We all want a relationship where we can fearlessly communicate our desires and hear our partners’ desires compassionately without judgement, defensiveness, or blame.
If you asked me four years ago whether this was actually possible, though, I would have said, “Oh yeah, I tried that a few times and it didn’t work because…(insert great reason here).“
But are we just going about it all wrong?
In one of my past relationships, I expressed some not-so-vanilla sexual desires and was denied by my partner, which left me feeling judged about what I wanted. I was ashamed that I even allowed myself to desire something more—I mean we were in love and that should enough, right?
I decided he was just different than me, and quickly jumped to my most practiced defense mechanism of shutting down. I repressed a large part of my vivacious sexuality to fit into the box labeled “my relationship,” until one day, I just had to leave. We still loved each other and were best friends, but in the end we were sexless and confused.
As a sex and relationship coach, I’ve realized how often we experience some version of this story, and I’ve made it my mission to help people repair and avoid this kind of communication stalemate. Couples ask me for support in many different areas, but this is the skill that rules them all. We can all learn to stand for our desire and the desires of our partner, even if we don’t agree.
Anyone who has experienced this knows that the fairytales lied. Love just isn’t enough to carry us through a communication stalemate. We must know how to communicate our deepest desires compassionately through the fear of rejection in order to find “happily ever after.”
Couples who are at odds with one another all tell some version of the “I tried that” story when I ask them about communicating their desires to their partner. I tried it too. But I didn’t give up.
Here’s how my partner and I, and many other couples, have created relationships where we are confident about saying absolutely anything to each other.
Set up is essential for this process. If you don’t set it up properly, suddenly switching to this kind of radical communication can enlarge the divide between lovers. Setting it up properly means having a conversation about your desire to try a new model of asking for what you want to improve communication.
Take responsibility for how you see room for improvement in your own communication. Ask your partner if they are willing to work on this with you. If so, show them the steps below or get support from a professional relationship coach you trust and connect with.
Warning: If you are mistaking codependency for love, this model may feel threatening. I can assure you when the codependency falls away, the real love can emerge.
1. Find compassion and neutrality.
Using your partner to make you feel better about your own emotions is like laying with a damp blanket. You may feel warmer, but something is just not quite cozy and fulfilling. Asking your partner to fix your emotional state creates a parent/child bond, and resentment forms on both sides. Attraction and desire take a nose dive.
This doesn’t mean you need to be a martyr who doesn’t ask for support. Nor is this about doing it all on your own. It’s about creating a healthy adult bond between you and your partner.
This also doesn’t mean you’re without challenge. It just means you’re taking responsibility for your emotional state rather than projecting it onto your partner and making it their problem. You are taking responsibility for yourself, instead of asking someone else to.
If my partner pisses me off and I’m in projection land, I take some shameless adult time out to get out of my head, where the story lives, and reconnect with the sensations of truth that live in my body. If I’m feeling it, no matter what the stimulus, it’s mine to feel.
With my relationship coaching clients, I teach and recommend a process of slowing down and objectively observing sensations and emotions happening in the body and facing them head-on.
2. Get in touch with what you want.
Some of us have no idea what we want. We don’t give ourselves permission to want, so the illusory feeling is that we want nothing. When we are not experiencing and utilizing its power, desire can feel dirty and wrong, or unimportant and shallow.
If you don’t know this for yourself, just pick something you might want. You can just make it up. You can be wrong, and messy, and awkward. Let it be a playful exploration.
See and feel your desire being met exactly the way you want it to be met before proceeding. Getting in touch with what you want is about priming yourself to receive, instead of expecting not to. It will change the way you ask for what you want and sometimes, things even shift before you ask!
We must first give ourselves the experience of what we want to receive from someone else.
3. Ask for your desire specifically.
In the past relationship I mentioned, I realized I let a bunch of little desires that didn’t seem important pile up until I had a major problem. I’ve realized asking for what I need as it comes up is so much easier than damage control. The opportunity has passed by the time we get to demands and apologies.
If we don’t ask for what we want, we cannot expect our partners to deliver. Expecting them to read our minds isn’t fair to them, and can point to a sense of entitlement and victimhood that will eventually take a relationship down. Pretending something doesn’t matter that much, and then demanding or getting upset because we’re tired of not getting it when we never really asked, is not setting our relationship up for success.
Be overly specific. If you’re not accustomed to being specific, quantifying a desire may feel foreign, but it will set your partner up for success in giving it to you. If not specified, it can be misunderstood, leaving both of you feeling like you tried this new model and it didn’t work for you.
Example: “I would like you to show me you love me more often.” versus “I’m feeling like I want more intimate physical affection. I love it when you surprise me with a long kiss on my neck and that amazing neck rub of yours while I’m making breakfast. Will you do that a few times this week?”
When your partner is expressing their desires, remember it’s not a time to interrupt, defend, or fix, but rather a time to be curious about what they want and get clear on how you can fulfill it. Maybe you are not willing to fulfill their desire, but rather than throwing it out, look to see if you have a counter-offer. Be aware of unintentionally shaming or judging them for having the desire in the first place.
Rejection does not equal death. Your partner may reject a specific part of what you’re asking for or how you are asking for it. This is never a rejection of you, but rather a rejection of how the action of fulfilling the desire will impact them.
We can strengthen the skill of not taking rejection personally. We can become curious about what they are saying no to, instead of shutting down or lashing out. Practice showing up with 100 percent of what you want and stick around to negotiate. They might not want to deliver what you’re asking for, in which case you can be ready to discuss other options, without taking it as a personal rejection.
4. Receive your partner’s successes and failures at delivering your desires with presence and gratitude.
Sometimes, when we receive what we want, we don’t take it in. We are in a habit of not getting what we want, so we don’t allow ourselves to have the experience of receiving what we want.
Notice how it feels in your body to have your desire fulfilled by your partner. Notice how it feels to know that you, and your needs, matter to them. Take a moment to be present to this. Eventually, this can become your consistent experience in your relationship.
I have to watch out for the tendency to complain about what I don’t want, and then check out and become complacent when I’m getting exactly what I asked for.
Do you take it for granted when your partner fulfills your needs and desires?
What do they naturally fulfill?
Have you thanked them for making so many delicious dinners, or working so hard to create such an amazing life for your family, or being attentive to your intimate needs?
If you want more of it, appreciate what you have.
If they decline your desire, or fail at delivering it, you can still be present and grateful. This may be mind boggling, but it’s possible. It’s sexy when we can handle their “no” without losing our marbles or pulling a righteous shut-down.
If we keep our presence, have gratitude for the honesty, and compassion for the failure to deliver, we can achieve a new level of profound adult connection with our partners.
5. Express appreciation and gratitude generously.
Thank them with your presence and words. If you’ve ever witnessed a teenager getting his ear twisted into thanking someone with his words, but his whole being clearly says, “Whatever!” you can understand how important presence is.
Expressing true gratitude completes the cycle and brings the energy of giving and receiving around full circle. Everyone likes to be acknowledged differently, but a simple heartfelt, “Thank you,” can go a long way in any relationship.
Relationship coaching exercise:
Want an instant change in perspective on your relationship?
Ask your partner what they want to be thanked for. Find heartfelt gratitude, look them in the eye, and thank them for those specific things. It’s empowering for one partner to ask for it, and for the other to shift into gratitude.
The relationship you desire arises from the ashes of unspoken communications when you focus on recalibrating the screw ups. In my sex and relationship coaching practice, this is where I help both partners see the blind spots that are creating unnecessary conflict in their communication.
We all have a weak spot in the cycle of desire and communication that we can work on. I’m working on unapologetically and compassionately stating my desires, and meeting any perceived rejection with curiosity and interest.
Where do you fall out of the cycle?
Where do you feel tension?
Where is there room for growth?
Just like any skill, excellent communication takes practice, and there is room to be awkward and mess up. Notice what part throws you off, and then recalibrate.
Practice communicating desire this way with your partner and watch your relationship shift into more connection, fulfillment, and feeling seen by one another.
Author: Jamie Thompson
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren