Kelly Roberts, PhD, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, AAMFT approved supervisor, and marital researcher. She currently serves as an assistant professor at the University of North Texas. She also serves as editor of the Red Dirt Chronicles, an Oklahoma culture blog, and is the director of Every Point on the Map, a ten-year project to document a meaningful conversation with one person or group in each of Oklahoma’s 594 towns and cities.
What does it say about us when the voices in our head discussing sex are louder and more active than anything that has ever come out of our mouths?
What does it say about our society when we, as living, breathing and interactive citizens, actually buy into headlines selling “Ten Things Your Partner Wants You To Know But Won’t Tell You”? Seriously, does the magazine author KNOW your partner?
As a marriage and family therapist and marital researcher, I can’t provide you full answers to these questions. But, I can offer this highly educated guess: People still struggle with sex. And further, all the answers to all your sex questions don’t materialize the moment you say your wedding vows. In fact, some spouses discover a brand new set of unanswered questions after marriage.
While respecting that you and your marriage are unique, I’m sharing a common sex question asked by spouses during therapy. I’ve included a general answer well. It is my hope that something in here resonates with you enough to spark conversations with your own spouse and kick-start a sex discussion unique to your relationship.
Question: I want him/her to do more/less of (blank). How can I raise this topic?
The answer is: You can’t, unless you actually raise the topic, even if it is a tough topic to talk about. And, if you ask and get “no” for an answer, then it’s time to define where your boundaries and limits fall related to the topic at hand.
But then, HOW do you ask? Or better yet, how do you ask in a safe way that feels okay to you both, accomplishing what you need and want? One answer could be: You have a monthly “Needs and Wants” party. Why monthly? Because the word “monthly” sounds safer to begin something than “weekly.” And if you begin “next month,” you both have time to plan. Why “party?” Because this isn’t a date. It’s a celebration of your relationship that’s going to change for the better. Dates are for you to relax in an agenda-free manner.
Here are a few suggestions on what should take place during your Needs and Wants party.
- Set a day; decide on the venue; and, make sure you have babysitting if you have children.
- Limit the needs and wants you discuss to TWO each per spouse. That’s two needs and two wants each.
- When the date arrives and you’re well into your dinner, or walk, or whatever you chose for your activity or place, here are suggestions on how you might manage the discussion:
- Plan to raise one “anything but sex” issue, and one sex issue.
- Raise your needs and wants together. Here is an “anything but sex” example: “Okay, you and I have struggled with this for three years. So my first NEED is this…I NEED to have a bit of relief in my life. I can’t manage all the tasks it takes to run our family. I’m trying my best and just not getting everything accomplished. So, I WANT to have a budget meeting and see what we can negotiate or move around to get some relief on housekeeping. This will help us all. Can we talk about this? Would you be willing to sit down with me for that budget discussion?”
- What’s also important? Being open and listening intently to your spouse’s needs and wants. Help them feel valued and heard. Engage into the solutions discussion as much as you would hope they do for you. This step is essential to build trust in your marriage.
- Now, let’s talk about your “one sex issue.” Remember – raise the needs and wants together. How about this one: “My second NEED is about sex. I NEED to feel safe, adored, and focused when we have sex. So, my WANT is that you woo me. I want you to hold me and talk about something random for five minutes. I want you to rub my shoulders, legs, feet, glutes, and hands. I want to have quiet music playing while we spent our intimate wooing time. Can we talk about this? How can I help you understand why this is important to me?”
Now, the most important thing about this activity is that you also honor what your partner subsequently raises as during their need/want topic. David Schnarch talks about the “sexual crucible,” where – as married partners, we grow above our self-interest and begin to see the needs of our partner as at least equal, if not more valuable, than our own. It’s what comes out of the intense heat, mixture, amalgam…of our relationship together.
This crucible, the “something other than ourselves coming out of our relationship” is how I personally manage to ride in a golf cart with my husband for four hours once a year. It’s how I sit through entire football games (although I keep a book in my purse to read occasionally while being there with him.) And, it’s how I remember that his needs and wants in our bedroom are as valuable as my own. It’s how WE ALL remain open to alternative solutions, talking through tough topics, and keeping the relationship safe and growing.
So…what are you waiting for? Time to book your party!