Addressing Sexual Issues in Relationships: Effective Strategies for Communication and Intimacy
Sexual issues are a common concern among couples seeking relationship counseling. Talking about physical intimacy can be challenging without support. Delaying these discussions can exacerbate the problems. Discover effective ways to approach the topic with your partner.
- Use ‘I’ language. This means, using sentences and phrases which begin “I was thinking about…” or “I was wondering….”. Talking about your own thoughts and worries is the best way to avoid accusations or blaming, which can happen easily if you start discussions with “you never do X” or “why don’t you ever….!”
- Stick with your feelings. No matter how well we think we know our partner, we can never truly predict how they feel about an issue. Couples are often surprised when they hear their partner talk about something for the first time: “I never knew you felt that way!” When talking about sex, talk about the way that you feel, rather than making assumptions about how your partner feels. For example, rather than saying “You never want to have sex with me! Why don’t you care about me?”, instead you could try saying “when you say you don’t want sex, it makes me feel hurt and rejected”. Using language like this can feel weird and awkward at first but it puts you into an ‘exploring’ mindset, rather than an blaming one.
- What’s on your sexual menu? Talking about sex can feel very clinical, but it doesn’t have to be. Often couples in long term relationships focus mainly on penetrative sex and how often they are doing ‘it’. However when we are younger or in a new relationship, we often engage in a wider range of intimate acts, from kissing, hugging, oral sex, massage or just exploring each other’s bodies. I like to call this, having a ‘sexual menu’ where you can choose different ways to enjoy intimacy and pleasure, rather than selecting the same meal every time! This can be a fun and enjoyable way to talk about sex with your partner, so why don’t you discuss what should be on your sexual menu and how you each might feel about choosing a different ‘starter’ or ‘pudding’ in intimate moments.
- Small changes lead to bigger changes. It’s easy to put pressure on yourself to transform your sex lives overnight, but often small changes can lead to bigger ones. Taking time for a kiss in the morning before work, or holding hands over dinner, can be as important as increasing the quality or quantity of lovemaking.
- Sex is about communication. Try not to see sex as a separate, distinct part of your relationship. A couple’s sex life often reflects the levels of emotional intimacy that they feel. In a relationship which encourages open, honest communication, any sexual difficulties such as loss of desire, erectile problems or vaginal dryness, can be thought about and supported within the relationship. By contrast, if communication is poor, then sexual difficulties can turn into a cycle of blame, resentment or rejection. Try to grow your communication skills in other ways: ask them about what made them laugh that day, about their hopes for the following week, about their disappointments in the past. You can create your own list of ’empowering questions’ and put them in a pot and take turns in choosing a question, deepening your sense of interest in the other person’s mind. The more we can connect with our partner emotionally, the more we can feel physically intimate too.