Last week, I wrote again about playing your own side of the court and offered some ideas about using that premise to deal with issues of desire discrepancy. Now I want to offer a few other examples of how you can play your side of the court in working through issues with your partner.
Master Your Own Emotional Regulation
Self-soothing and emotional self-regulation are big parts of the work for each of you. Develop the ability to tolerate anxiety as well as feeling unsettled and unsure. Instead of looking to your partner to change what they’re doing or to reassure you, settle yourself down and tend to your own reactivity. This is going to take practice, but playing your side of the court means regulating your own emotional state. You can take a break to get control of yourself, but then it’s your job to show up and engage again. If you get triggered or escalated, it’s your job to notice that and do what you need to do to regain control. It’s also your job to let your partner take a break when needed and not hold them in discussion against their will. It’s your job not to call names or blame your partner. Avoid taking the bait or throwing fuel on the fire. Each of you has that job, but your side is the only one that you need to focus on.
Adjust Your Expectations
Another part of playing your side of the court is adjusting your expectations. Recognize your own expectations and how those have shaped your interactions with your partners. Where you have unrealistic notions about sex, acknowledge and change them. This requires letting go of things you might have thought were important and accepting a new view of how relationships work. There may be some sense of loss and a need to grieve some of these ideas. It’s hard to let go of the idea that someone who loves you should just know what you want. Or that sex should be easy and not need any work or effort. The idea that you and your partner should orgasm at the same time, through penetration, or repeatedly is based on unrealistic expectations. But keeping expectations like these sets you up to fail, feeding the cycle of avoidance you are trying to change.
Give Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt
Find ways to extend the benefit of the doubt to your partner. You may be coming into this process with a lot of bad history and hard feelings, but without forgetting that, be willing to see this as a fresh start. Focus on what you must do and allow your partner the space and responsibility to tend to their own work. Don’t worry yet about how they are doing, and don’t jump to conclusions that they aren’t doing what they need to. A lot of this work is internal, so you may not see anything right away. That doesn’t mean they aren’t changing. Focus on you, not them. Assume the best instead of the worst, especially if they make a mistake. Unilaterally giving your partner the benefit of the doubt and honestly assessing what happens is a big part of getting into a virtuous cycle instead of a vicious one.
Perhaps the hardest part of playing your side of the court is the need to be completely honest. You may think you’re an honest person, but the true test comes when there’s a lot at stake. You need to be honest even when it’s going to cost you, even when it might cost you the relationship and when it really isn’t what your partner wants to hear. Unless you’re telling the truth and coming clean when it’s risky, you’re not an honest person.
Real trust is based on this kind of honesty, as I described in a previous blog post. Your partner cannot trust you if you hold back to spare their feelings or “make them safe.” They will not trust you if you swallow your feelings and concerns only to blindside them later. Trust will not exist if you neglect your own needs and wants, building resentment over time, even if you are doing it to keep the peace or be accommodating.
You also need to be honest about your ability to read your partner and how you use the information you get when you do. Most people are not avoiding sex by being direct and overt; they do it by sending signals to their partner and by reading the signals sent in return. It becomes collusion between partners, a covert agreement enacted by two people. Once you begin talking about your interactions, including the fact that you are sending and reading signals, you start to deal with the real issues.
For now, having this conversation can be scary. One or both of you have invested in the pretense that you can’t read the other. You may fear what’s going to be revealed about you or your relationship if you honestly open up. Once you get honest, you can’t go back to pretending you don’t know. There is no unringing that bell—and that is a good thing, although it feels risky.
There isn’t room anymore for pretending. Don’t mislead your partner about what you’re thinking or wanting. Don’t hide behind half-truths or deflection. Don’t avoid telling the truth or sharing what’s going on for you by focusing on your partner and their issues. You and your partner read each other; it’s time to admit it and deal directly with what you know about each other.