Talking about sex can be intimidating, even when you’re discussing the lighter side like favorite positions or fantasies you’d like to share with your partner. However, when tough topics surface, the situation becomes even trickier. Difficult sexual conversations can cause excessive anxiety in individuals who did not grow up learning to clearly and authentically communicate. When you want to tell your partner about an STI, an instance of infidelity, or to discuss opening up the relationship, how do you broach the subject with sensitivity and composure? Not knowing the answer to this question keeps some individuals feeling stuck with their secret and avoiding the awkward exchange.
Start the Conversation Early
Before your first sexual encounter with a new partner, you may want to chat about issues like the last time they were tested for STIs. Another great idea is to mention sexual activities you do or do not like, and to ask them about their proclivities as well. Starting a conversation about your sexuality early in your relationship sets the tone for openness and makes later conversations easier.
Sometimes, dividing the discussion up into smaller pieces can be helpful. Open the dialogue, find out what you need to know, and make time to revisit the issue in the future. This approach feels less risky and fosters frequent, healthy communication. Perhaps an introduction to the conversation is in order. You can mention to your partner that you have a tough issue you would like to discuss and that you’re nervous about the conversation. Don’t forget to say that you value the relationship and want to discuss this topic when your partner has the time and mental space.
To avoid pre-conversation nerves, keep in mind that you can never control the other person’s reaction to what you share. Do your best to release your expectations for the conversation, and focus on sharing your information lucidly. Even the best communicator in the world cannot control how their partner receives the information. Furthermore, realize that a little bit of nervousness is natural because the topic is significant, intimate, and affects daily life.
Be Mindful of the Timing
Consider the best timing for the conversation, too, before engaging your partner. Immediately before sex is not a great time, because it puts additional pressure on the result of the conversation. If your partner is coming from a background where sexual conversations were frowned upon, talking about sex very early in the relationship might be uncomfortable for them. Although a spontaneous conversation might be the most romantic way, merely hoping for the topic to arise during everyday conversation is impractical. Planning a time to talk about it ensures you both get the answers you need and deserve.
Throughout a relationship, more difficult conversations may need to take place. You may find that a boundary you didn’t know you had was crossed, or you need to talk about your unmet sexual needs. While many individuals assume their partner knows—or should know—the line of consensual activity within their relationship, this assumption can cause fights when your partner disregards your unsaid limits. Verbalizing precisely what you want is the best way to help your partner give you what you want. Remember to make your intentions clear, so that your partner knows you want to tackle this issue together. Let them know that you are committed to transparency and making the relationship work.
How to Address Specific Issues
If one partner has been sexually unfaithful to another, that conversation is difficult as well. Unfortunately, no amount of preparation or perfect delivery will make the conversation go smoothly. The best option is to be direct and understand that they will likely be angry. Since this is a consequence of your actions, keep the focus on hearing their feelings. Another tactic that can help speed along the repair process is to take responsibility for what happened, even if you feel that your partner had a hand in the development of the infidelity. Those thoughts are best shared later after the relationship has begun to repair.
Opening up the relationship is another challenging topic that is best approached with compassion and empathy. One way to handle this discussion is to start by emphasizing your commitment to and enjoyment of the current relationship. Ask if an open relationship is something they have considered, and express that this would be something you’d like to explore together. Reiterate that an open relationship has nothing to do with your desire for them decreasing or your attraction to them waning. Be sure to mention that you trust your partner, and you want to make this decision together rather than unilaterally.
Once you’ve opened up the lines of communication with your partner, you will find that both of you can mention your desires freely. With practice, this honest connection will help your relationship better meet your needs.
Consider Engaging a Neutral Third Party
Some of the issues above can alter the course of a relationship forever, but a licensed therapist that specializes in sexual concerns can help you navigate these in a healthy way. Reaching out to a professional that you trust can help you both cope and thrive, even through infidelity. Rather than leaving the outcome to chance, speak with an expert who can give your relationship a better opportunity for survival.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is not only a clinical psychologist, but also a sex therapist in Los Angeles. She works with a variety of couples and individuals to improve sexual and relational issues. Call Dr. Moali today for schedule a free phone consultation.