Third Party Negotiation; Or, How to Kill a Relationship with Communication

Posted: March 25, 2017 by Isaac Cross in Advice, Learn Something, Philosophy

Someone posted this question for debate recently:

Please only answer if you’re polyamorus.
When negotiating alone time with a partner who has another partner, do you:
A-talk to them directly
B- talk to their other partner
C-both a and b
D- other (explain below)

This was my answer:

Long Answer

I identify with “relationship anarchy” and there is some debate as to whether that still “counts” as poly. That said…

My partners are adults and they can handle the issues in their own other relationships. If I want/need time with a partner, I talk to that person. If I am not getting the amount of time I need from them and it is an ongoing issue, we will talk about it and if the problem isn’t corrected, I may de-escalate the relationship, rescind commitments that I had made in order to make room for people who are able to meet my needs, or end the relationship entirely.

Except in the context of sexy power-exchangy-type stuff. I will never be in a relationship that gives my partners control over my outside relationships or where I prioritize my time, nor will I enter into relationships with people who have that type of relationship. So at no time will ever be speaking to my partner-in-law to negotiate time with my partner. It simply won’t happen.

Open communication is one thing. Getting everyone together to talk out issues or coordinate everyone’s schedule can be valuable. But for something as simple as, “is there a day next week where I can have a couple hours of uninterupted alone time with you?”, if that requires a committee meeting, I’m out. That should be a text message convo at best and it shouldn’t last more than two or three back-and-forths.

I dispute the common notion that relationships are hard. They are often hard work, and I believe that partners should be working hard to make sure they are earning their partners’ affections and devotion. But relationships should never be hard. If they are, I believe it’s a good sign of inherent incompatibility.

Poly folk tend to fetishize communication. And I see it kill as many relationships as it saves by making simple things far more complicated than they need to be.

Reword the initial question and change the context:

When requesting alone time with a friend who is married, do you:
A-talk to them directly
B- talk to their spouse
C-both a and b
D- other (explain below)

Any answer but A would be ridiculous in that context, even among vanilla/monogamous people. So why do we insist on involving everyone in discussions that don’t actually need to involve them?

I’ve I’ve negotiated to spend Wednesdays and Sundays with one partner and someone else asks to spend a Tuesday night with me, There is no one I need to consult about it except google (which runs my life and tells me what I’m allowed to do on any given day). If my calendar is open or I feel that I can move whatever’s there, then I commit to spending time with them. If they ask for a Wednesday, then I might say, “Is there another night that would work, I’ve made a commitment for Wednesdays?” I might even say what that commitment is “That’s the night Jordyn and I spend together each week.” If nothing else works, then I might say “Let me check with her and see if she and I can reschedule or plans for that evening.”

But that isn’t needing her permission to spend time with someone. That is simply honoring time commitments and renegotiating them if necessary. The same as I would for any friend, relative, co-worker, or any other person that I had made a time commitment to. There is nothing special about romantic relationships in that regard.

However, having to bring your partner into ever minute detail of your personal life will exhaust both of you in the long run. And frankly, if the person feels like they need to be that involved in your life outside of them, then they either don’t trust you or don’t actually want you to have other partners. Or both. Either way, if it takes a four hour negotiation every time you need to schedule a lunch with someone, you are eventually going to collapse under the weight of that over-burdensome communication.

some might argue that close multi-partner dynamics like a triad are different. I agree. If the question was about a triad (or quad, etc), my answer may be a little different. Group relationships do, after all, have different dynamics than multiple individual relationships.

Even then, though, I tend toward only involving people who need to be involved in a conversation.

Workplace environments are group relationships, too, but if I want/need to schedule a meeting with someone, I don’t clear that with all of our other co-workers, no matter how close the team is. No one should ever need permission from anyone else to talk to each other or spend time together. Those kinds of restrictions and barriers strangle and destroy otherwise good relationships, both in romance and business.

The only time the third-party needs to be involved, at all, is if they need to actually do something or something would need to be taken away from them in order to accommodate the request. And even then, that’s the pivot-partner’s problem to negotiate unless I am also in a relationship with the third party. To use the business analogy again, if I am asking my co-worker for a weekly meeting time and it conflicts with a monthly meeting already on their calendar, it’s their responsibility to talk to the other person about rescheduling, not mine. In fact, it would be weird if I did.

And, frankly, if it seems that something always has to be taken away (or is always being perceived as being taken away) from the third party for two people to spend the needed time together, then maybe that person doesn’t actually have room (or hasn’t bothered to make room) in their life for what is clearly a lower-priority relationship. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person/relationship isn’t important to them, but if you have clearly communicated your needs and those needs are not being met, then you aren’t important ENOUGH to them for the relationship to work.

At which point YOU need to decide whether what you are getting from the relationship justifies its cost. If it doesn’t, and you can’t seem to correct the benefit side of the equation, then the only option left to you is to reduce the cost side of it. Make room in your own life so that when you find a person who IS able to meet your needs, you have space for them and the capacity to take care of their needs in return.

If you give all your time and energy to people and relationships that can’t meet your needs, you will leave nothing left for the people and relationships that could.

Some people have accused me of taking a “cold approach” to relationships but I believe that every relationship in your life, from family to friends to romance to business, is inherently transactional in nature. And if you are getting the shit end of the stick in any of them, the relationship should be altered or ended.

But I’ve managed to veer WAY off topic. So to wrap back around…

Short Answer

Without a specific context that would make it necessary, I would never do anything but talk to a person directly if I want to spend time with them or to negotiate what can happen during that time together. Doesn’t matter who it is. Friend, partner, random person on the street. I then trust that person to either do whatever they need to do to make that happen or decline to do so and thus communicate to me that spending time together is not a priority for them.

That’s pretty much all there is to it.

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