PQ 15.4 — What do I need from my relationships? How often do I reevaluate my needs?

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PQ 15.4 — What do I need from my relationships? How often do I reevaluate my needs?


It’s taken a long time for me to get a handle on what exactly I need from my relationships. But I think I’ve finally pinpointed where real compatibility lies:

Shared values. 

This is the “something in common” that matters. Not if we have the same taste in movies. Not if we’ve read and liked the same things (though neither of those hurt).

It’s about whether the same values are important to us. If we tend to use our judgement in a similar manner.

And it’s when I’ve strayed far from this with partner selection that I’ve really fucked up.

Shared Values Are More Important to Me than Perfect Communication

In fact, I’ve found that shared values matter even more than one thing that’s often touted as the key to polyamory: Communication.

Just like common interests, skillful communication never hurts and can be quite helpful. But as I’ve written before, you can fail at communication before you even say a single word:

“Communicate, communicate, communicate.” It’s practically the unofficial motto of polyamory.

But the truth is that communication isn’t the most important part of polyamory. Vulnerability, courage, and integrity are.

Communication matters of course, but the reason that communication matters is so we can create a shared understanding of what integrity looks like. And to do that properly, we need the courage to be vulnerable.

This means we need to be open to other people having feelings, wants, and needs that are incompatible with our own. If you can’t honestly say that you are, then you’ve missed the most important step. You’ve failed at communication before you say a single word.

I’ve had partners where we didn’t communicate terribly well, perhaps about average (even though we tried to do better), but we still had a very good relationship, so long as we had similar values. They allowed us to assume benevolence even during miscommunications, as well as to repair any trust fractures more quickly.

And I’ve had relationships where all the excellent communication in the world didn’t change the underlying facts: We weren’t right for each other. And we weren’t ever going to talk ourselves into being right for each other.

Values Are More Important to Me Than the Right Label

This realization about values is also why I’ve come to care less about labels than other people (not that I dislike them, I’m sort of neutral or indifferent about them): I don’t give two craps what someone is calling “us” or how they’re describing our relationship so long as I respect that other person’s values system. And can clearly see that how they talk about their values system seems to match their actions.

That’s likely because authenticity is one of my values, even more so than transparency or honesty. (I get that people need privacy and can have benign or even noble reasons for hiding something.)

I thought that being reliable was one of my core values, too. A while back, I had a partner who was very unreliable. Who would often cancel on me or others for what seemed like frivolous reasons: Something more exciting was going on, something more fun.

It didn’t work for me. At all.

When we broke up, they took my decision as evidence that I’m an overly insecure person, that my true problem was playing second fiddle occasionally. And I walked away from the interaction thinking that the lesson here is people canceling is my pet peeve and pretty much a dealbreaker to me.

As it turns out, we were both wrong.

I went on to date another person who canceled on me on multiple occasions — but each time they did so for a reason that was consistent with my values system: Work obligations, illness, or the need to be there for someone else they loved in a time of dire crisis. (The relevant values for each scenario seems to be work ethic/sense of duty, self-care/self-compassion, commitment to loved ones.)

It made me realize it wasn’t the cancellations, after all. I don’t need a partner who is a perfect scheduling robot. And I get that people have a lot going on in their lives. (Especially people I date since I tend to be attracted to polyamorous people who are also very career focused.)

It occurred to me that when it came to my past relationship that it wasn’t the cancellations but the values behind them that mattered. The way this ex-lover prioritized. And as I sorted through unpleasant experiences in that particular relationship, I realized that this difference in values manifested in myriad other ways. Over and over. Each incident taken in isolation was small enough that I barely registered it. But when looking at the pattern, it became painfully clear.

What I Need

Bottom line, this is my bare bones list of what I need from a partner:

  • That they honor their commitments
  • Genuinely care about other people
  • Are somewhat responsible
  • They don’t have to be perfect, but if they screw up, they should notice and care.

As far as what I want? Sure, that’s a different list. That list is long, fun. It reads like a handful of unsupervised kids brainstorming for an art project.

But this is what I need.

And as for the second question, I tend to reevaluate my needs after I have an experience that signals to me that I may have miscalculated them somehow.


This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.

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