their reaction to the quiz, I do want to discuss it because the implications disturb me a bit. First and foremost, the quiz is a joke , people! My wife and I wrote it to amuse ourselves and be totally absurd one afternoon when we had gotten a little too punchy. We thought it was obvious it was a joke and have been astonished over the past four years how often people have taken the quiz seriously.

A low score is not a good test of your relationships skills. Many of the first choices are extremely passive, many are either aggressive or passive aggressive and there are few examples of true assertive communication in the whole quiz. Many of the questions don't have a truly assertive answer.

So,, little poly chilluns, today we're going to focus a little on communication styles.

First, is passive communication. I hardly call this communication at all because you're not speaking up . In passive communication, there is a tendency to put other people before yourself, or let others make decisions for you. The problem with this is that you're not going to get your wants/needs met except occasionally by accident. It screws with your self-esteem, and often encourages depression. Examples of the passive style of communication from the Group Marriage Quiz include:

  • Re: Sandwich preference: I have a preference for mayo or mustard. In the example, not you did not say so .
  • Re: The spouse that is a reteller: Smile quietly to yourself and entertain yourself by trying to spot changes in the story that make it more dramatic than the last time. You're not expressing that you really don't like retelling
  • Re: Cooking dinner when you don't want to: Cook anyway. Everyone has to do things they don't like to from time to time, and it's important for everyone to pull his own weight. You're not expressing your wants/needs
  • Re: Watching Austin Powers: Tolerate it. You get to be with your spice, and it's family time, after all. You're not expressing that you don't like the movie. It's not that tolerating something you don't like is a bad thing, mind. It's not expressing your wants/needs that is often counter-productive.

Next, let's take a look at aggressive communication. Sometimes it is confused with assertiveness, which it is not. Aggressive communication has a sense of blame or sense of manipulation that true assertive communication does not have. In aggressive communication, you're getting your wants/needs met at the expense of others. It's a good way to lose relationships, as people don't like to stick around people who aren't willing to negotiate. If you're being aggressive, it is not unusual that you'll feel weak or taken advantage of internally, 'cause you're on your guard so much. It can create a cycle of hostility: Examples of the aggressive style of communication from the Group Marriage Quiz include:

  • Re: Spouse being called into work unexpectedly: Demand to know why this spouse is always the one being called in to work, insist that the spouse not show, blatantly state that the spouse being passive aggressive and really doesn't want to spend time with the rest of the family, then cancel the outing and spend the entire day fussing at your other spice for the working one's behavior. If they really loved you and considered the family important, they would have joined you in insisting that the working spouse stay home. Notice there is blame and accusation as well as demands that your wants/needs be met without being willing to discuss the wants/needs of the others.
  • Re: The scratch on the car: Call the spouse an idiot, insist that said spouse get a part time job to afford to have the entire car repainted and refuse to allow your spouse within fifty feet of the car. Again, aggressive. The tone is accusatory, and you're demanding a certain form of behavior and trying to intimidate the person into doing as you want.
  • Re: The Reteller: Demand to know if said spouse is capable of saying anything original. Start keeping a database of each instance in which a story is retold and present the tabluated results to your spouse on a regular basis with demands of why you married such an idiot. Again, you're demanding, accusing and trying to intimidate into getting the behavior you want.

So. Passive-aggressive..

This is probably one of the bigger relationship bogeymen -- mostly because it combines the worst of the passive and the aggressive. It's not unusual to be passive and stuff your feelings 'till you blow, taking your anger out on yourself or others. It'll screw with your self-esteem, and really screws with learning communication skills. This is a hard one because it's probably one of the more difficult ones to face in yourself -- well, at least I find it hard to face, because it seems so manipulative and weak to me. I don't like to look at myself that way at all... However, facing what is and avoiding self-blame is a good start to changing what you don't like, right? Examples of the passive-aggressive style of communication from the Group Marriage Quiz include:

  • Re: The Sandwich: I have a preference for mayo or mustard and will go hungry rather than eat the wrong spread. This is a guilt tactic, which is often a sign that passive-aggressive communication is at work. Notice you aren't saying that you have a strong preference, and that in going hungry, there's a good chance that someone around you is going to feel bad about it.
  • Re: The lack of towels in the bathroom: Note that you happen to be sleeping with the person who is most likely to commit a Towel Offense, re-wash your hands in very COLD water, neglect to shake off excess drops and climb into bed being sure to put your hands in a sensitive but non-erogenous spot. When the spouse awakes, give sarcastic thanks for hanging up the towel. Sarcasm is a hallmark of passive-aggressive communication. Notice also the attempt to cause discomfort. Punishing is also often a passive-aggressive technique.
  • Re: Spouse being called in to work: Demand to know why this spouse is always the one being called in to work, insinuate without quite saying so that the spouse is being passive aggressive and really doesn't want to spend time with the rest of the family, then go on the outing and sulk the entire time. Sulking is another punishing behavior. This one earns several passive-aggressive points because of the indirect communication involved combined with other behaviors!
  • In the answers section: If you scored: 10 -- I can only assume you are a John Norman fan and aspire to be a Kajira. Email me. I might have a position for you. This is extremely passive-aggressive. It's a subtle insult (a kajira is a slave in the Gor stories, and is supposed to be passive and obedient in her behavior -- something that is not desirable in a non-BDSM 24/7 relationship). It's also a trap to encourage the person without all the information to contact me without giving all the information, thereby increasing the possibility of punishing behavior when it gets explained. Hey, I write about my faults, too...

So, what with all the stuff that is not productive communication, what is ? How about trying assertiveness? In assertive communication you are honest and direct about what you want, while not blaming. You state how you see the situation, and how you feel about is and ask for what you want/need. Ask , not demand and not insist! You will respect the rights and feelings of others, and it will have a positive effect on most relationships. (Now, if the other person is not willing to join you in assertive communication, it might be productive to examine whether or not the relationship really works for you!). Examples of the assertive style of communication (yes, there are a couple) from the Group Marriage Quiz include:

  • Re: Sleeping arrangements: Politely ask that the sleeping arrangements be reconsidered. You're asking for what you want. Now, ideally, explaining how you feel is a good idea here, but this is assertive. You're paying attention to your wants/needs and speaking up in a way that shows you're willing to negotiate, while trying to be polite to minimize hurt feelings.
  • Re: Cooking Dinner: Ask if anyone is willing to be sous-chef and help out. Dinner will be done faster and won't be as much work. We'll presume for this example you don't want to cook dinner because it's feeling overwhelming. You ask for what you want/need (help).
  • Re: Spice spending too much time on the Internet: Ask for a specific time limit. You want to spend time with your spice. You want to spend more time with your spice. You recognize that they want to spend time online, so you're consider the rights/wants/feelings of the other person, so you ask

A lot of people have trouble with assertive communication because they don't want to take the risk. You do risk being told no from time to time. You're not always going to get what you want. But, by using assertive communication, you will not only increase the chances of getting what you want/need, you will also be promoting closeness by minimizing the chances of resentment, anger, upset and hostility. No-one is perfectly assertive all the time (goodness knows I am not), but it's a good skill to practice to promote good relationships!

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