Mental health is a complex system of memories, emotions, behaviors, and experiences. It’s constantly changing, constantly reflecting new (or old) circumstances, fears, and people.
It’s all too easy to take our loved ones for granted, especially in fraught times like these. But that of course is when clear, strategic communication matters most.
So why do we let our relationship communication get buried under chaos?
Because when we’re in survival mode, the natural instinct is to focus on self-preservation. At all costs. Which sometimes means our relationships pay the bill.
The solution to taking each other for granted
Unfortunately that change of focus often results in neglecting our relationships because we take it for granted that our partner is there supporting us. Forgetting sometimes that they’re struggling with their own whirlwind of life, and need empathetic support as much as we do.
The solution then, is scheduling dedicated time for working on your relationship. Focusing on each other. Empathy-driven communication. Making sure your partner feels heard and seen. Making sure you talk about what’s troubling you—and listen to what’s troubling them.
All too often couples only talk about their relationship after a blowout fight. But that’s like going out on game day without ever practicing beforehand. For some couples, it’s more like going to war without any training & drills.
Instead, make it a habit to communicate directly about your relationship when the stakes aren’t heated—so you can more effectively address each other’s concerns before it goes to crisis. You may find there’s a lot more to discover about each other. Adventure awaits!
Keep reading to learn some helpful sex therapy tips & techniques for improving your sex life—through effective communication.
Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments
We all have expectations for our relationships and love life. We all expect things of our partners and expect to fulfill things for them. And we all have needs. Yet so often we only express our needs and expectations when they’ve gone unmet—usually in the form of an argument.
It’s natural to be frustrated when a partner isn’t meeting our needs. But what’s unfair is when we get upset that our partner didn’t anticipate our needs unasked. In other words, when they didn’t read our minds.
It’s unfair because everyone is dealing with so much right now, it’s a wonder anyone can get anything done at all. Your partner may be putting up a calm and confident front, but most likely they’re also dealing with uncertainty and stress. Which means they might not be as tuned in as you’d like. And if you’re feeling that way, chances are they might be too.
Plus some needs can’t be anticipated. For that we must resort to direct communication.
How systematic relationship communication works
Surrendering to schedule and process is a powerful way to break through bad habits and anxiety.
Work together on a schedule that suits all parties. Set aside designated time in small increments—so it feels easy & pleasant rather than onerous & chorelike. Sit facing each other. Make eye contact. Touch each other nonsexually.
Relationship communication doesn’t have to be a big Let’s Talk situation. Instead make practicing empathy a game.
Share/explain/reveal something game:
Each partner comes up with a question you’d like to be asked
Whoever’s first, ask your partner the question you came up with
After they respond, they ask you your own question.
Answer your question
Switch and repeat as needed
Relationships are supposed to be fun. Sure they’re hard work—but done right they’re hard work in the way that painting a masterpiece is hard work. Or building a house. Or sculpting your beach bod. You get out what you put in.
Relationship building is a craft. And like any craft, mastering it is an ongoing process of practice and problem-solving and adapting to new materials & tools.
Communication exercises for couples & partners
Sex therapy clients usually want coaching help, at least as much as therapy. They want actionable strategies for moving forward and rebuilding. Tools & framework for making it happen.
Different schools of thought have different methods for helping partners communicate better—but all of them call for intentional empathy. Make sure you’re ready with these 8 guidelines for communication empathy and then start practicing.
Remember, there’s no such thing as a silver-bullet relationship fix. Successful relationships take a lot of work. They require interest and dedication from all parties, and the willingness to discuss difficult thoughts and emotions. As such their lifeblood is empathy. Without it, no relationship can last.
But with empathy and intention as a given, there are innumerable proven strategies to rebuild a relationship that has gone off track. And even for relationships that haven’t; we could all use a little creative structure in our day-to-day interactions with partners.
Positive activities for relationship building
We all spend far too much time watching Netflix—but sometimes that’s the best way to unwind after a stressful day of work/pandemic/political/climate maelstrom. The problem is, watching TV together doesn’t bring you closer together. Not in any strategic sense.
If it’s just one of those days, take an hour to watch your shows—and then turn off the TV for an hour and do something positive together that requires face-to-face interaction. After that you can reward yourselves with another stretch of couch time.
Non-TV, covid-friendly activities for partners:
Go for a walk/bike-ride
Find a nearby hike
Cook a new dish
Small creative/home-improvement projects
Learn a language together
Do a photo scavenger hunt
Draw each other naked—quality doesn’t matter
It’s important to remember that it’s not what you do that matters—it’s that you’re doing it together. Try not to take it too seriously. And never forget you’re on the same team.
Want a little more structure in your relationship communication? My free DIY sex therapy microcourse offers 4 weeks of exercises and activities designed to help you connect with each other. Learn more.
Wordwork by Quillpower