Marriages seem to be falling apart at an alarming rate. Some speculate that we are outgrowing marriage, but from 20 years of working with my relationship coaching clients, I see many people have not matured enough to create the emotionally-connected, sexually satisfying relationships we long for. It takes more than date nights and lingerie to keep a relationship connected and passionate.
What keeps relationships alive?
One of the overlooked foundations of a connected and passionate relationship is honesty. But it’s not just honesty as we tend to think of it. Beyond the simple binary of lying or truth-telling, “saying it like it is,” there is a mature kind of honesty that involves a commitment to respect, compassion, and personal responsibility.
Mature honesty calls on our grown-up parts to take the lead and communicate, rather than the young parts that want to blame or attack others. Mature honesty demands that we look beneath our surface reactions to discover the vulnerable reasons we feel upset.
When honesty is immature, we don’t feel safe, and it becomes difficult to relax and trust. We are then likely to close our minds, hearts, and bodies. Where love once flowed freely, walls go up, distance grows, and generosity wanes. We become colder or more bitter toward our partners, and our sex life falls apart.
To mature our honesty, we can start to express our feelings about how someone’s behaviour impacted us. Instead of calling someone a jerk, we can say, “I felt alone and misunderstood when you interrupted me.” This cuts off the drain on the passion that disconnection and disrespect create. Then we can start to make requests that keep connection and spark alive. While it may feel vulnerable, making requests builds trust and connection.
For example, rather than allowing our desires to go unmet and feeling resentment or disappointment, we can say things like, “Would you be willing to acknowledge what I said before you jump in with your ideas?”
This may seem disconnected from sex; however, a couple’s sex life will not be intimate or exciting if they cannot share anxieties and desires in a way that creates closeness and understanding.
The fastest path to mature honesty is the willingness to be more vulnerable and reveal the fears and feelings that tend to underlie our defensiveness. Vulnerability turns our attention from attack or blame to responsibility and compassion. As we shift our language, people feel less need to defend themselves, and we are more likely to meet our needs.
Honest conversations can improve your sex life
There are four foundations for having mature and honest conversations that create a sex life that is more pleasurable and connected.
Prioritise curiosity over fear and defensiveness
Fear is one of the biggest reasons our attention shifts from curiosity and exploration to defensiveness and judgment. When we feel afraid, we judge someone else’s desire as strange or focus on how it could be painful or disrespectful rather than listening with curiosity.
Instead of requesting a clearer understanding, we may pepper our partner with these fears, leaving them feeling alone and attacked.
For example, suppose one partner reveals a desire to have sex more often. In that case, the other partner might bring up reasons for being too busy or express resentment about how shouldering more of the shared responsibilities takes up their time. While these concerns are valid, this attitude shifts the conversation from exploration. With a foundation of curiosity, the conversation would focus on gathering information and setting aside any decision about whether or not it will happen.
We can ask questions like: “What excites you about this?” “If you had this, what would this do for you?” “Is there several times per week you are hoping for or is it more about the quality?”
The person receiving the desire would gain an understanding that allows for collaboration and negotiation based on the desire and the concerns that arise.
Though challenging, especially at first, it is possible to explore desires and proposals without defensiveness or taking things personally. Hearing and exploring desires without grilling someone about their intentions or listing the potential down-sides is possible. When we get curious and explore, we build trust and intimacy rather than baggage and resentment.
Get to the root of a desire
Getting to the root of a desire builds on curiosity by exploring underlying motivations. When I ask my clients why they want an experience, it takes time to discover why it matters and how they would feel if it happened. They commonly say, “I don’t know. I just want it.” As we stay with the question, though, the reasons become clearer. Desires are multilayered–physical, emotional, relational, and even spiritual.
Take the example of someone wanting to experience being tied up sensually. The act of being bound is the first layer of desire, but there are deeper motivations that vary by person. In this example, the deeper motivation for one person may be to have the physical sensation of being bound. In contrast, for another person, the desire may be the experience of being released from responsibility.
For another person, the desire may be to fight and break free; still, another may relish the inability to do anything wrong because they are not free to act. Without understanding the deeper motivations, we cannot create experiences that fulfil a person’s desires. We also run the risk of creating experiences that feel disrespectful or painful.
Be clear about whether you are in exploring or decision-making mode
Two people can be in the middle of the same conversation without realising they are “not on the same page.” One of the most common ways this happens is when one person explores possibilities and the other attempts to make a decision.
When we clarify that we are in an exploratory conversation, it takes the pressure off us to make something happen. It becomes easier to be curious because the goal is not to strategies or plan but to understand each person’s desires and concerns.
Ideally, we learn about ourselves and see how a desire could benefit everyone involved. The safety created by knowing nothing will happen until both partners get to a “yes” can reduce fear and anxiety. Partners can shift to decision-making when they are ready, and concerns have been addressed.
Be willing to collaborate
Collaboration is key with couples, though it is not always easy because we all show up with different styles, desires, wounds, and fears. Revealing these can feel more vulnerable than we might expect. Curiosity continues to be key, whether sharing or responding to a desire.
When we bring a desire to someone and are met with judgment, disgust, or just plain “no,” it can be defeating and disappointing. A partner who takes the position of a firm “no” in response to a desire and says things like “I would never do that” or “No, that’s not me” cuts off the potential for a collaborative conversation.
Instead of expressing anger or offence when we do not like a proposal, we can collaborate. Rather than exploding or collapsing into unenthusiastically going along, we can start by asking questions to find out more (Key #1: Prioritising curiosity over defensiveness).
We always maintain the right to say “no” but asking and collaborating create new possibilities while simultaneously creating intimacy.
With a collaborating mindset, we ensure we remember that we are on the same team. Rather than looking for win-lose solutions, we look for win-win.
I believe we are more capable than we realise of being mature in our relationships and committing to love honestly. Rather than giving ourselves permission to explode, defend or pull away, we can take the higher road. We can pause to look for and speak from our more mature parts.
Mature honesty is the foundation that allows our experiences, even hurt, fear, and anger, to become a doorway to deeper, more loving connections and better sex. Practising revealing our vulnerability and receiving our partners’, creates the kind of intimacy that allows us to feel understood, loved, and supported. This is the fertile ground for connection and passion for thriving and deepening over time.
Shana James, MA is the author of Honest Sex: A Passionate Path to Deepen Connection and Keep Relationships Alive.