How communication can pave the way to increased intimacy and even better sex.
Over my last four blog posts, you have followed the story of Joan and John. Getting to the root of the problems in their relationship was critical.
Joan and John both felt resentment but for very different reasons. In order to begin the road to recovery, they both had to make a commitment to open communication that started with honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable. To do this, I started slowly by teaching Joan and John basic communication skills. They discussed benign topics but did so openly. We started with topics like food choice, clothing preference, dreams of vacation destinations, etc. and then moved on to more sensitive topics like disagreeing with one another. This was done to help them understand they could differ without intent to harm the other. This was important. John could like pepperoni on his pizza and Joan could like anchovies. The other didn’t have to love the same but they had to learn how to compromise so they both felt as if their wants mattered.
Like so many couples today, Joan and John felt as if they had to agree on everything. To the contrary, what they really had to do was to agree to listen to the opinion of the other while respecting that it was their partner’s opinion, whether they liked it or not. From there, they could discuss what the issue meant for each of them and how they felt about it. It sounds so easy yet remains among the most difficult relationship tasks today, listening even when we don’t like it or don’t agree.
To get them on a road to healing Joan and John had to learn to speak and hear one another. To do this we began with basic conversation skills teaching each of them to listen while the other one speaks. To ask the partner listening to let the partner know they heard them and then, to request clarification if they didn’t understand or they felt there was an underlying or passive intent to the statement. From there, they learned to make requests for the things they wanted from the other. Since we were working in intimacy issues, this is where the partners started to feel uneasy.
As the topics became more intimate, I encouraged them to tell each other what they enjoyed about the intimacy shared between them. They were directed to be very specific so their partner knew what they should consider doing again. More difficult though, they were encouraged to express what they didn’t like with the agreement, and the receiving partner would remain free of judgement or malice. Teaching Joan and John to communicate led to less stress, more honesty and feelings of improved commitment.
Each week they returned with a renewed sense of intimacy and willingness to communicate about the things they previously feared. As they grew comfortable in their discussion, they were tasked with making a list of things they would like to try, sexually, if only they weren’t afraid of being judged or rejected. Having established a sense of security, they were able to talk openly and honestly. There were times when both of them got embarrassed and scared, but in those cases, they were able to reiterate their love and respect for one another. This gave them a clear sense of importance in knowing what the other wanted so they could be the one to help them fulfill this desire.
Lastly, they were able to discuss the needs each of them had as it related to sex. John was looking for physical and emotional fulfillment. Joan was looking for emotional connection. While she began to enjoy the ability to ask for what she wanted, she was adamant that the physical component was less important. While it took some doing, John learned to accept that Joan’s orgasm should not be tied to his emotional security or ego. Joan learned that her feedback was as important as John’s. She learned that she could not condition John to believe he was performing to her satisfaction if she was faking orgasms. She needed to be honest.
John took the time to ask, genuinely, for Joan’s feedback. He took the feedback to establish a mental preference card understanding that women’s orgasms were different than men’s. Joan was able to openly identify when reaching an orgasm was not in the cards and John learned not to take it personally. Sex became freeing for each of them.
Joan and John stayed together but had their moments of frustration. They remained in therapy and committed to creating an environment where the other never questioned their commitment to the marriage. Together they were able to break down walls and show each other support. They worked diligently on never making the other person feel they would be rejected.
Throughout history the topic of sex has caused much consternation. We know society is being overexposed and hypereducated by mass media. Given that many rarely fact check, failing to educate them with accurate information can have lasting impact as we saw with Joan and John.
As people age, those who are uneducated about the topic struggle to speak openly about sex. Those who were educated with false information are likely to perpetuate the same. Without question, adults who have a difficult time speaking openly about sex can end up in unfulfilled partnerships impacting relational sustainability. How do we fix this? We fix it by establishing a dialogue with our partners. We recognize the sensitive nature of the topic and establish a safe space to talk to our partners about sex. We do so without judgement and without making anyone feel ashamed or rejected. And most importantly, we recognize the importance of the topic, at all ages and stages, and we just start talking about sex.