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Some musings on time management

A couple of days ago, I got an email asking me about time management in a polyamorous relationship.
The email read, in part, "I am married and we're having trouble finding time managing our one unit as time is always a consideration. So I was just curious if in poly relationships certain people have certain nights, or how you avoid conflict if 2 of your partners want to do something with you on the same night or weekend. How are potentially emotionally charged situations avoided?"

My own experience with time management is likely to be different from a lot of other folks, because I don't really manage time; it manages me. ("In Soviet Russia...") As a result, I don't do Google Calendars or iCal or anything like that; hell, I can barely make it into the office at a consistent time each morning.

My reply:

One of the things I've found in my own experiences in polyamory is that a lot of time management issues are resolved quite nicely when partners get along with one another and with the partners of their partners. I've found that relationships do need a certain amount of 'alone time,' and that having two partners can mean having less time to spend with each of them--but not nearly as much as you might suspect. Since it's possible to spend quality time with more than one person, having two partners doesn't mean that each of them gets only half your attention.

In any family, even a conventional nuclear family with two adults and a couple of children, it's always possible to have scheduling conflicts. What do you do if your spouse wants to go see a movie, but you'd rather stay home and catch Battlestar: Galactica on TV? What do you do if your child has a school play on the same night that your spouse is due to receive an award from a professional organization? These kinds of problems can happen in any home, and reasonable people can find reasonable ways to accommodate everyone's needs. The same is true of a poly relationship.

To use a real-world example, I have had a situation where one partner wanted to go out dancing and another wanted to go to a movie. Simple solution: all three of us did both.

Part of being a reasonable person, in any kind of relationship, is accepting the fact that nobody gets everything he wants 100% of the time. Flexibility is important, and I suspect that flexibility is actually one of the keys to happiness, no matter what your relationship structure looks like.

Another good tool in poly relationships, which is valuable but often overlooked in any relationship, is the notion that you can't expect to have what you want if you don't ask for what you want. Often, people will make tacit assumptions about the behavior of their partners, without actually clearly saying what their expectations are, and then become hurt and angry if the expectations aren't met. It's not enough to say "The new Batman movie is coming out next Friday;" instead, it's important to communicate expectations clearly, and say "the new Batman movie is coming out next Friday, and it's really important to me to go to the opening with you." Just that little bit goes a surprisingly long way toward helping to resolve scheduling difficulties and hurt feelings.

In some poly relationships, people do set up regular "date nights" with specific partners, so that everyone has a sense of what to expect from the schedule. I don't do that myself, but then, I'm not much of a scheduler. For folks who are, that's an awesome tool to help let everyone know what to expect--though I would say that it's also important to be somewhat flexible about it. Life isn't always tidy, and should a conflict come up or should a partner become ill or injured, I think it's reasonable to be able to rearrange the schedule without causing undue grief.

For me personally, I like spending time with all my partners, and I like having the ability to spend time with more than one partner at once. I also do not feel cheated or like I have lost something if my partner's other partner goes along too. For example, I really enjoy going out to dinner with my partners and their partners as well. Part of healthy, successful polyamory, I think, is in knowing and accepting that not all of the time you spend with someone will be one-on-one time. (And frankly, I think that's a benefit; I've met some awesome people through my partners, people who have become my friends independent of our connection by dating the same person.)

Any relationship can have time management problems. A person starts working longer hours at the office, a person picks up a new hobby, a person starts spending more time with friends, a person starts playing video games--when these things happen, nobody really asks questions like "don't you have trouble managing your time?" Nobody (well, nobody I've ever met, anyway) says "If you start taking up photography as a hobby, I am going to want to start scheduling the time you spend doing it, because I want to be able to limit the amount of time you spend away from me." Polyamory's no different, yet we often see it as different. Good time management skills are the same regardless of the nature of the demands on one's time. It feels different when we think "My lover is spending time with her other lover" than if we think "My lover is spending time in the darkroom," yet from a practical perspective, the same sorts of tools for managing time still apply.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
Interesting comparison to hobbies; in our lives we spend more time/effort/energy worrying about scheduling hobbies than we do other people! Both of us get very passionately into 'new' experiences--a new video game, a new woodworking project, a new friendship, a new book--and we DO tend to ignore each other; when it's a new 'partner' we're overly cautious about not interfering, because we don't want it to cause a jealousy problem.
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
Excellent advice, as always, and as usual, better spoken than I usually manage.

Miss Poly Manners touched on this topic too, in the debut segment on Poly Weekly, but I really like how you included examples of non-poly time management issues and how important the difference is between simply mentioning an event and specifying that attending the event is significant.
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Oops, not the debut segment, the second segment
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. Polyamory isn't something I feel I understand particularly well, and I love reading explanations of what skills and processes can help such a relationship setup remain healthy. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that they're many of the same skills that two-person relationships require.

This was good food for thought.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 31st, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
As a scheduler, some thoughts...

I do "date night"; it's a great way for alone time with a partner. But there's one important thing to be wary of... don't make date night a _chore_. Your partner shouldn't be coming into date night with an expectation of delivery ("I must put out tonight because it's date night", for example). That's not what date night is.

Sometimes date night is a great night for whole-family (that's how I think of the poly situation I'm in; a "family") events, such as "double dating" at a movie (it's the one night we know we're all available if there's something wel all want to do!) Sometimes date night is romantic one-on-one. Sometimes date night is comfortable slob-around-do-nothing in front of the TV. Sometimes date night is skipped.

All "date night" is is time pre-allocated. If you don't use it, then *shrug* no harm, no foul. You might go see a movie; you might stay home and snuggle on the couch; you might have wild bondage sex... or you might just skip it that week because you (or your partner!) has had a really bad week at work and just need to get an early nights sleep.

Scheduling is great; I'm a scheduler. But don't make it a "live or die" thing. It's just a time window.
Jan. 31st, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
Time in Honey
Thank you, this was good for me to read. I keep learning, and maybe someday I'll get there. I hope that when I do my partner will be there, too, at least in enough of a mind space for us to continue working together.
Feb. 1st, 2009 01:19 pm (UTC)
After almost 30 years of doing this jcbemis still tends to make statements of the "The new Batman movie is coming out next Friday"
variety with implied expectations.

Sometimes when I make a response of "Well, if you want to go see it Friday, I'm sure I can find something to do without you.", I have no trouble getting the rest of the "and it's really important to me to go to the opening with you" message explicitly though often in exasperated tones.

It would be better for us if we didn't have to do this.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )