My Knight recently wrote an articulate and astute post
on the complexities around disclosure. It’s a topic that has frequently been on my mind, too, along with sharing and integration. The “monogamous norm” seems to be “don’t-ask-don’t-tell”, causing me to battle a sense of shame I feel when I enjoy sharing. Furthermore, I do find it difficult to feel safe without understanding key information about my partners and their partners.
What I’ve come to realize about myself is that not only do I need a healthy dose of baseline information disclosed, I enjoy both receiving and sharing out information as it brings me joy to do so. I relish relaying stories of flirting. I love hearing tales of connectedness and closeness. I bask in the other loves of my partners. I really like knowing the details of my partner’s life and what is going on for them. For me, sharing is not just requirement – but a source of happiness and compersion.
And what I’ve found is that some of my relationships (romantic and otherwise) don’t want to know all the details I’m willing to share. And they don’t necessarily want to share the level of detail with me that I would be comfortable hearing (and indeed, welcome hearing.)
Areas & Types of Disclosure
At a high level, there are three scenarios of disclosure to my partner. (Sharing information outside the partnership, i.e. to friends, is more in the area of “confidentiality agreements” versus disclosure.) Each of these has it’s own approach and in my experience, needs careful discussion.
- Disclosing information about myself. This may include information about the way I’m interacting with non-partners, casual dates, and friends. More frequently, it’s around my plans, schedules and the state of my health. These are areas that possibly impact my partners, so I have negotiated with them what/when they want to know this. And again, sharing stories of my flirting escapades brings me joy, provided my partner wants to hear that. (I have one partner who does and another who does not.)
- Disclosing information about myself + another partner. This information could be something that will affect my partner – such as the emotional progression of the other relationship, a change in relationship status (more or less commitment) or even issues and relationship problems that could affect me broadly enough to impact the connection.
- Disclosing information about another partner. If a partner is having personal difficulties outside the relationship with me (for example with a lover), an increased level of need from that partner could impact my availability or my emotional needs. Or perhaps there are work/health/life changes. This scenario can be challenging given varying needs for confidentiality. For me, this is where integration – or open channels of communication with partner’s partners – can amplify understanding. Otherwise, I tend to tread very lightly here.
To add further complexity, all the above can be flipped to be scenarios of disclosure from my partner. There are things I need to know about my partner, about his relationships with other partners and about his other partners.
Finally, I also see areas of disclosure that may need to be separated out and negotiated individually. For example:
- Safer Sex Status & Agreements
- Emotional progression of relationship
- Changes in relationship status / Commitments
Ultimately, I choose to negotiate (and renegotiate) all these points of disclosure with each partner individually. Difficulties can certainly arise particularly where needs among partners conflict, such as one partner needing to know a level of detail that the other partner does not want shared about them. A challenge not fully resolved although here is where understanding disclosure versus sharing might be useful.
Disclosure versus Sharing
The word disclosure has a slightly negative connotation or even legal definition: ”making of secret information public” or “process of sharing information between sides in a lawsuit”. I see disclosure as the ‘knowing requirements’ side (as my Knight talks about) – what I need to know from my partner and provide to my partner – in order to be in a healthy, functional and safe relationship.
Sharing can be viewed as a separate component where there is a joyful exchange of information among the sharer who provides information, sharee who receives the information, and if applicable, a “disclosee” who has information disclosed about them or their interaction with the sharer. This is where it’s important to understand 1) what level of information the sharee wants to know and 2) what level of information the disclosee is ok having shared.
For me, my base level of agreement with my husband is that no one can ask us to keep anything from each other. (This is articulated in our written agreements and interactions with others.) That said, with my husband as sharee, he does not want certain levels of detail. I typically start small and if he asks for more detail, provide it. He also has complete license to stop me at any time with a gentle, “That’s enough, thank you.”
Approaching Disclosure and Sharing Conversations
So how do you create a framework for disclosure that works? For me, it’s important to know that it’s always a work in progress where I - nor my partners – will be perfect. This is where the idea of having a “recovery mechanism” (as my Knight so eloquently puts it) will provide a good safety net.
Some operating methods that have worked for me:
- Identify the areas for disclosure and sharing. Look across scenarios and areas while recognizing that you won’t be able to pre-identify every possible situation. Adaptability and frequent re-negotiation are bound to happen.
- Be clear about your disclosure and sharing agreements ahead of time. Respect those agreements.
- Understand your partners’ disclosure and sharing agreements with their other partners.
- When sharing with someone who does not want extensive detail, start small, allowing them to indicate when the boundary of what they want to know is reached.
- When disclosing, provide adequate detail as agreed upon with the partner so they are fully informed.
- Talk about what you will do when you need more or less disclosure.
- Build recovery mechanisms for when things go wrong.
- Recognize the closeness that sharing can bring and relish it when possible.
Like so much of successful poly, disclosure and sharing is really about good communication. I find it important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to create emotional intimacy with a partner so my relationship can flourish.