Jan. 13th, 2009

joreth: (Nude Drawing)
I made a couple of mistakes, but I didn't want to have to reset it, so I just left them in there.  For instance, I have a green "I've been there" pin for rape and a purple "I want to go there" pin for rape because I didn't see there was a rape fantasy land in another place.  In this case, I've been to "attempted but not completed rape" but I don't particularly want to go there again, but I *do* want to visit "fantasy rape".

tacit has updated the map but not the interactive map, so I'm just going to leave it as it is until the interactive map gets updated.  Since I'll have to do this all over again anyway, I can fix the mistakes in the next version.

I'm also thinking of adding this to my Sexual History and Health Disclosure procedure, along with the History form and the clinic paperwork.  I think it'll add a little bit of fun and be less dry and technical (and hopefully less off-putting).

Find out where I've journeyed
on the Map of Human Sexuality!
Or get your own here

joreth: (Misty in Box)

Samantha comes downstairs as Darrin is getting ready to leave for work. She is dressed in curlers and a housedress and is very, very pregnant. Darrin tells her that most common "white" lie, that she is absolutely beautiful, and leaves. Samantha eats up the compliment and her mother, Endora, pops in to express disgust that Samantha fell for the line. Endora believes that humans lie to each other over everything, and that to force us to tell the truth would be utter chaos. Samantha doesn't believe her.

So Endora places a truth charm in Darrin's office. It's a statue and whenever a human comes within 3 feet of it, he is compelled to tell the truth. And not just answering questions honestly, he has to volunteer whatever is on his mind. So ensues a comedic romp as people walk in and out of the statue's power range, telling the absolute, uncomfortable truth, then trying to cover themselves with polite, socially-acceptable lies.

This seems to be a common perception of how interpersonal relationships should work. There are lots of myths floating around our society, perpetuated by television and self-help books like "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It" that I ranted about a while ago. For some reason, people insist on perpetuating the myth that relationships work better if you never talk to each other, or at the very least, never be honest about your feelings. Because talking about your feelings is uncomfortable. It could make someone upset. It could reveal a vulnerability. It could actually give someone ammunition to hurt you or leave you.

Or it could solve the problem.

In this clip, we see Samantha, who is not affected by the statue because she's not human, Darrin, Darrin's boss, Larry, Larry's wife, Louise, and their client and his wife. The client is a boor and Darrin and Larry are compelled to tell him so. Then his wife speaks up to take him to task for treating her like shit all these years. As Louise jumps in to defend the client's wife, the evening ends up in a cacophany of shouting and accusations. Endora chortles nearby, smug in her belief that she was right, humans cannot endure the truth.

The next morning, Darrin is upset, convinced he has lost the account and possibly his job and that everyone's marriage is in trouble. It appears as though total honesty really did screw everything up.

Except that Darrin's boss, Larry, stops by to tell him that the client and his wife actually managed to clear up some misconceptions that they have been living with for decades. They're happier than they've ever been.  The client was forced to come to terms with his lack of experience in the advertising business and remained as Larry and Darrin's client because they're better at the job than he is and the client is immensely pleased with Darrin. The client was made aware that he was hurting his wife's feelings with his behaviour and, since he loved his wife and didn't actually want to hurt her, he had to be made aware of his actions in order to solve the problem, and everything has been fixed.

And that's the point. The client and his wife were miserable together and had been for years. Their misery would have continued until one or both of them died, had they not been compelled to tell each other how they feel. In that day and age, ending the relationship is not an option, but in this day and age, the relationship that could have been saved would have simply been ended with hurt and confused feelings. The honesty conversation was difficult, painful, and complicated. It raised all sorts of uncomfortable feelings. It could have ended with the dissolution of their marriage.

But it didn't. Without talking, the problem would never have been solved. Inertia would have continued to drag them into a very unhappy future. You can't wish problems away by ignoring them. Resentment only grows with time.

[livejournal.com profile] tacit said in a post once that he starts with the following assumption: "My partner loves and cherishes me. My partner is with me because he wants to be with me, and because I add value to his life--value that nobody else can ever add. If I have a problem, then my partner will want to work with me to solve it, because my partner cherishes me and wants to honor our relationship."

I, also, tend to assume that my partners love and cherish me, especially when they say so. If I have a problem, then because they love and cherish me, I assume that they will want to work with me to solve the problem. That's certainly the way I feel about them. But if I never make my partner aware that I have a problem, there is absolutely no hope that the problem can be solved because they are not aware that they need to work with me since they are unaware the problem exists. There is no guarantee that it *can* be solved, but without their awareness, there *is* a guarantee that it can *not* be solved.

If I have a problem with my partner, it does not mean that I no longer wish to be with him. It means I have a problem. Problems usually start out small. If they started out big, I wouldn't have fallen in love in the first place. Problems can be solved. Sometimes that solution is to end the relationship, but not every problem is a nail where the only solution is a hammer. Sometimes the problem is a screw, or a loose wire, or a board that is too long. There are entire toolboxes with entire arsenols of tools to fix things. If there is a problem, I ernestly wish to fix it because I love and cherish my partners. I may not be *able* to fix it, but I fervently desire to try. I'm quite handy with tools, and I have a fairly decent ability to learn new skill sets. Not only do I have the ability, I also have the desire. I enjoy learning new things for the sake of learning something new. That's a built-in part of my personality - I like to try and fix things and I like to learn new ways of doing things. That's more a part of who I am than any given method or skill or "tool" is by itself.

Sometimes learning something new within the context of a relationship changes the participants. We are all changed by our experiences. That happens to be a feature, not a bug, in my opinion. I am not the same person I was as a teenager. I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. I am not the same person I was in my last relationship. That's all part of the nature of relating to other people. The "New Paradigm" concept of relationships is an idea that one of the *purposes* to a relationship is to promote personal growth. Although I tend to shy away from buzz words and terms that smack of new-agey-woo or wishy-washy-pop-psycho babble, I heartily embrace this concept and have for as long as I can remember, way before I ever heard the term.

When I was in high school, I dated Geo. He was into cars. I mean, REALLY into cars. He was quite a talented mechanic. He was not, however, talented in school. I was raised to believe that a college education was the only possible future. If you didn't have a degree, you would not amount to anything. My relationship with Geo taught me that there are different kinds of people, and it takes all different kinds of people to make society work. Where would we be without mechanics? They are not lesser people, they are people with different, necessary, skills. Through him, I learned that we should foster our natural skills to make them work for us, rather than struggle with things we are not good at and fail at everything. I learned to appreciate people who have different talents and skills than I do, and to not be such a snob about having a piece of paper. There are lots of college graduates who are still waiting tables, and there are people who are actually really good at waiting tables, who enjoy it, and who can survive on doing it. I am a more understanding and tolerant person because of my relationship with Geo, ironically, since he is not very tolerant of different kinds of people. I changed because of him and I like who I changed into. And he didn't make me change, I chose to.

Geo also taught me about trust and communication. Several people attempted to break us up. One time, two of them called me at home to try and convince me that Geo was cheating on me and if I came down to the local Denny's right now, I'd see it with my own eyes. Problem was that Geo had already told me about his closest childhood friend, a girl, who was coming into town on some college break. He already told me that they were physically affectionate, but it was a brother-sister sort of affection, and that they would be at Denny's that night hanging out with all his other friends. He also invited me to go, but I declined because I had to study for finals. So I came down only because these people kept calling me at home and would not stop interrupting my studying.

I showed up at the Denny's and Geo spotted me and his face lit up with excitement. He lept up from his seat, climbed over his friends in the booth to hug me, then rushed me to meet his friend. I met her, I joked with his friends, then when no one was paying attention, I asked if I could speak to him in private. I clearly and honestly explained what I was doing there and asked if he had anything to tell me. Of course he did not, and was incensed that his "friends" tried to cause trouble. The moral here is that I honestly expressed a problem I was having, and the end result was that my trust in him was confirmed and our relationship actually improved as a result. He became more affectionate and loving to reassure me that he would not hurt me, and I gave him even more of the space and privacy he desired because I trusted him and had no need to check up on him, which he would have seen as an invasion of his privacy.

Now, flash-forward a few months. One of *my* so-called friends tried to break us again up by telling Geo that I was cheating on *him*! This time, things went differently. Geo did not talk to me about his concerns. He did not ask me what my side of the story was, he did not even try to discreetly discover the truth or "catch" me in the act. He took her at her word and just assumed the worst, that I was cheating on him. He became sullen and argumentative around me as he waited for me to "confess" something that I didn't know I was supposed to be confessing. I was unable to give him the alibis necessary to prove that I was telling the truth and my friend was lying because I didn't know I was supposed to, which would have reinforced his own trust in me. Now here's where I screwed up. I didn't confront him on his behaviour either. After a few weeks of his attitude, I broke down and sought comfort from a male friend who happened to want to sleep with me. He made me feel better, and I cheated. I continued the affair for a few weeks because he made me feel good, but I did not break up with Geo because I still loved him too, even though he was behaving like an asshole. Eventually, I was careless and Geo discovered us and broke up with me the next day.

The lack of communication and honesty caused exactly the situation that Geo wanted to prevent. And what I learned was that honesty & communicate are the most important tools in a relationship toolbox because it could have solved the whole problem, just as it was the source of all our problems in my relationship in the Confronting The Monsters post, 12 years later.

I've learned lots of things from my relationships. I've changed and grown as a person because of them. That's what relationships do. I do not think anyone should try to change anyone else, I don't even believe it's possible. But I do believe that relationships, by their very nature, encourage change in the participants, and that this is a good thing, or can be. Over the years, I've developed interests in new hobbies, I've broadened my horizons, I've experienced all sorts of things that I might never have experienced had it not been for a relationship. My next high school sweetheart, Patrick, gave me my love of painting miniatures, actually helped me get past the final remnants of my anorexia, and I even managed to soften a part of my personality that others find so difficult to deal with - that part that insists on doing everything for myself and not accepting "handouts" or help from anyone. I'm still a bit hardassed about it, so just imagine how bad I must have been before Patrick came along to teach me what a hardass I was being. I actually do accept help now when I need it and I no longer cut off my nose to spite my face in my effort to prove my independence. I think these changes were good for me. And he didn't do it by asking me to change who I was, he simply expressed his own preferences for things and allowed me to choose to explore it with him. And through that exploration, I discovered I liked the experiences and changes and I liked who I was because of them.

Part of the human experience is change. People change, that's just what we do. Our relationships can encourage those changes, but not necessarily because one person is trying to change another. In order to relate to another human being, compromises have to be made and changes have to be considered. And when I love and cherish someone, I am willing, no, eager, to consider making a change, especially if what I am doing before the change is causing harm. Maybe that change is a breakup, but maybe that change is something as simple as using different words to better illustrate a point, or changing what side of the bed I sleep on, which can improve the relationship instead of ending it.

But I can't even decide whether or not I'm willing to make that change if I'm not aware a change needs to be made, and that's where the honesty & communication part comes in.

Relationships are partnerships, or they should be. It takes everyone in the relationship putting forth an effort to make it work. When the work outweighs the benefits, then it's probably time for the relationship to end. But I do not believe that the work, by itself, is a reason to end it. I do not believe that avoidance of all work is the solution because I do not believe the work can be avoided - we merely strive to find relationships where the work and happiness is balanced. When people in a relationship love and cherish their partners, they actively desire to put in the effort to contribute to the health and happiness of the relationship. If someone is unhappy, for whatever reason, it is his responsibility to express that unhappiness with compassion, to give his partner the opportunity to do something about it, if she wishes.

If she honestly loves and cherishes her partner, she should be willing to consider working on the problem. If he loves and cherishes his partner, he should be willing to give her the opportunity to help by being honest with her and communicating that there is a problem. To do otherwise, to ignore the problem, to allow her to continue hurting him without her even knowing that she is, is not honoring her, it's not respecting her, it's not allowing her to love him. To ignore the problem or avoid discussing it out of fear of experiencing an uncomfortable discussion is an act of cowardice and selfishness and does not express his love for her, it expresses his fear and his selfishness and his emotional immaturity. It says "I'd rather throw away your love, and my love for you, our history together and our future together, because I fear examining my feelings and I fear difficult discussions more than I love you." It says his love is not more important than his fear. It says that his partner is not worth discomfort and that he does not trust his partner to make her own decisions about whether the effort to fix the problem is possible or desirable.

The reason why the discussion following the expression of a problem is so difficult is because honesty and open communication are only the first step. As [livejournal.com profile] tacit once said: "I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that as long as everyone talks about their feelings, it's all good. That is a necessary first step, but building successful relationships requires more than just talking about how you feel. It also requires understanding those feelings, looking at them critically, figuring out where they come from, figuring out whether or not they are well-founded, determining if the things you feel match reality, figuring out if those feelings are healthy or unhealthy, and in some cases (such as with fear or insecurity) figuring out what you can do to change them. All of these things start with clarity and honesty, but clarity and honesty by themselves are not enough to guarantee success." And all the other stuff is damned uncomfortable, but necessary and not, in my opinion, bad things. Excercize can be damned uncomfortable too, but necessary and not bad in and of itself.

So, no, of course communication does not guarantee the solution to the problem. But without the communication, the problem will most definitely not get solved. When I get out the toolbox to fix something, I might spend all day, sweaty, achy, cranky, covered in grease or dust, maybe even with a smashed finger or two. But at the end of the day, I might have something to show for it, I might have fixed whatever was broken. If I don't even get the tool box out, I'm stuck with something broken because it won't fix itself. I could just throw everything away the moment it gets a little cracked, but that's expensive and some things have sentimental value and some things just can't be replaced. Or, I could attempt to fix it, to see if it's even possible to fix, before I start shopping for something new. Again, as [livejournal.com profile] tacit says, "Sometimes, building healthy, functional relationship structures requires examining one's feelings, and, if they are found to be predicated on ideas that are untrue or unhelpful, changing them. This is extremely difficult, uncomfortable, awkward work, and it can and likely will take you nose to nose with some of your deepest fears and most sensitive, vulnerable areas. It's not fun."

Honesty and communication is the first, and necessary step to making a relationship work, to being happy in a relationship. That honesty and communication will be difficult and uncomfortable, but that's not a good enough reason to avoid it, because avoiding it is also difficult and uncomfortable - that's when you are required to "walk on eggshells" and bend over backwards to avoid any mention of whatever topics you think might lead to the uncomfortable discussion. The result of that honesty and communication may result in the people involved changing in some way. Change is inevitable, and some change is good. People who honestly love and cherish their partners do not want to hurt their partners. If they do so by accident, simply notifying them will cause them to desire to stop. The effort it takes to stop hurting may require some bit of change, if it's possible at all, but that change may be desired on the part of the person doing the changing, particularly because, as we've already established, people who genuinely love and cherish their partners do not want to hurt them. So the least we can do is give each other the opportunity to decide for themselves if change is possible or desirable. And for that, we need to be honest.


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