The Experts™ are great at telling us to communicate, but very rarely does anyone give any tips as to how to go about doing so, especially when it comes to sex and relationships.
- Having a problem in the bedroom? No problem! Just talk about it.
- Want to try something new during sexy time? Go ahead and talk about it.
- Secretly imagining your lover is Spiderman? That’s okay! Talk it out.
Except when you do talk about it, you TALK (often vaguely or overly enthusiastically or in excruciating detail) and you don’t listen (or even check in with your partner to make sure they’re in a mindframe that will allow them to listen), so it all comes out jumbled and feelings get hurt and questions are posed without any forethought or explanation. That kind of “communication” leaves people reeling, believing themselves to be inadequate or unloved, which often leads to:
- Worse problems in the bedroom, or
- Not even getting the same ol’, same ol’, let alone something new, or
- You being forbidden from ever again attending a Comic Con.
Not to worry, Diana Prince. Only-on-Saturday-nights, roll-over-and-snooze-afterward sex is…
Well, maybe it’s not fixable, per se. (Sorry – you might want to see a therapist.) But it’s definitely preventable.
You just have to talk about it. (Heh.)
Here’s a clue: Talk about it (whatever ‘it’ is) ahead of time.
Look. I am not an expert or a guru or even a fry cook taking night classes in psychology. I do, however, have something going for me that might make my take on How To Communicate worth listening to: I’m happy in my relationships.
I SET THE BAR HIGH. That does not mean I have a checklist of physical attributes my partner must meet. It does not mean they must have a specific level of income or drive a specific kind of car or hold an MBA from a specific university.
What it means is that, from the very beginning of my interaction with a person, I am clear and concise in my expectations. I lead by example, and I talk openly about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences (including – and especially – where sex is concerned) from the very beginning.
I communicate as regularly as I expect them to communicate with me, and I do not give what I do not get. I give people time to respond, but do not continue a conversation until the previous communique has been acknowledged and responded to. If I send an email and that’s not his preferred mode of communication, that’s fine. He can respond via phone call or text or Skype conversation. It is a volley-return pace, and while I can keep track of multiple threads of conversation with one person simultaneously, I absolutely will not continue talking to dead air. I also will not let a topic drop or a commitment go unmet. (This is a huge pet peeve. If you say you will do something – no matter how small it is – and you fail to follow through, you have broken a promise. I have no room in my life for promise-breakers.)
What that says to the person on the receiving end is:
- I expect equality of effort,
- My time is valuable and I will share it with you only when you share the value of your own time with me reciprocally, and
- I expect him to do what he says he’s going to do when he says he’s going to do it.
I FORGIVE, BUT I DON’T FORGET. Generally speaking, I am not a fan of second chances. I don’t mean “Oh, he didn’t get the cookie recipe right on the first try – no more baking for him!” What I mean is, “He made a choice or took an action that caused me grievous emotional injury. I will not allow that to happen again.”
I don’t believe in giving someone a second opportunity to cause me pain or frustration, and I think that once a person’s true colors show, there’s no use pretending you see the possibility of orange or red or fuschia in a soul that’s blue-black. However, I also understand that people are exactly that: People. And people are all kinds of complicated, confused, messy, opportunistic, selfish, but-I’m-a-special-snowflake people. Women will be petty and vindictive and “forget” things. Men will be distracted and entitled and think with their genitals. And vice versa.
I take this into consideration when it comes to my relationships. I can’t say this is a rule, exactly; it’s just the way I am: I will forgive one behavior, one time.
I will not throw it in your face afterward, I will not bring it up whenever we argue, I will not taunt you with it for any reason. I will, for all intents and purposes, let it go. But, like an elephant, I do not forget. And when I forgive, I set the expectations for moving forward in such a way that the risk of being re-injured by the same party repeating the same behavior is minimized.
Case in point: Shortly before we were due to meet in person, my current paramour – who was still new to the concept of ethical non-monogamy at the time – made a choice. It was not a great choice. It was, in fact, A Very Bad Choice. For him and for Us. He made his decision unilaterally (also not a great choice) and it was one that easily could have ended our relationship then and there. The fact that I found out about what he’d done in a back-handed way was just salt on the unexpected wound.
I talked to him (voice to voice but not face to face – sometimes long distance relationships are tough that way) and explained that while I was hurt, I was not angry. (Anger has its place, but is normally rooted in hurt or fear; I’m well in tune with my emotions and choose not to react, but to respond.) I made it clear that I was disappointed (he was too – in himself), but that I understood his lack of experience with openly managing multiple relationships and went on to clarify exactly what he should communicate to me, when, and why. I followed up with an email, which in part said:
I have found it helpful to put expectations in writing, so that there is no misunderstanding. Thus, this email.
As per our conversation last night, as well as from our previous conversations surrounding The Debacle, I will, from here on out, expect the following:
1. When someone new comes into your life, you will tell me. Immediately.
2. When something changes/clicks (emotionally or physically) between you and someone who already exists in your life, you will tell me. Immediately.
3. When you want to have sex with someone, you will tell me. You will be up front about your timeline and expectations and you will take into consideration my thoughts and feelings. You will talk to me about it, and listen to me about it, and we will BOTH have a clear understanding of your intentions and the ramifications of your chosen actions before you proceed.
4. Once it is decided that you will have sex with somebody, there may be a waiting period (a few days, a week, a couple months) before it takes place. As soon as it *does* take place, you will tell me.
You may expect the same from me.
To clarify #3 and #4 ~ Ultimately, your sexual choices are yours. I have no desire to run your life. I have *every* desire for you to make healthy choices for yourself. What it comes down to is respect. For me and for Us. Without that, we have no trust. And without trust, we have nothing.
In the future, I need to know where you’re at, emotionally, with your other paramours. I especially need to be included in decisions that will have emotional or physical consequences for me.
Remember when I said I was clear and concise in my communications?
That’s what clear and concise communication looks like from me. (Sometimes concrete examples are helpful, yes?)
And the thing about putting it in writing, is that there can be no confusion later or any excuses about misunderstanding what was “said.”
I ASK QUESTIONS, AND CREATE A SAFE SPACE FOR MY PARTNER TO DO THE SAME. I want to know how my people think. I want to know what they feel, how their previous experiences have impacted them, where their curiosities lie. I want to know what turns them on and what boils their blood. I want to know their hot spots and their sore points and their wanna-trys and their never-would-I-evers.
It helps, of course, to share my own. Which I do.
But still, drawing some of those things out of a partner can be tricky. Past rejections rear their ugly heads and false assumptions keep tongues silent.
Sometimes, when I’m listening to someone speak, I’ll queue a curiosity or two as a mental note and later present them with a question based on what they previously shared. Other times I will share a blog post or article as a jumping off point for discussion about a topic of mutual interest.
Occasionally I will request their time and attention for the taking of an online survey. I have done that more than once with another person and always find it enlightening. (There are thousands of quizzes available online about sex and relationship compatibility and kink. I look at them as conversation starters. The point is not to get to the answer, nor is it to agree; rather, the point is to communicate perspectives and discuss the question.) Most recently, I took a quiz with my aforementioned long-distance lover. It led to a discussion that included a myriad of things, from what it means to be Good In Bed to what our individual foreplay preferences are to thinking about other people during sex to anal vibrators (blog post ideas galore!), and I learned a bit more about Who He Is and What He Wants.
These are broad-category must-haves for me. If they resonated with you, know that they are easily translatable to any relationship style, category, or hierarchy.
There are definitely other things that could be added here (and if you have Umbrella Ideas of your own, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section), but for now I’ll leave you with those three.
I don’t expect that you, dear reader, will conform yourself to whatever perceived mold the impression of my words has left on you. Nor do I pretend to have All The Answers to All The Questions about All The Feels. The simple truth is, we are flawed in our humanity, and as such, we struggle to fix the flaws in our relationships. All too often we’re told that in order to do so, we need to communicate. All to seldom does anyone constructively demonstrate how.
So take my “advice” (it’s NOT advice – I’m just sharing information) with a grain of salt (and a slice of lime and a shot of tequila), and remember that I am not an expert.
Though I do occasionally play one on the internet. 😉
How do you communicate expectations in a relationship?