Why are sex and physical intimacy so difficult to talk about? As a therapist and coach, I hear this from clients all the time. They know what they want to talk about with their spouse but don’t know how to talk about their thoughts, feelings, frustrations or suggestions. It seems much easier to avoid the topic than to talk about it. Unfortunately this lack of communication leads to hurt and misunderstanding for many couples. Here are seven tips to help you get that conversation started — and still be friends at the end:
1. Timing is everything
We can’t emphasize this enough. Having a conversation about your intimate relationship isn’t like having a conversation about what color you want to paint your room — especially if you’re new to this kind of conversation. Women, tell your man you would like to talk with him about something important and that will only take 10 minutes, sometime within the next day or so. Then give him the chance to decide when that conversation could be. It will go much better if you don’t just spring it on him. Men, don’t try and bring this up while she is wrangling with kids, tired after a long day or right before you hope to be intimate. Take her for a walk or a drive where she will be able to give you her full attention.
2. Be honest with yourself first
Before you even attempt this conversation, take some time to figure out your own motive for doing so. What is your expectation? Are you looking to vent and blame? Share an idea? Express your dissatisfaction? Are you seeking a change as a result of your conversation? It’s important to understand your underlying reasons and talk about those beforehand with your partner so that the conversation is productive and will bring you closer together, not farther apart.
3. Be an interested listener
Since these talks can be somewhat intimidating, it might be tempting to throw out a question like, “So, how do you think our intimate life is?” and receive an answer like, “Good.” Then you think, “Okay, that was easy,” and you move on to another topic. But is that really the information you were looking for? Try digging a little deeper by asking what your partner meant by “good.” Try asking him to tell you specific things he likes about your intimate relationship. You may be surprised what starts to come out with just a little prodding.
4. Make a positive sandwich
In other words, begin your conversation by pointing out what’s working in your relationship — anything. If you like how your partner smells, and that’s about it, start with that. This is your partner, someone who deserves your love and respect. Your partner will be more willing to listen to what you have to say if she feels you care about her feelings and the relationship. End the conversation on a positive note, thus creating a “positive sandwich” with the two good things on either end of the conversation.
5. A little physical touch can be helpful
If you’re going to have this conversation while walking or in the car, hold hands, touch knees or whatever you’re comfortable with. A little touching lets your spouse know you are sincerely participating in the conversation as well as helping you feel connected during what can be a very vulnerable discussion.
6. Don’t wander into other areas
If you are going to talk about intimacy, then only talk about intimacy. This is not going to be the time to air other grievances such as finances or whose turn it was to take the garbage out. It’s always somewhat tempting, once you open the door to complaints to get defensive and take a stab at your partner. Try and remember why it is you were having the conversation in the first place and work to resolve that issue instead. Save the garbage talk for another time. If you consistently find you are unable to have any sort of meaningful discussion without it becoming heated and destructive, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a coach or therapist to help you learn how to more effectively navigate this area.
7. Invite a higher power to help you
Before you begin talking to your partner, take a few moments to truly center yourself and ask a higher power for help. You may receive greater clarity, have a more open and willing heart, and be able to listen to your partner without getting defensive. Also, this is a way to encourage spiritual intimacy within your relationship.