02 October 2010

Learning Curve...

My friend Rena wrote this post recently, about how her recent exposure to feminism has helped her to learn some things about healthy relationships. She's a lovely lady, and I hope you enjoy! (Courtney)

Cross-posted from JMBL.

Having just ended a relationship, I thought it might be a good idea to catalogue what this relationship taught me. Well, I was also partially inspired by another blog post I read.

This relationship taught me a lot about what I like and don't like... and what I want and don't want. Aside from personal preferences though, I also learned a few things about what a good relationship should be.

Relationships are built on trust and communication.

Well, I've always known that, really. It was one of my keywords back when I was 18, before I got married. Yet, I think I didn't pay enough attention to it . This applies really to any relationship: friends, lovers, family... the quality of the relationship will depend on the level of communication and trust.

The confusing part for me this time around was attempting to figure out how to make this work with someone who had some rather fundamental differences in belief. Yes, I believe it's possible for two people to not believe in exactly the same things, or necessarily be passionate about the same things, and still have a healthy relationship. It's something I had no previous experience with though, since my only previous relationship was with someone who shared all of my fundamental beliefs. I think that hesitation and confusion led me to be far more forgiving of some things than I ought to have been.

Warning Sign #1: No respect for Boundaries

One of the things that this experience really drove home for me was that someone who can't respect boundaries is not someone I ever want to be in a relationship with. When they ask me about things that make me cry, and know that this causes me distress, yet continue to ask and to push, that's a sign that they care less about hurting me than about what they want. When they ask me to do something to which I clearly say no, and continue to ask again and again, until I finally say yes, that's a sign that they're going to push for what they want, regardless of what might be best for me. When I clearly state that something is not okay, and they try to do it anyway, then claim they have forgotten... it's more likely a sign that they care more about what they want than about showing me respect.

Warning Sign #2: Reluctance to Clarify

First, a really great quote about how to clarify what you want from someone else before you enter into a non-exclusive relationship (though I think some of these things would be good to talk about before entering into an exclusive relationship also):
I always set down at the outset - what does the other person want to be told, or not, about other partners?  How do we handle mutual friends, and who can get told, or can nobody?  How much notice is needed before showing up?  What things, sexually, are off-limits?  Does the intimacy end at the bedroom door - all affection becomes friendly once outside it - or are we holding hands walking down the street and kissing on street corners?  What labels or answers do we feel comfortable giving when other people ask?  And the biggest agreement, which is if anyone's feelings change, the other person gets told immediately - whether it's growing disinterested or falling in love.  Either one can make everything end badly.
(It's a great post, but please be warned if you go to read it, that some of the content may be triggering for rape victims.) When I read this post, it made me realize that there were several things I hadn't asked that I probably should have. Being in a relationship where the lines are fuzzy and you are often confused is a sign that you need to clarify. Reluctance on the part of the other person to make those clarifications is definitely a warning sign. Asking and receiving no response may be a sign that you need to get out.

Warning Sign #3: No Response to Feedback

With me, I was in a situation very different from any situation I'd ever experienced before. This really drove home the need to be able to give feedback and have that listened to and responded to. Yes, response is crucial. See my last post. Effective communication requires feedback. If I say something and get no response, I don't know if I was clearly understood. Good relationships require you to be able to both give and receive this kind of feedback, because good relationships are all about figuring out what works for all parties involved. There is no generic template here. Each pairing of people entering into relationships have their own unique preferences and issues. When someone cannot, or is not willing to, discuss feedback issues, that's a warning sign that they may not really care about that feedback.

Warning Sign #4: You Can't Take What I Say Literally

Everyone jokes around sometimes and uses sarcasm or irony to mock things. Sometimes. When I find myself needing to reverse the meaning of about half of what someone is saying though, that starts to become a problem. When their manner of joking is to frequently insult me, though they clearly intend it to be taken as a joke, I start to wonder if it's really a joke. And then I found this:
Our culture tells men constantly that women emasculate you, that they're gross and icky, that they ruin everything, that they deserve violence and punishment, thatthey ruin your life once you're married, that they deserve to be hated. And you and your buddies joking about how women are only good for sex and cooking are not fucking helping.
In this post, Courtney links to another post that has much more eloquent things to say about the issue than I ever could. The point though? The point is that just because you didn't really mean it, or just because you intended your words to be taken as a joke - doesn't mean that they were. When someone you're in a relationship with tells you that the solution to this is that you need to lighten up and realize that they are not serious/joking most of the time, that's a warning sign. The real solution? They need to work on clearer communication. Maybe they should learn to say what they actually mean instead of wanting other people to always understand that they do NOT mean what they are actually saying. It might even be a warning sign that they DO mean what they are actually saying, and that calling it a joke, or saying, "I would never actually mean that!" is merely an excuse to cover their butt.

Warning Sign #5: I'm Going to Tell You What I Am; That Makes it Okay.

Here's my last thing to keep in mind for the future. I recently read this article:
This is the “I’m Such A Dick” Gambit. And before we proceed, it is time to discuss. For the “I’m Such a Dick” Gambit, aside from being the world’s Number One Most Popular Rhetorical Device To Open Your Sexist Op-Ed With, is also one of the more fearsome and annoying weapons of psychological warfare in existence.
I really HIGHLY recommend the article. Because here's the thing: When someone tells you that they are a bastard, they're often doing it to manipulate you.
I’m such a dick! Do you not find me charming?

We have already established that this person is an asshole; he admits to it. We’ve also established that being an asshole is funny and cool. Your choices are to laugh along, congratulate him on his discernment — wow, people who aren’t Dick really ARE losers, aren’t they? — or RUIN EVERYTHING FOREVER BECAUSE YOU’RE MEAN AND HATE FUN. Magically, by admitting that he is a total prick sometimes, Dick has managed to leave you, the person who objects to his behavior, holding the bag.
Saying what they are is a ploy to take away our ability to object to their behavior.
(And if the confession is made with any degree of sadness, watch out. Chances are that you are dealing with a Level Two Dick, or “Pity Dick,” who is shielded from critique by his own poor self-esteem, forged from the fires of Hell into an unstoppable weapon that lets him get away with basically anything, because if you’re mean he might cry.)
Our response might even be to defend them: "No, you're not a bastard. You're just human." Now we've just given them permission to continue acting like a bastard. So when someone starts saying something along the lines of, "I'm such a bastard," it may be a warning sign that they actually ARE a bastard. Feeling bad is different from being bad.


I think I still have a lot to learn about how to have a healthy relationship with someone who doesn't share all of my fundamental beliefs. At the very least though, I've learned a lot about what to watch out for, and how to identify behaviors that are not simply differences in belief, but warning signs that this is not a person I can have a healthy relationship with, regardless of beliefs.


Amy said...

This is my life. One of the biggest things feminism opened up to me was the idea of proper, healthy relationships. Of being able to be a true equal and not feel bad for demanding that equality. Great post!