Communicate or Masturbate

by Tommy Cotton

Firstly, I’m no relationship expert, not even close. I’m just a writer, and one of fiction at that: I see, I feel, I think, and I write. So, to be clear, this is perspective, not prescriptive. I’m a man in a long-term relationship. I’ve so far navigated five years of building a life with my partner Mary in this modern world of information, connection, and distractions. I’m an egalitarian when it comes to relationships. I believe in equality between partners: no gender roles with housework, cooking, fixing things, earning money etc. – I do the stir-fries, Mary does the spag-bol’, I tend to vacuum, while Mary cleans the shower. I believe in two people connecting, loving, and doing what is best for themselves, each other, and their relationship, whatever those things are.

Every relationship is different and only you can truly know what works. Equality is the similarity we all share. We are all people, and that’s that. We share differences too, in interests, energies, and desires, and those are the things that can make an interesting relationship a perpetual, beautiful source of intrigue; why it is that this one person has your attention beyond any other, why this person runs through your mind, while others simply plod. Paradoxically, sometimes it’s the things we don’t have in common that connect us most and also where strong communication is most important.

Communication isn’t simply expressing yourself. It’s taking the time to listen, understand, and take on board what someone is expressing to you.

But how do you communicate if you’re not comfortable with what you’re communicating?

It’s tough, and I’m certainly not perfect at this. I’ve kept things inside when they were just simmering problems, scared to shake things up when superficially nothing was wrong. Those simmers, they boil, though, and when they boil, they always burn worse.

I’ve probably been a hypocrite and a dick (what man hasn’t morphed into a giant version of his most prized possession at some point?). Mostly, I knew when I was wrong, but what was I to do? Simply be better by just telling myself to be better? How?! Or, was I just to let things be, singing Que Sera in my head like a blithe, emotionally inept man-child as I fell helplessly into an uncommunicative relationship …?

‘Wake up, pay attention,’ I told myself. She deserves the best of you, and you deserve to show her who you can truly be. A significant part of growth for me has occurred in questioning myself, being conscious. How did I let those small problems become bigger? Was it that I kept things inside and didn’t acknowledge them? Who was I protecting by refraining from expressing myself – me or Mary?

When could I have stopped and reflected and realized what I needed to communicate before it got to that? How could I have done it most effectively? And did I have the courage to hear and take on board what Mary had to communicate, the things she needed? They were hard questions, and sometimes I didn’t feel at ease asking or answering them (they’re ones I still need to address occasionally). But I always reminded myself of something. The best way to build your comfort zone is to leave it and get to know yourself in the space you haven’t ventured.

Our communication strengthened when we were willing to hurt each other, and when we were brave enough to accept that we could get hurt in return. What’s the old adage? The truth can be hard to hear. What’s life without a little pain, though, if not real? Doesn’t it seem reasonable that a genuine connection with honest communication will entail some hardship? I know this sounds strange, so let me clarify something. There is good hurt and there is badly hurt. Good is the type that brings about growth, a greater level of trust, bad is the type that can cause us to stagnate. Although both can ultimately teach us something, in a healthy relationship we’re aiming for the good hurt.

Mary and I have long acknowledged such, and in time we’ve discovered we can become stronger together and as individuals from the heartaches. We’ve made considerable effort to ensure our pain is positive. Because with it, we gain truth. And Truth is knowledge, and knowledge is power. The more we know about each other, the more empowered we are as a couple. We’ve agreed on how we communicate, and you’ll have your own ways. Just don’t hold grudges when the emotion gets raw. It’s paramount. Ultimately even if sometimes it seems like you’re not, you and your partner are always on the same team. You’re in this together.

None of this has come overnight for us. We’re here, though, and pretty bloody happy: married and expecting our first child in June (which will undoubtedly require even greater communication and test us for at least the next few decades … strangely, I’m excited).

We got this far with love, friendship, and communication, predictably, but it took a lot of self-growth, motivation, determination, and persistence, too, all of which we’ll need going forward. Our relationship is forever a work in progress. At least these days we don’t need to use our mind-reading abilities so much. That shit’s tiresome, and honestly, I’m terrible at it. Don’t let it discourage you if things don’t work immediately.

No two people are perfect for each other the moment they meet.

They must find their perfection together and strive to perpetuate it. That takes work, and work takes energy. Try, try, and try again. Fall, fuck-up, fail and find a way to rise. Fight for the thing worth fighting for: an honest, loving, trusting relationship with strong communication. You deserve it.

Without trust, honesty, communication, and respect, love is just another four-letter word, like shit.

PS I know at no point in the preceding article did I relate any content to the title. But it was catchy. It’s true if you think about it, though, isn’t it? A healthy sex life is a hallmark of a healthy relationship, and strong, honest communication, underpins a healthy relationship. Therefore, great communication leads to great sex, and no communication might just lead to no sex, and leave you flying solo more often than you’d like.

PPS That’s not to say masturbation isn’t a great thing: it’s incredibly healthy and useful, and necessary, but if I’d added ‘only’ into the title, it just wouldn’t have flowed … Perhaps 

Until next time, stay interested and stay interesting. 

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Tommy Cotton

about the author

Tommy Cotton

Tommy is the author of two novels, with a third coming out mid-2019. He resides in Melbourne where he writes at various cafes surrounded by hubbub and the distant ding of trams. When he’s not stuck head-first in a novel, he is working through the preposterous amount of eateries and bars he has pinned on his Google Maps.

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Stephanie SAYS:

Tommy, I’m not someone who has time for reading but I love short pieces and I smiled through reading this entire piece!! This reminded me so much of my marriage and how you do put everything on the line, I am not whole in anyway without my husband.. we are a team, it’s always nice to get a reminder of how important it is and how lucky we are to have an equal partnership that is similar to those around us, we can only give our best and love one another for that hey. You and Mary will make the most incredible parents with a strong team like this already! So well written Tommy, you are so wise and so clearly in love ❤️❤️

Dominique SAYS:

Inspiring, relatable and puts a true perspective on relationships-including my own.

The way you have written about Mary is very sweet and admirable!

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