Throughout my writings, I have discussed how people get stuck in a cycle of avoiding sex and why that happens. I have also offered some tools to make communicating with your partner easier. But sometimes just beginning the conversation is the hardest part. Broaching the topic of your sex life with your partner can be difficult, but you’re going to have to work together if you want to make meaningful changes. It is possible for you to change your relationship just by changing your part in the dynamics. Two people can’t keep doing the same dance if one person changes their steps. But it will be more effective if you do this with your partner; then you can co-create a new sexual relationship.
Perhaps you and your partner can talk easily about everything but sex, but it’s also possible that you aren’t yet skilled in talking about any of the hard stuff. You are certainly going to have trouble dealing with sexual concerns if you don’t know how to navigate your disagreements in other areas of your life. It is crucial to be able to tackle difficult conversations, to disagree, and to tolerate anxiety and uncertainty. Lots of people tiptoe around each other, not knowing how to navigate the “eggshells.” If you are afraid or unwilling to hurt your partner’s feelings or to make them uncomfortable, you will keep important information to yourself. Do not swallow your concerns or bottle up emotions to avoid rocking the boat. Allow your partner to manage their own anxiety. Sure, you’ll probably read their emotional state and wonder whether they can handle what you have to say. But say it either way.
Maybe you and your partner bring up the tough topics, but you end up bickering every time. One or both of you gets triggered. You shut down. Or you explode. You accuse and blame; or you beat yourself up. These emotional reactions that occur when you try to handle the hard things mean that you never get anything resolved. You may continue to try for a while, but it gets exhausting. And since it never solves anything, you start to avoid bringing the issues up.
Sexuality is one of our most primal, most core aspects of self. You are revealed when you share your sexuality with someone else, if you really let yourself be seen and exposed. If you struggle to handle difficult conversations about money, family, kids, work, chores, expectations, and more, I can almost guarantee that conversations about sex have been hard, too. Without a track record of solving hard problems together, you probably avoid bringing up sexual concerns, at least after a while.
It is difficult to talk constructively about your sex life when you’re having problems. If it were that easy to dive in and talk about sex, the two of you would be doing it already. Part of what may have trapped you in the Avoidance Cycle is how hard it is to bring up the topic with your partner. But because you are reading this, it shows you are interested in changing your sex life. You want to be more than roommates, even if it is only because you know your partner isn’t happy living this way. You already aren’t having the relationship you want to be having, so I encourage you to dive in and bring your partner into the process. Once you can approach your sexual struggles as allies with the common goal of making your relationship better, you can proceed through the book, using the conversations and exercises laid out here to help improve your intimate relationship.
If you and your partner haven’t been talking about sex, much less having it, someone needs to speak up first. It’s going to take a little courage to bring it up. It will almost certainly be scary, but there is no other way to start. There will never be a perfect time, so stop waiting for the right moment. Rip off the Band-Aid! There are decent odds that your partner isn’t happy, either, even if they’ve been silent on the subject. Ask your partner if the two of you can talk. You can begin by laying it on the table: you are concerned about your sex life. Bring up the fact that, as a couple, you have been avoiding the topic of sex and that you want to work on making your relationship better.
It certainly helps to ground the conversation in the hope for a better relationship, sexual and otherwise. Talk about how much your relationship matters and how much you want it to thrive. Express your willingness to own your part of the problems and your desire to focus on moving forward. There might be difficult issues that need to be addressed, but it can still be done with a focus on the positive improvements you want to see.
Do not simply blame your partner or expect them to talk about how they’re feeling right away. Adhering to the idea that you should play your cards first (as described in an earlier blog post), it’s best to start by revealing what’s been going on for you. Here are some questions to first consider asking yourself, in order to share the answers with your partner:
- How have you been feeling about your sex life?
- What are your contributions to the sexual issues?
- Where have you been avoiding intimacy?
- How have you deflected or ignored their attempts to have sex or to talk about it?
- How have you done a poor job of seeking understanding of your partner’s perspective?
The more you can lead with your own self-confrontation, the better the conversation will go. On the other hand, don’t allow your partner to hide behind that and just blame you. Each of you needs to take responsibility for your own part of the equation if things are to improve.
In coming blog posts I will offer some additional and examples that will help you form these conversations and make these talks easier and more productive.