The Challenge of Communicating About Intimate Matters
When you have a desire for intimate connection, whether sex or simple affection, how do you communicate that with your partner? This is an area of difficulty for many couples who struggle with clear communication.
Intimate communication is particularly challenging because it is highly personal and the stakes are high. Desire can be a strong feeling and it gets mixed up with feeling loved. If you love me, you will enthusiastically respond to my desire. If you do not reciprocate my desire, you don’t truly care about me.
It can feel risky and vulnerable to express clearly what you want. Getting a “no” doesn’t feel good, and can feel like rejection. It’s also possible you’ve had conflict over your sexual relationship.
With so much at stake it’s tempting to hedge your bets. You send a message in code or drop a hint, and see what happens. If they really care…(they’ll pick up on it) is the strategy. If they don’t get the message, or pretend not to get it, at least you’ve not had the full-on rejection experience. The trouble is, you don’t know how to interpret what happened. Does your partner care, but is not tuned in to you? Are they choosing to duck the message?
Dysfunctional Intimate Communication Styles
There are many possibilities for confusion and misunderstanding. Many couples who come to me have their own styles for avoiding clear communication. I’ve summarized some of these below to show how easy it is to slip into a dysfunctional intimate communication style.
You should know what I need. I shouldn’t have to explain it.
I’m nervous, so I’ll hide the important message about the kind of intimacy I want in the midst of a lot of words.
Here are some hints about what I really want. You figure it out. Maybe I’ll use euphemistic language rather than speak directly about what I want.
I’m uncomfortable talking about this so I’m going to make jokes, tease, or be sarcastic. But I really hope you’ll catch on about what I desire.
I’ll just tell you what to do and when to do it, so I don’t have to deal with the anxiety of figuring it out together.
I’ll do whatever you want, so I don’t have to deal with the anxiety of figuring it out together.
I’m angry and disappointed, but rather than talk directly with you about it, I’ll see if you can get it right this time.
I’m busy. I have a headache. Don’t bother me with this.
I’m afraid and uncomfortable about sexual matters. Please pick up on this and don’t expect anything of me sexually.
There are other intimate communication styles, but you get the idea. What these dysfunctional styles have in common is they are not direct or plain-spoken. They create vast opportunities for misunderstanding and disappointment, while trying to shield the (mis)communicator from conflict, disappointment, or accountability.
Read our companion post on Optimal Intimate Communication.