Between the Sheets: What Are You Really Telling Your Partner?

[ 0 ] December 4, 2013 |


Dr. Marianne Brandon’s sex advice: Communicate! Bedroom is a breeding ground for unspoken communications, hurt feelings, and rejection. Here’s how to prevent that from happening…

Communication is a complex endeavor, and the words we speak are only part of our message. Oftentimes, it’s what our words imply, or what our behavior communicates, that carries the most meaning in our interactions. After all, there is validity to the saying “talk is cheap.” Whether we are aware of it or not, we all look for hidden meaning behind other people’s words and behavior, while guarding our own. When a colleague cancels a lunch date, we may momentarily wonder if he just didn’t feel like spending time with us. We may think our friend choose an unsavory boyfriend, but we may temper our reaction so as not to hurt her feelings when she asks our opinion.

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Sexual communication is even more complicated. As it turns out, the bedroom is a breeding ground for unspoken communications, hurt feelings, and rejection. That’s because rarely, if ever, do both partners agree on how much sex to have, or what kind of sex is most desirable. That’s like expecting two people to always agree on when and what to eat at every meal for years on end– it really just wouldn’t happen. But our romantic notions about love are very often faulty. We prefer to believe that when love is true, satisfying sex just naturally flows for a couple. But in reality, sexual appetites and preferences differ, and couples must find ways to negotiate and compromise.

But negotiation and compromise are oh-so-tricky when it comes to things sexual, since sex is such a sensitive topic for most of us. And that just makes sense, because sex is when we are most vulnerable, open, and exposed to another human being. So, sexual feedback orcriticism is more likely to sting than if you were disagreeing with your partner about, say, your preferences for cooking a rib eye, or which haircut looks best on him. Telling your partner you prefer his hair shorter is very different than saying you want him to do things differently between the sheets.


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So what often happens is that most couples say as little about sex as possible. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” might be great advice on a grade school playground, but it often backfires with issues as important as intimacy. In these situations, without in-depth discussions about your intimate life, your partner is often left to “fill in the blanks” in understanding your sexual behavior. Sometimes, the “hidden meanings” that your partner gleans from your few words and subtle behaviors would surprise, and maybe even upset you. The truth is, most of us are communicating negative, or sometimes even downright cruel things to our partners about who they are in the bedroom – even if we don’t realize we are doing it, and we don’t really mean it.

Upset Caucasian Couple Not Getting Along In Bed

Let’s look at a few examples.

It is not uncommon in my therapy room for a man to say that his partner isn’t enthusiastic about sex, and this makes it very difficult for him to become aroused. His partner may report that she has a lower sex drive than he does, and so she ends up having more sex than she really wants, and it’s just not always that exciting for her. But she may not realize that he could be making more meaning out of her lack of enthusiasm than simply differing levels of desire. From his perspective, he can’t imagine not being enthusiastic to make love to her. He imagines that she behaves this way because she doesn’t love him anymore, or she’s having an affair. If this couple doesn’t discuss their differences, these misunderstandings may never resolve, or worse, they can intensify.

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Another common sexual miscommunication is a woman’s misunderstanding of her partner’s erectile dysfunction (ED). He may be struggling with stress or depression, or perhaps taking a medication that interferes with his erection. So he slowly stops initiating sex – not because he doesn’t want to make love, but because he is embarrassed by his erectile difficulties. But his wife may experience his ED as profound rejection – she may feel that he doesn’t find her sexy, or worse, he doesn’t want to be close to her, or that he is interested in another woman.

These are just a few examples of the messages people can unwittingly send their partners, especially when their sexual communication is poor. Rejection at this level can feel deeply wounding. So how can you avoid these misunderstandings?

  • First, talk things over. There is no substitute for discussion. Recognize that your partner may interpret your behavior differently or more negatively than you intend. You can soothe feelings of rejection and hurt with heartfelt discussion. Try your best not to be defensive but to hear your partner’s words, and try to feel what they might be experiencing. Then, of course, share your own perspective.
  • Second, be conscious of how you are demonstrating love to your partner outside of the bedroom. The more secure they feel in your love, the less likely they will interpret your sexual differences as rejection. Do you give them honest compliments? Remember them with cards or unexpected gifts?  Call them during the day to let them know they are on your mind?  These relatively small behaviors can go a long way in repairing hurtful misperceptions.
Dr. Marianne Brandon

Dr. Marianne Brandon

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The bottom line is that you cannot fix something you don’t understand, and it’s very difficult to appreciate how your partner feels unless you ask them.  Opening lines of communication with your partner creates opportunities for clarification, and loving gestures can be reassuring that there isn’t hidden meaning behind your sexual differences. Everyone experiences sex in their own, unique way. Compromise and clarity can be beautiful outgrowths of sincere discussion, and your intimacy may very likely be enhanced as a result.

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Category: Intimacy, Relationships

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About Dr. Marianne Brandon: Dr. Marianne Brandon is a clinical psychologist and Diplomat in sex therapy through AASECT. Dr. Brandon is Director of Wellminds Wellbodies LLC in Annapolis, Maryland. She is author of Monogamy: The Untold Story and co-author [...]
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