I soak up internet forums instead of reality TV. It’s my guilty pleasure. Some of them are the usual suspects – sex and sexuality, health forums, relationship quarrels. Sometimes I read into christian forums, sometimes BDSM forums, sometimes poly forums. Honestly it’s a great way to learn to think from new and different perspectives. A forum is generally a group of people who all think in a certain way. I don’t know if they start out that way, but it’s usually how it works. People want to talk about things and have people who feel similarly come and agree with them (or in some cases, actually help!) As an outside observer this can help you understand how different people think or tackle important issues.
One such issue is that of friendships in relationships. Let me recount a typical story, the one I hear most frequently, and one I’ve been asked about on here before.
Jill and Ryan have been dating for one year. Ryan has lots of female friends and likes to text them a lot, he also spends time with them when his girlfriend is not with him. This makes Jill anxious and she tells Ryan that she is uncomfortable. She thinks that the behavior is too flirtatious. It’s a constant source of problems in their relationship. He listens to her and says he’ll deal with it and it will be okay. Nothing changes and Jill is now more agitated. Why isn’t he listening to her? Why isn’t this a big deal? She is uncomfortable and Ryan is continuing to chat or flirt with these girls. Jill tells Ryan that he needs to stop talking to them because it makes her feel uncomfortable and it hasn’t gotten better. Ryan can’t do that because these girls are his friends. At this point in the story Ryan will either stop talking to his friends, or continue to fudge the truth or lie about his friendships causing further friction down the road.
Okay – what’s going on here? Let’s look at a few different perspectives.
1. Jill has serious trust issues. There is nothing wrong with Ryan having female friends – nor had any of his behavior been unsavory. His chatting and spending time with friends sent Jill into a bad place where she felt like she had to protect her relationship from a potential threat. In doing so she threatened their relationship by getting wound up and failing to trust him, and she forced an ultimatum on her partner forcing him to choose between him and his friends. Ultimately her refusal to see things from his perspective would collapse the framework of their relationship leaving them both unhappy.
2. Ryan reacted poorly to Jill’s completely legitimate fears. When you care about someone it can be easy to have worries like this. Instead of pretending they didn’t mean anything, Ryan should have listened to Jill and how she felt about his time spent outside of their relationship. He should have expressed to Jill what his friendships meant to him – maybe even trying to include Jill in some of the time that they spent together. He should not have lied to cover up his interactions with his friends, even if it seemed like he was doing the right thing. You cannot protect someone by hiding things from them – it will come out, and provide even more grief in the long run.
These are two things that I believe to be 100% true – and can quickly portray feelings from both sides of the picture. Jill may have let her mind run wild. Ryan was a jerk for not slowing his roll and listening. This might be because of different patterns of communicating. It might be because of socialization and our general fight/flight response to perceived dangerous. But these scenarios happen all the time.
How can we prevent trust issues or communication issues from torpedoing our relationships?
1. When something bothers you, try to figure out why it bothers you.
2. Your feelings are always legitimate, but so are your partners feelings.
3. Not everything always lines up perfectly. Sometimes relationships have friction. Fight it – don’t avoid it.
4. Don’t lie to your partner about how you feel or the things that you want or need.
5. Don’t pretend to feel something that you don’t feel to be “cool” but make sure you know where your feelings come from!
All of these ideas can be applied in sexual encounters as well. Off the top of my head? Planning a threesome! Why do you want one? Do you both want one for the same reason? Have you talked about it and do you feel secure?