Communication: The Universal Solution
By Jeffery P. Adams
Reprinted From Relating, The Newsletter of the Institute for 21st Century Relationships (Volume 2, Number 1)
2002 The Institute for 21st Century Relationships. All rights reserved.

My family -- my chosen family -- consists of four adults. We constitute a single, unconventional marriage. We have a family business where we all work, though two of us have other work as well. We have long-term goals as well as smaller goals close to hand. There is a lot of common activity and time together as friends, family and partners in all things. We study, dream, worship and laugh together, and we never find it enough. Naturally this involves a lot of communication. Among four closely bonded adults who need to wear an acceptable public persona when out and about while simultaneously living fully a nontraditional relationship, clear communication is of paramount importance.

We live in a very small town, with a powerful intolerance of different ways of living. When in public, say, out for dinner, we are careful to behave as two couples. The hardest part of that is not what we verbalize so much as our body language; but for simple conversation, in public or with other people, the differences are slight and only occasionally do we feel the presence of the "public eye and ear." When at home or otherwise comfortably private, communication among the four of us is wonderfully free and freely intimate. It is the power of this free communication that keeps our group marriage working well and growing in all ways: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Communication is the most critical aspect in any relationship. In marriage, conventional or alternative, this is especially true. Unfortunately, "most critical" also means most difficult and most prone to failure. What's failure in communication? Any of several things, such as saying the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, or hearing something other than what was said, or giving an incomplete communication, or (a really popular mistake) saying only what one imagines the other person (or people) want to hear.

In our family we have found that the most critical mistake in communication is nothing more nor less than failing to listen completely to the person speaking, especially if that person isn't speaking at all. Huh? How can you listen to someone who isn't speaking? That's easy: we all talk, all the time, but actual words make up by far the smaller part of what we say to each other. We speak with our bodies, with our eyes and faces, with the pauses between our words and with our silences.

In a traditional marriage silences are easy to notice. There's only the one other person, after all, and if (s)he isn't talking, it's quite apparent. In a group of four, however, three could easily be talking away happily and fail to notice that the fourth is unusually quiet, or isn't even in the room right now. In a group marriage it is easier to hide out and get away with it, unless the others are really paying attention.

Still, things get missed, minor upsets occur. Sometimes we're just plain tuckered out and not as alert as we might otherwise be. Sometimes we just get cranky; we are human after all. Or sometimes you just want to be alone. In those moments it's amazing what a simple statement can do. "I just want to be alone for a little bit right now." "I'm feeling cranky today, I don't mean to lash out." Or "I'm not feeling very well but I do want to be with the family tonight." Simple statements that let all know clearly what's going on.

My family is thoroughly committed to its marriage. We know that communication can cut through and resolve anything and open wonderful opportunities. We all work to protect our good communications and to make them ever better, for they are the solid foundation upon which our marriage and our family stands. Our marriage is a gift and we defend all that makes it work. Yet neither are we obsessive about communication. Sometimes a person needs to be left alone. For example, as a writer I need solitude to do my work. My family knows to leave me alone at those times. Balance, too, is an important part of communication, as it is all parts of life.

Come, let us discuss it further.