Monday, August 8, 2011

Ask For What You Want!


"Ask For What You Want." It's right up there with "Communication! Communication! Communication!" as advice you'll get when looking into polyamory as a relationship style. It's also pretty vague, and unlikely to get the job done without a significant amount of self-awareness and some practice.

There are several potential hitches in the system that can hang up efforts to AFWYW. One is the person who is pretty deferential in asking, to the point where their message is nearly completely eclipsed by the lack of clarity. Often, this is based in the reluctance that many of us have to request help with something that might be emotionally challenging.

I ran into this personally in recently when I later realized that the conversation I thought I had, wasn't the same as the one my partner had experienced with me. Looking more closely at the interaction, it seemed likely that I hadn't been as clear as I would have wanted in AFWYW because I thought my own emotional concerns were a little silly/irrational/made me look bad, and I like to be reasonable, rational and good with the poly!

Another root of deferential requests can be the underlying feeling that you don't deserve whatever it is that you're asking for. Maybe it's something kind of big, or perhaps it's just that you don't feel worthy of asking others to put work in on your behalf, or that you aren't sure if the relationship you share with someone supports that level effort. These are questions that need to be assessed internally (Is this a self-worth issues?), and often with the partner as well (So, how do you feel about holding down the fort with the kiddo while I'm off on a date with Other Partner?).

Many of us pride ourselves on being independent and capable to the point of not wanting to want or need help at all! For me, this can be a tough one. I'm actively working on making small requests of partners to desensitize myself to that idea. It isn't that I can't do something "all by myself", it's that extreme independence all the time can be a way of cheating my partners of being able to put into the pot and give to the relationship, setting up a power dynamic that isn't particularly helpful. If I'm Little Miss Independence, doing it all on my own, there isn't a lot of space for them to "give" into. In fact, I will go further and suggest that it is a mark of greater strength to be able to ask for and accept help, even when it isn't a situation of dire need, than it is to refuse help based on the "I'm independent and capable." platform.

Of course, another main impediment to AFWYW is lack of self-awareness. Sometimes, we don't know what we want, and so asking for it is kind of hard to execute. This one is mostly internal work, although friends and partners can be (if you ask nicely! ;)) great sounding boards to help you figure out what is desired or needed. Once you can identify your want/need, coming up with a strategy together to satisfy it is a wonderful thing to practice!

AFWYW can turn into a negotiation pretty easily, so another key is to know where your bottom line lies. How much of what you're asking for is a need? How much is a want? If you end up giving away the farm in a negotiation, resentment (with yourself, your partner, your metamour, the situation in general) with the results is pretty likely, and no one wants that. We heard from several people earlier this week at group that this was something they'd needed to work on. "I want x, and my partner wants z, so I'll give them z, and see if I can get a little x worked in too, but this really isn't what I want/need/asked for, and now I think I negotiated away my position because I thought if I gave them z, they'd give me more x, but it doesn't seem to be working out..." This way lies madness!!!

Be prepared to get a "no" sometimes. There are points where it's just not going to fly, and that doesn't mean your partner(s) don't love and value you, it doesn't mean they don't respect your needs, or want to give you something, it just may not be possible, or they might need to give away too much of themselves to accomplish your request. It's okay to feel disappointed, it's okay to review the request and find another option that might be workable, it's okay to seek reassurance. It's likely a problem if you feel angry, or that your partner "owes" you whatever you ask for, whenever you ask for it.

Asking for what you want is a skill that we all would do well to put near the top of the priority list. In the words of the immortal Stuart Smalley: "I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am attractive person. I am fun to be with. I can ask for what I want because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!"

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