The Art of Good Communication
The most important attribute of a good sexual relationship is effective communication. Effective communication is important in all our relationships and particularly with our partners. We want to be known and understood just as we are, warts and all, because this enables us to experience deep emotional intimacy and connection. But this is often hard, especially if we have difficult things to say. If we learn to communicate well, however, we will have the tools to tackle anything in our marriage, including our sexual relationship and the different seasons we may be going through.
Good communication means articulating what we feel, what we want, and what we need. It sounds simple but it’s challenging. A whole set of feelings and experiences will have shaped us into who we are. Some will be positive, others difficult and painful. We carry within us messages we have formulated about ourselves and those we have absorbed from our parents or caregivers as we have grown up. Some of these are affirming and others are negative and hurtful. We carry many of these messages unconsciously, which can make their effect harder to understand. These silent messages have been wired into our core and they can impact the way we experience the world. We need to be aware that we all carry these early messages and their effects. The patterns of behaviour they will lead to can be helpful or hurtful in all our relationships but particularly with our partners. Sometimes these unconscious messages can impact our lives as adults and exploring these in therapy can be a really helpful to change thoughts feelings and behaviours that don’t serve us well.
Properly listening to our partners can be very difficult. We need to put aside our own thoughts and judgements and place our partner centre-stage. Often the temptation is to interrupt, make “helpful” suggestions, and impose our solutions onto their problems. Concentrated listening can be sacrificial. Sometimes the desire to soothe them is born out of the discomfort we experience when we are exposed to another’s pain.
Sex and relationship therapists Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy are the authors of the book Enduring Desire and have coined the term “intimate team.” They see the intimate team as the foundation of building lifelong desire in a relationship, and it means creating “a healthy, cooperative relationship. Creating an intimate team is, they say, the most important thing a couple can do to nurture intimacy and manage any sexual problems. But what does it mean?
Creating an intimate team is partly about placing a high priority on the committed relationship, above children, work, extended family, leisure activities, and indeed church. Your partner needs to know they are your most important priority. This might be difficult for some couples. Some people find it hard to separate from their parents; others find, when children come along, they take priority.
The four key components to creating an intimate team, according to Metz and McCarthy, are: emotional intimacy, communication intimacy, commitment intimacy, and sexual intimacy. Couples need to be able to share on a deep level with each other, and to communicate truthfully, lovingly, and trustingly. If the couple have an effective communication intimacy in place, where they can communicate their own needs, listen to the needs of their partners, and acknowledge those needs, then if there are sexual problems, the communication skills are already in place to discuss those problems and possible solutions.
If you recognise that effective communication is a challenge for you in your relationship then seeing a couple’s therapist can be really helpful. You might decide to have a short course of sessions 5 or 6 and go with the specific objective of getting help with improving this aspect of your relationship. It’s a great investment and will set you up for skills that will be really helpful for yours to come.
Michael E. Metz and Barry W. McCarthy, Enduring Desire: Your Guide to Lifelong Intimacy, Routledge, 2010.