Talking about sexual and relationship issues


Ignoring the elephant in the room is a common problem experienced in relationships. For many couples it is too often easier to overlook, disregard, minimise, ignore and even shut down when sexual or relationship problems arise in their relationships. But as a therapist, I know that this is the not the best way to cope with sexual, relationship or life difficulties. If anything, ignoring the big issues can cause many people to feel frustrated, angry, unheard, dissatisfied, unhappy, helpless, and even grief stricken. And that’s just the feelings they have, not to mention some of the behaviours people use to cope with their emotions. I suppose you’re getting my drift. Basically, it’s not good to ignore problems in your relationship.

So, why then, do we often ignore those very issues that cause us distress and unhappiness?  Why do we wait until we’ve experienced a relationship crisis or until it is simply too late to take action? Here’s the answer:

It is common to ignore relationship and/or sexual difficulties because the act itself of thinking about them, let alone talking about them often causes us so much distress and unhappiness that we prefer to simply pretend they don’t exist. Furthermore, couples often worry that if they bring up the issues that are upsetting them, it will open up a Pandora’s Box of relationship dysfunction and pain that may never be solvable. It’s tough, but nutting through the issues that are important to you is an essential ingredient to creating a happy, respectful, loving and fulfilling relationship.

By practising the following simple communication strategies, you will be able to lovingly and respectfully connect with your partner on the issues that are affecting your relationship:

When discussing an issue use, “I feel…” statements- This means stopping the blame game and always bringing the events back to how they made you feel. For example, Instead of screaming, “You don’t want me!”, you can say “When you told me you didn’t want sex, I felt rejected, unwanted and undesirable”.

Nip it in the bud straight away- If something goes wrong, don’t wait weeks, months, years or even decades to talk about it with your partner. Find a calm moment when the both of you are free to sit down together and work through what happened. Invite your partner to do the same. Then set a date, time and location where the two of you can talk about your thoughts. You could even make this a weekly appointment.

Be aware of your own stuff- Do you have a tendency to get defensive, aggressive, angry or withdrawn when your partner approaches you with concerns? For relationships to be at their best, each individual must be conscious of their own destructive behaviours and thoughts and be actively engaged in working towards resolving them.

Challenge yourself to be present, receptive and responsive- No matter how hard it may be to hear, choose to acknowledge and accept your partner’s concerns.

Push through the discomfort- It is normal to feel awkward and uncomfortable when talking about sensitive issues in your relationship. The best way to deal with these feelings is to simply acknowledge them to yourself (and your partner) while also consciously choosing to move through them.

Reach out for help- If you’re struggling to resolve issues on your own, seek the advice of an experienced and qualified therapist who can guide and support you through the process.

So if you find yourself ignoring important aspects of your relationship, try changing your approach by utilising some of the techniques suggested in this article. And if you need any extra guessed a therapist for some expert guidance.


Christmas cheer or christmas tears?

It’s December again and many of us are preparing for the holiday festivities. This time of year often involves catching up with family and friends; the ones you like, but also the ones you don’t like. For some couples, it can be a joyful, fun and carefree time. But for others, it can be an exhausting period of discord, distress and misery. You ask why?

The holiday season often involves reconnection with our families; a challenging exercise for many of us at the best of times. And this is where it can get complicated…

Families interact in all sorts of ways and on many levels. They may have emotional, physical and financial relationships that seem strange, dysfunctional and/or destructive. Some families are supportive and some not at all. Some families may have an even spread of care and responsibility, others not. Some families are happy and comfortable around each other and others struggle to be in the same room.  The holiday season is like turning up the volume on your radio. It can intensify good feelings in happy, functional and supportive relationships and amplify disharmony in unhappy relationships. For some families you can hear the distorted feedback for blocks! To add to all of this, if a partner is not able to understand, agree with or support their companion’s interactional patterns with their family, there is the risk that the couple will experience strain in their own relationship.

When couples can’t agree on how to navigate these sensitive and important relationships, apart from the arguments, it can create feelings of anger, frustration, resentment and sadness. The result? The relationship experiences increasing levels of strain and unhappiness. What’s more, partners can feel misunderstood and isolated. So what can you do if you find yourself in this situation? The key is to approach your difference of opinion with softness, compassion and the energy of open negotiation.

Here are some practical tips you can apply to your interactions with your partner:

Instead of striving to be right, strive to understand your partner’s point of view. You can do this by asking for clarification on viewpoints and exploring feelings about a particular situation.

If a certain situation or issue is upsetting you, firstly explore how you feel (you can jot your feelings onto a piece of paper). Then identify your unmet need. For example:
Feeling: “I feel angry when we have to spend 3 weeks with your parents.”
Unmet need(s): More intimate couple time, the chance to rest and recuperate just the two of us
Once you have done this, choose a calm moment to communicate your thoughts to your partner.

Honestly ask yourself if this is an issue worth fighting over or if you could let it go for the sake of the relationship.

Negotiate healthy boundaries with your partner before the festivities begin. Come to an agreement about which events will be attended and for how long. Allow each other the space to opt out. No partner should ever feel coerced into doing something they don’t want to.  This is especially important to remember if the result of attending means more relationship discord. But be careful, this does not give you permission to dig your heels in and refuse to participate. It is essential to exercise patience and compassion while striving to meet your own and your partner’s needs. What does this mean? This means that if it is really important for your partner that you sit through lunch with your in-laws (AND smile), then it may be worth your while to put your own needs aside for a few hours and simply support him/her.

Allow family members to simply be themselves, warts and all. Choose to accept their limitations as simply being part of who they are. This approach makes it easier both for you and your partner to enjoy the positive aspects of your family without the tension or disappointment created when your expectations don’t get met.

As a couple take some time to create your vision of the ideal Christmas and holiday period. Use your imagination to see and feel your ideal experience and write positive statements about how you want it to be. For example, “Christmas day will be fun, light and easy and we will enjoy the company of all present”.

If you and your partner simply cannot get through to each other, it is best to seek professional help from an experienced and qualified therapist who can assist with building effective communication skills.

By applying these helpful tips in your relationship, you’re setting yourself up for happy and harmonious festive season.