What is your partner really saying?
Many of us have difficulty talking openly and honestly with our partner about sex. And while the spotlight is usually on the person doing the talking, being on the receiving end of a sex talk can also be anxiety provoking. One result of all this sex talk discomfort is that when we do finally get around to talking, we aren’t that clear about explaining or listening to each other. Consider it a huge game of broken telephone — only it’s not a game, and the quality and health of your sex life depends on it.
So today lets work on fixing the broken telephone you’ve been using when it comes to your sex life. As a first step, consider these three statements that are true of all types of communication, including sex talk:
• What you want to say may be very different from what you actually say.
• What you actually say may be very different from what your partner thinks you said.
• Both you and your partner hear things through your own personal and complicated filters, and this influences what you hear probably as much as what the other person is actually saying.
Let’s see how this works in real life:
You might want to say: ”I don’t think we’re having enough sex.”
But what you actually say is something less direct, like this: “Why don’t we have more sex?” or ”I wish you weren’t so turned off by having sex with me.”
Your partner may interpret that as you saying: “There’s something wrong with you because you don’t want to have sex when I do.” or ”I want to have sex with other people.”
With all this confusion, where do you even start? Not surprisingly, you need to begin at the beginning. Make sure that what you say comes out clearly and that what your partner hears matches closely, if not exactly, with what you intended to convey. It’s a process called reflecting.
All you do is agree to let each person talk without being interrupted. Once one person is done, the other person repeats back what they heard, as accurately as possible. This isn’t an easy thing to do. It can feel silly and awkward, and it takes some back and forth before you both agree that what was heard is the same as what was said. Once you’ve reached an agreement, switch roles. The other person now gets to talk about how they are feeling, and the first person does the reflecting.
You can either set time aside to try this with your partner. Or, the next time you’re having what feels like an important conversation, stop and give this a try.
At first, reflecting back what your partner just said before you respond can seem painfully slow, especially when all you really want to do is defend yourself and move on. But as you practice, you’ll both get better. Plus, it can be a good thing to be forced to slow down in a conversation. In the end, you both benefit when you both get heard and feel as if you’ve been given the opportunity to say what you feel.
The next step is getting better at saying what you mean. Practice practice practice.