Regardless of the relationship or sex problems many clients bring to therapy, what keeps them from making progress is an inability to speak the same language. Most couples enter my office with one partner metaphorically speaking Latin, while the other is arguing back in German. Funny thing is, most people are saying the same thing, but do not understand one another. Achieving what you want in your relationship or sex life often cannot be achieved without speaking a common language. Whether you are fighting/miscommunicating about sex and preferences, disappointment, trust, intimacy, finances, or even how to load the dishwasher correctly, the following suggestions hold true.
Conflict is good and healthy when done “right.” Many problems I treat started small and went nearly unnoticed. One partner typically has a preference or a need he/she wants fulfilled by the other. This partner assumes that the way the couple shares its needs is clear and understood, rarely following up with the other partner(s) to ensure this is the case. Do you remember in the original Die Hard movie where Bruce Willis’ character makes the comment to Alan Rickman’s about how “assumption is the mother of all f*#k up’s?” Here is the secret; it is true in any relationship, especially with your romantic or sex partner.
When you find yourself going around in circles in conversations with your partner(s), expecting a different outcome each time (stuck in the same pattern of interaction), something needs to intervene. Often, resentment can build, and we find ourselves becoming contemptuous or critical toward the other. Those sentiments are often met defensively.
3 Ways to Speak a Similar Language
So, when you both want to speak French, but one is speaking English and the other Spanish, what can you do to stop running around in circles and move toward progress? Here are a couple of suggestions.
Try using a “soft start-up”
- When you are having a difficult time having important discussions with your partner (especially about sex, or anything that usually produces an argument), try beginning conversations with a “softened start-up” or “I-statement”. Instead of blaming your partner for your own primary emotive response, begin conversations about topics needing resolution by naming what is going on for you in the situation, not what your partner is doing to you (NO blaming). For example, when you want to begin a conversation and open dialog about a desire discrepancy (where one partner wants more or different sexual activity than the other), instead of blaming your partner for not meeting your needs, you could say: “I feel disheartened when I am unable to connect physically with the person I love most in life. I need to find that shared pleasure, admiration, and closeness to feel fully alive.” See how that is fundamentally different than blaming the other party? You are taking responsibility for your primary emotions and showing your partner that when a situation (not them) occurs, something you do not prefer happens. Then, you are able to ask for help and explain to your partner(s) what you need.
- Essentially, this is the formula: “I feel _____ (primary emotion) _____ when _____ (situation, No blaming!) _____ happens. I need _________________ to feel whole/alive/safe/better/etc.“
- This process allows each partner respectfully to begin discussing difficult topics without being immediately triggered, building up resentment for the other.
Take a “time out”
- Walking away and taking a break from a heated discussion is not always a bad thing. When you feel your heart rate accelerating there is a good change you are flooded/triggered, and are losing your ability to make thoughtful/intelligent decisions, as your body starves your prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls executive functioning…i.e., the smart part) of oxygen, shutting it down. After this happens, it is all fight or flight. Best to negotiate ahead of difficult discussions with your partner about taking time outs to cool down when things get too heated. Get on the same page before trying this, otherwise, it will seem like you or your partner is running away.
- One caveat, be sure to return to the discussion within 24 hours so it is not forgotten. Otherwise, we build resentment.
- Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction is a form of mindfulness that is clinically aimed at lowering anxiety through attentive breathing exercises, body scans, guided meditations, as well as other practices.
- The point here is to work toward lowering anxiety and remaining present in any situation without “checking out.”
- Start with the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, also known as Mindful Breath. You can find many great examples of the 4-7-8 breathing exercise online. It only takes a minute or two to practice.
Are You Speaking a Similar Language?
Are you and your partner(s) speaking a similar language? Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to communicate your needs and desires in ways your partner understands and welcomes.