So far, I have written about five tenants of a healthy sex life. They are all things you can practice, so don’t feel discouraged if they are missing from your life right now. Next, I want to talk about a sixth tenant: being ok with hearing no. You might think this is just a state of mind, but it too is a skill you can practice and develop.
Phase 6 – Being Okay with No
It’s important that each of you take care of yourselves in your relationship in general, and it is particularly important in your sex life. As I discussed in a previous post, each of you must figure out when you need to say no. That’s the foundation of trust in a sex life, knowing that your partner will safeguard themselves and is choosing to participate sexually with you. You each need the ability to discern what is good for you and what is bad, and you need the skill to say no when that’s appropriate. Likewise, you need the ability to hear no when your partner is taking care of themselves and recognize no as a good thing in that situation.
Life gives you plenty of opportunity to practice with no. Think about how you deal with no on a regular basis. Are you one of those people who take on way too much? Do you hate to disappoint people? Do you give so much of yourself that there’s nothing left for you (or your relationship) when the week is over? You can start learning to say no right now, in all the various areas of your life. You can set limits at work, with friends, and with family. You can start with small things and work up to bigger ones. Watch yourself and see what you find out about what makes you say yes when you shouldn’t. See if you can gradually start to have some boundaries.
Likewise, you should pay attention to how you handle other people saying no to you. How often do you take it personally? To what degree do you feel entitled to have your wants met? Do you avoid asking for things so that you can avoid hearing a no? Maybe you’re one of those people who only hint at what they want so you don’t have to hear a direct denial. Or perhaps you manipulate situations toward your desired outcome, so there’s no chance for the other person to be clear about your request and to agree with it or not. If you get better about being direct about your desires and ask to have your wants and needs met, you’ll end up with more opportunity to deal with hearing no. Asking for what you want and risking denial will be a challenge, but it is a crucial skill in building a successful relationship and sex life.
Using the Giver/Receiver Exercise – Being Okay with No
The exercise will give you plenty of practice discerning when you need to say no and then practice in both saying and hearing a refusal. You will gain the trust that your partner will take care of themselves. They’ll get that chance repeatedly while using the exercise. When one of you says no, the instruction is to just move on to something else. It will get easier to hear a no while continuing to feel connected and keeping the encounter going.
Pitfall 1: Struggling to Say No Appropriately
You say no to their request and feel bad about it. You see the look on their face and take it on. Or you know them well enough to know they’ll be disappointed, and you struggle with that. You’re so worried about them that taking care of yourself seems like a problem.
You don’t say no when you should and have a bad experience. You sacrifice yourself because you have this idea that they won’t be okay. Or you’re so used to doing that, it’s hard to distinguish when you need to say no. You struggle to take care of yourself.
You say no when you didn’t need to. You’re so used to setting limits and shutting things down that you don’t take on the work of getting out of your comfort zone. You may have so much resentment or hard feelings that it’s hard to let that go and engage with the work of opening your heart and challenging yourself.
Breakthrough 1: Learning to Take Care of Yourself
You know what it feels like to need to say no. You know yourself well enough to know what a negative experience for you will be. You feel good about taking care of yourself, and you do it easily and without guilt. You don’t sacrifice yourself. This allows you to accept your partner’s desires more easily. You don’t feel threatened or pressured since you know you ultimately get to decide.
You move into discomfort with intention (also known as getting out of your comfort zone). You are willing to challenge yourself to learn new things and develop new capacity. You are willing to feel anxious and work through it. You walk into challenges because you know it is good for you. You master your own emotional state and anxiety. You are willing to push yourself just enough to be useful and productive. You’ve moved past saying no as a knee-jerk reaction.
Pitfall 2: A Problem Hearing No
If your partner needs to say no to something, that impacts your experience. It triggers all the negative feelings that have built up around your sex life. You feel rejected and sad. You feel like you were wrong to ask for what you did, and you may determine to rein it in the next time. You believe they aren’t taking the exercise or their self-confrontation seriously or really trying. You may sulk, quit, or only go through the motions for the rest of your turn, unable to continue being focused on what feels good and enjoying it.
Breakthrough 2: Celebrating Hearing No
You come to realize that your partner saying no is a good thing; it means they are taking care of themselves. You move on easily to another request and can enjoy that fully. You have a wealth of things that can feel good, and one can replace another without a problem. You ask for exactly what you want without concern about whether your partner will say no or not, knowing that you will be fine if they can’t do it.