So I was listening to the "Sex with Emily" Podcast the other day (and if you haven't listened to this, it's a must!) and she stated: "...communication is lubrication". This got me thinking. Nearly every couple and individual I work with in sex therapy sessions have difficulty communicating about sex. This can be for several reasons; shame, embarrassment, lack of initiation, fear of rejection or causing a fight, apathy, not feeling like it is necessary, or simply not knowing how to have a healthy convo about sex. But Emily (from Sex with Emily) is right! Once the communication waves get opened up, and conversations begin to happen-> sex improves!
As a society, we never learn how to have conversations about pleasure, desire, sexual issues, fantasy, etc. Most of us were taught that these sorts of conversations were naughty or shameful. So our language and verbal communication skills related to sex are stunted. I often ask clients what they like, how they prefer to be touched, is kissing fun for them, what is their favorite sexual position, etc. The responses I receive are a squeamish, uncomfortable "I don't know..." We know and have no problem sharing what kind of ice cream we like, if we prefer or soft or a firm pillow, what our favorite color is, but when it comes to sex we shy away from truly understanding and communicating what it is that we like and don't like.
And it's not just communication around sex, it is communication as a whole. How many times are you involved in a conversation and instead of truly listening to what your partner is saying you are thinking about how to respond? This is even more obvious in times of conflict. When you and your partner are fighting, do you tend to listen to what they are saying or are you figuring out to be "right"?
When we can slow down, be present and listen to others, we learn. And when our partner slows down, is present and listens to us, we feel heard and validated. Our walls can begin to come down, defenses subside and we can actually communicate with each other.
The first step to improving communication is to work on it in a conflict-free time. Here's how:
- Make an appointment with your partner (literally!) "Hi honey. Are you available to talk with me, uninterrupted, in 10 minutes(an hour, tomorrow, next week, etc.)?
- Identify the topic you would like to discuss. Try and pick something that is low-stress when first attempting this: " Would it be okay if we talked about our upcoming week schedule?", "Would you be up for talking about the movie we saw last weekend?" The content isn't all that important. It is about carving out time for one another, being collaborative, not combative and to get both of you on the same page (not one person attacking and the other going on the defense).
- Once you both agree on the appointed time, subject and location it's a date! Sit down across from one another and make eye contact. Take a moment to connect (maybe take a breath together or hug for a few seconds. Whatever it takes to connect and ease any tensions.
- Turn off the TV, put the phones on "Do Not Disturb", make sure you will not be interrupted for at least 10-15 minutes.
- Now take turns talking. No Interrupting. After your partner speaks try and mirror back what they said to you (or at least the gist of it) and ask if you understood them correctly. If they say "yes", have them respond and you mirror them. If you didn't quite understand what they said ask them to repeat it to you and try mirroring it back again.
- Take it slow. This may sound super simple- but we live in a day and age of really poor focus. It can get a bit tedious to slow things down this much, but it works.
- Practice makes perfect! Make sure to practice this exercise at least once a week when you are starting out. As you become more comfortable with the exercise you can begin to discuss topics that are a little more conflicting.
This is an exercise borrowed from Harville Hendrix's Imago Therapy. It is tried and true way of breaking down barriers, melting away anger and creating intimacy in conversation. I use it with all of my couples in sex therapy and relationship counseling, and always see benefits and improvements. Remembering that opening up these communication lines is a foreplay all of its own. When we can talk and connect we are more open to be aroused and experience desire with your partner. If you have further questions about this exercise or anything else relationship or sex-related do not hesitate to contact me through my website.