I’ve had this ongoing thought recently, and it keeps coming up in conversations, so I figured it’s worth writing down. There are a lot of different ways and reasons and contexts in which we communicate things in relationships, but they mostly seem to boil down to one of three general categories: asking permission, asking opinion, and sharing information.
“Asking permission” is stating a desire but recognizing action is directly influenced by the perspective of someone else. So, for example, I have a crush on someone and want to go on a date with them. Depending on how my relationship is structured, I might ask my partner if it’s ok with them if I start seeing someone new. Their answer (and discussion around that) is going to directly influence my actions. I won’t start going out with someone if they have serious concerns about it- either about the person, or if they feel our relationship is in a rocky place and we need to focus energy there and get to a better place before either of us start seeing someone new. In either case, I’m asking permission- stating a desire for something, but allowing someone else’s perspective to directly influence what I do.
“Asking opinion” is a little more nuanced. In this, I am stating an action that I am going to do, and asking how someone feels about that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to still do the thing, but I will factor in someone else’s perspective and perhaps shift the way I engage in this thing.
So, same example: I’d like to start seeing someone new that I have a crush on. I might inform my partner that this is happening, and ask how they feel about it. Depending on their answer, I might ask follow-up questions about how to make this more comfortable for them, or how to minimize negative impact if they’re not thrilled about me dating someone new right now. My action itself doesn’t change- I’m still going to start going on dates with this person- but the manner in which I do it shifts to make that more comfortable for the people around me. It’s more of an indirect influence of behavior, rather than a direct influence on action.
And finally, sharing information. In this case, I am simply informing someone that I am going to do a thing. I’m not allowing space or discussion for how they feel about this thing, and am not really willing to allow their perspective to change how I do this thing. I am simply doing it.
So for example, my partner asks, “What are your plans tonight?” and I say, “I have a date with so-and-so.”
I think, a lot of times, I try live in the second space more than any other. I’m not really interested in asking anyone for permission for the things I want to do, but I do care to do things in a way that takes into account the feelings of those around me. And similarly, I don’t have any desire to control the actions of someone else; I simply want the space to be able to share my perspective and figure out how everyone can get what they want in the least harmful way possible.
I think often times, we end up sharing information because we don’t want to feel like we are asking permission. We don’t want to give up our autonomy, and we don’t want to give other people control over our lives in places we haven’t granted it (this is, of course, outside of negotiated dynamics wherein asking permission is an aspect of the dynamic).
I think that middle ground gets overlooked a lot. I think there is a nuance and difference of intent with asking permission versus asking opinion. But when that middle ground gets overlooked, and communication feels like a binary choice between asking permission and sharing information, I think those who value their autonomy highly err on the side of sharing information because anything else feels like they are giving up the ability to do what they want with their own life (hi, hello, this would be me; I fall into this trap more than I want to admit).
I very, very rarely ever want that level of control in someone else’s life. I simply want to maintain that level of control over my own. The difference, for me, is that asking permission allows for one person to consensually surrender their own autonomy, but often, just sharing information- especially when that information impacts someone else- forces the recipient to give up parts of their own autonomy. Asking for someone’s opinion often allows both parties to be able to make informed choices about how they move forward- which is not just the foundation of autonomy, but consent.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when sharing information is good. The way we tend to lean in communication is impacted by a whole lot of things: relationship dynamics and structures, intention, past experiences, etc. My barometer for how I communicate is directly linked to how much the information is going to impact the recipient. The more something impacts someone else, the more I want to get insight into how to proceed in a way that is respectful of their needs while still maintaining my own autonomy and ability to make my own decisions.