A difficult conversation
by Linda Plenert
Dear Ate Anna,
You often write about the importance of communication. I agree with you, but every time I try to have a conversation with my partner about our sexual relationship, we end up being frustrated or angry and somebody’s feelings get hurt. We don’t have any big problems, but we do need to work at agreeing on a few small things. What am I doing wrong?
Ate Anna is glad to hear that you are trying to communicate about your sexual relationship. Many of us have difficulty talking openly and honestly with our partner about sex. We also have to remember that being on the receiving end of a conversation about sex can also cause anxiety. The result may be that both people aren’t clear about explaining how they feel or aren’t listening to each other.
So, it may not be that you are doing anything “wrong.” However, what you want to say may be different than what you actually say in words. And what you actually say may be different than what your partner hears. Both of you hear what the other person says through your own complex filter of your personality, beliefs, life experiences and fears or insecurities.
You may just need to re-think how well you are saying what you want to say and how to get your message across in a way that minimizes anxiety for your partner. For example, what you want to say is something like, “I wish we had sex more often.” or “I would like to be more sexual in our relationship.”
But because you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings, you may say something less direct like “Why don’t we have more sex?” If you are feeling insecure in your relationship you might even say something like “I wish you weren’t so turned off by having sex with me.”
Your partner may interpret what you are saying as: “There’s something wrong with you because you don’t want to have sex as often as I do.” If they are feeling anxious about the conversation, they might hear: “I want to have sex with other people.” This can end up being a very confusing and frustrating situation for both people!
To improve your chances of getting your message across, spend some time thinking about exactly what you want to communicate. What is the issue that you want to discuss? Is complete agreement the only satisfactory solution? Are you willing to compromise? If this is an important issue for you, think about what is not negotiable.
Set the stage, by telling your partner that this is important to you and you want to talk about it in a way that is respectful and safe for both of you. Remember to use “I messages.”
Next, discuss if you are both willing to try a reflecting process. This helps ensure that what you say comes out clearly and that what your partner hears matches closely. This is also true when the other person is talking and you are listening. Reflecting works for any conversation and the process is as follows:
1. You both agree to let each person talk without being interrupted.
2. Once one person has finished talking, the other person repeats what they heard. This isn’t as easy as it sounds and can feel silly and awkward when you first do it. It can also take some discussion to get to the point where you both agree that what was heard is the same as what was said.
3. Once you can agree, you switch roles and the listener now gets to say what they are thinking and feeling.
You can either set aside some time to try this – almost like an exercise, or stop and try it the next time you are having what feels like an important conversation. It might seem like an awkwardly slow process at first, but it gets easier with practice. Slowing down is actually a good thing when two people are having an important conversation about their sexual relationship. Anger often stems from frustration about not being heard or is a quick reaction to strong feelings.
Sylvie, I hope you and your partner will give this a try. It is worth trying something new and being a bit uncomfortable for the sake of a good relationship.
Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, Suite 200- 226 Osborne St. N., Winnipeg, MB R3C 1V4 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit us at www.serc.mb.ca. You will find reliable information and links to many resources on the subject of sexuality.