Fairly frequently, I’ll write articles describing a relationship situation where something changes, and it puts the people in the relationship into a difficult situation (here’s a recent example).
And invariably, whenever I write one of these pieces, I’ll get a few comments that go a little something like this:
“If everyone knew there were problems, they should have communicated them! A little communication would have gone a very long way, and no one would have gotten hurt.”
And sometimes such a comment will even draw a healthy smattering of “rah rahs” and “here heres” from the crowd. Because open, honest communication is a very good thing in relationships, and it’s not at all controversial to champion it (especially in polyamory and kink circles, where I have large readership, and open communication is a core value of many people).
There’s just one problem, however, with suggesting it as a cure-all. Many of these situations I describe that people say this in response to are ones in which open communication wasn’t an issue. Accurate understanding of the situation at the time was the problem.
You can’t communicate about something you don’t know. Sometimes you will only understand something in hindsight or after you gain more information. Sometimes your view on something will change drastically — even if you formerly felt sure and confident.
For example, you can openly communicate about your feelings for someone towards the beginning of a relationship only to turn around and find after time and learning more about them and how they fit into your life (or don’t) that your feelings have changed (for whatever reason). And when you go to openly communicate the change, I’ve found it’s not at all uncommon for someone to go “I wish you’d told me that you felt that way.”
When in fact, you’re going to them when you realize that your feelings have changed. You’re literally telling them that you’re feeling that way. When you realize it.
You’ve engaged in open, honest communication, and yet it still hurts. There’s still a conflict. Something you can talk through with the other person and ultimately make whatever decision you’re going to make about it. You can openly, honestly communicate now. And everyone might still hurt anyway.
I’ve found that it’s possible for even the most self-aware individuals to be mistaken going into a situation. To have a change of heart. Or to find that they misjudged a situation when they looked at it initially.
And while open, honest communication should certainly be a part of that (and of any relationship), it can’t preempt every conflict nor fix every pain.
You can’t communicate about something you don’t know. And contrary to the popular adage, sometimes what we don’t know does hurt us (and others).