Listen to anyone talk about relationships for long enough and the subject of honest communication will come up. Especially in the poly community, you hear the virtues of honest communication extolled practically every other sentence. This is a good thing. This is one of the reasons I feel more at home in the poly community than in more heteronormative communities. I’ve always been compulsively cerebral about my relationships with people, and in everyday life that makes me feel like an outsider. In the poly community, that makes me feel normal.
Almost every conversation about honesty focuses on the importance of being honest with your partner. This is a very important skill, but there’s another side to it that I think needs to be addressed. It is also important to be a person to whom it is easy to be honest. This means being able to stop talking and listen, it means not punishing your partner for how they feel, and it means being appreciative when you know they’ve shared something with you that was difficult to share, even if it was something you didn’t like hearing.
Honesty is hard, but we have a lot of control over how hard it is. It’s always going to cost spoons to say the hard things, but how many spoons it takes is something the listener has a lot of control over.
The quintessential stereotypical example of a person who fails to encourage honesty is the girlfriend who, when her boyfriend tells her he’s spent time with a female friend, immediately accuses him of cheating. Honesty rewarded with suspicion. The right way to go about that sort of situation if it makes you uncomfortable is to thank the person for telling you, and then say that it makes you uncomfortable and you’d like to talk through that discomfort. Or whatever similar pattern works; the point is: you don’t blame the other person for your hurt feelings.
If you’re the one being honest about spending time with a friend of a gender you’re attracted to, it can be an easy conversation or it can be one that costs a lot of spoons, and the difference is in your partner’s response. If you’re being honest about something potentially more difficult, like wanting to spend more time with a new partner, any way of having the conversation is going to cost some spoons. But some will cost 3 where others may cost 10.
We all make judgments about which conversations are worth having, whether consciously or unconsciously. We all weigh the emotional costs of our actions. If you want someone to be honest with you, the best thing you can do is make it so that when they have to do that emotional calculus, the weight against having the conversation is 3 spoons and not 10.
In a nutshell: Honesty is a two-way streak. Everyone who wants to be in a relationship where people are honest has a responsibility to try to be honest, and a responsibility to be receptive to and appreciative of the honesty of others.