Chapter Three was exciting and also challenging because the idea of ethical behaviour is really important to me, and tied up in how I perceive myself to be acting in the world, which means that sometimes it’s hard to critically examine because what if I’m acting unethically? Maybe it’s better not to know. (I don’t actually believe this is ever the case, but the temptation is *always* there.)
Chapter Three introduces three Bills of Rights – one for anyone in an intimate relationship, one for anyone in a poly relationship, and one for anyone in a poly network. I really loved these suggested rights, and their focus on consent, agency and honesty. I also appreciated how they were structured in a way that challenges couple privilege without demanding that pre-existing or enduring partnerships be deprioritized (which is sometimes the too-far pendulum swing, I think).
Okay! Onward to the questions and the self-reflection. Same caveat as usual – I’m sharing my inner thoughts and they impact the people I’m in relationship with. If you’re in my pod and you want to talk about any of this, please let me know. None of this is directed at a particular person – I tried to keep my answers personal rather than relational. Because some of these questions relate to a specific decision, I answered them more generally.
Have I disclosed all relevant information to everyone affected by my decision?
This is a hard one, because the question of when to disclose and how much to disclose is difficult. I tend to disclose EVERYTHING IMMEDIATELY ALL THE TIME, but that can be very overwhelming for my partners. And I also don’t always disclose everything – if I am worried that disclosing information will hurt someone’s feelings, I struggle with that. I try to always choose disclosure (honesty, allowing them to consent, giving them agency), but it’s hard. Disclosure plus compassion plus working hard not to outsource my emotional management to my people. I fail, but that’s what I aim for.
Have I sought input from everyone affected? Have I obtained their consent where my decision overlaps their personal boundaries?
I am really good at seeking input from everyone, because I am indecisive as all fuck. I am also good at knowing where my decision overlaps someone else’s personal boundaries, but I am not always so good at obtaining consent, for all the reasons listed above. I think the thing this chapter really highlighted for me is how incredibly vulnerable I feel when I have to seriously consider sharing all of the relevant information with all of the impacted people. It feels like this takes away my own agency and autonomy. This is a lie, of course, because my decision remains my own regardless of the reactions of other people. But when I give them the opportunity to consent (or not) I run the risk that my decision will be one they can’t live with, and that by giving them the opportunity to consent (or not) I will have to make a difficult choice between giving up what I want or need, or giving up the relationship in its current form. That’s terrifying! But it’s necessary. It is absolutely necessary. Fear cannot, cannot, be an excuse for unethical behaviour. (In this, my outside-of-poly life skills intersect with poly. Because I have an anxiety disorder and a huge amount of intense fear on an almost daily basis, I have had to cultivate the ability to act on my principles rather than my fears, while still holding compassionate space for my fear and anxiety. This helps in poly, because acting on my principles rather than my fears is the only thing that allows me to move past my fear of rejection, abandonment, and “fucking it up” in order to be honest with the people who need, and deserve, my honesty.) But it’s hard. I don’t want to pretend it’s easy – it’s not. It’s damn hard. The fear is real, and the fear can be paralyzing. But the fear is a feeling, and our feelings do not dictate our actions. We have a choice.
Does my decision impose obligations or expectations on others without their input or consent?
Again, I try not to let this happen but it does happen and it’s really damn hard to avoid. Sometimes I don’t realize how my decision will impact those around me until after I start seeing the ripples, and then there needs to be honest acknowledgment of the way my behaviour has affected those around me. That’s hard too. It’s way easier to just pretend it’s their fault, or they’re too sensitive, or something like that. Taking responsibility – another place where I have to become vulnerable in order to act according to my values. Bah! This chapter was hard because of how much work all of this is. But it’s also not work that’s specific to poly. This is ethical behaviour in any relationship, and it’s necessary to learn and to practice and to fuck up and to make amends for and to keep practicing.
Am I seeking to have my needs met at the expense of the well-being of others?
Okay, I’m going to talk about a specific situation now. One of my partners is incredibly easy-going. They are supportive of all my relationships, they are the one who picks up the pieces when I fall apart most of the time, they are my anchor. And I worry sometimes that when I am bouncing around on my emotional rollercoaster, the effort of keeping me grounded means that they are not able to do their own bouncing. I worry about this a lot. But they tell me this isn’t the case, and part of consent and agency means trusting that people are being honest about their needs.
Am I imposing consequences that will make others feel unsafe saying no to me?
I worry a lot about this, and work hard to make sure that I’m not unintentionally imposing consequences on others if they need to say no. However, just like everything else, I fuck this up. Sometimes I respond with huge emotional energy to what feels like rejection, and I know that some of my partners have felt like this was stifling for them. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from spiralling into anxiety when things appear to be going sideways, and again this can feel like coercion to my partners. The only way I’ve currently found to manage this is by being up front with my partners about the fact that my emotions are often fairly intense, but it doesn’t mean they dictate my actions. I might turn into a wreck, but that doesn’t mean I actually want you to do something different. It’s not perfect. It’s one reason I am more comfortable with text-based communication for difficult issues, because I can take more space to keep my head on straight (or appear to, anyway). I also try hard to do a fair bit of metacommunication – talking about what we’re going to talk about before we talk about it. The reason for this is because letting someone know what my interests are, and hearing what their interests are, before we go into the conversation means that we can set it up to be safe for us both. But, again. I fuck this up. A lot. I’m trying, though.
Am I offering others the same consideration that I expect from them?
This one I feel like I can honestly say yes to. 90% of the time, in 90% of instances, I do this. High fives, me! And the rest of the time, when I fail at this, well… that happens to. Listen, learn, do better next time.
I’m really enjoying this book, but it’s some emotional heavy lifting, for sure!