13 Ideas for Effective Communication in the Bedroom
Communication is the key to a satisfying sex life.
In any relationship, things can get heated—and not in a desirable way. Good communication with a partner is perhaps the greatest easier-said-than-done scenario: We all want it, but in a moment of conflict, it can seem impossible. Disagreements can lead to battle-scarring arguments, or even worse, a total breakdown in communication. To avoid those undesirable outcomes, try these strategies to tackle disagreements and dissatisfaction effectively, as recommended by experts.
"One of the single most useful tools in communication is how you start conversations, especially difficult ones, where you may have a complaint or a feeling to share," says licensed clinical psychologist Erika Bach, PsyD. " In starting this conversation, you want to make sure that you are coming from a soft place—vulnerable, respectful, and kind—which includes not only the words you say, but the tone."
She recommends a strategy called "the soft startup," in which you might say: "When [insert situation] happens, I feel [specific emotion], and what I need from you is [state need directly]." That's a healthier alternative to starting with criticism or blame, "which evokes defensiveness in the partner, and a standoff," says Bach. "Research indicates that the way you begin this conversation dictates the outcome, whether positive or negative."
"Waiting for the perfect words or approach before talking to your spouse usually ends with few perfect words and lots of waiting," says Mark Verber, MS, LPC, a licensed professional counselor with Epic Counseling Solutions. "We don't prevent anything by avoiding, and it's hard to interpret silence. Like the old adage about voting—in relationships, we should communicate early and often."
"This doesn't mean that you should never speak your mind, but you should really listen to what your spouse has to say before you respond," says Cassandra LeClair, Ph.D., a communications studies professor at Texas A&M. "Practice responding instead of reacting. When you listen to your spouse, you are showing them that you care about their thoughts and feelings. You are also giving yourself the opportunity to better understand their perspective. And when you understand your spouse's perspective, it is easier to communicate with them effectively.
"In heated moments, our emotions can get the best of us. Start by taking a deep breath and pausing for a few seconds to avoid impulsivity," says Bayu Prihandito, a certified life coach and founder of Life Architekture.
"It's natural to want to get our point across, but understanding your partner's perspective first can make them more receptive," says Prihandito. "You don't have to agree in order to validate" your partner, says Verber. "Validation is about connecting the dots and letting your partner know they are making sense. More than anything, they want to know that you get it."
A good way to show your partner that you get it: Be an active listener. "Active listening is more than just hearing what your spouse has to say," says LeClair. "It involves fully engaging with their words, paying attention to their body language, and asking clarifying questions. When you are actively listening, you are showing your spouse that you are interested in what they have to say and that you value their perspective." Her recommendations: Put away your electronic devices; make eye contact and nod to show you're listening; don't interrupt; and ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand what your partner has said.
"Don't use basic emotional vocabulary; dive deeper," says Prihandito. "Instead of just saying 'I'm upset,' be more specific. Maybe you're feeling overwhelmed or under-appreciated. The clearer you are, the easier it is for your partner to understand and respond appropriately."
Rod Mitchell, a psychologist with Emotions Clinic, calls this approach balanced assertiveness: "Instead of saying, 'You never listen,' opt for, 'I feel unheard when you interrupt me,' which is less accusatory and opens the door for constructive discussion," he says.
A good approach is to turn your complaints into requests, says Verber: "Your partner is more likely to be receptive if you say, 'I know you're busy, but I feel frustrated you didn't take the trash out. Would you please do it before work tomorrow?' than, 'You're so lazy, you never do anything around here.' That will increase success."
"Couples often get caught into a pursue-and-withdraw pattern of communication, where one partner will pursue a resolution to a conversation when the other prefers to avoid conflict or hard conversations altogether," says Laura E. Dennis, LMFT, of Morningstar Lane Therapy. "This pattern leaves couples feeling stuck and unable to communicate effectively because they are different in their approaches. Couples can hone in on this pattern by seeking support through a couples therapist who works with an attachment lens that supports breaking this pattern and helps couples communicate more effectively."
"Even when you are disagreeing with your spouse, it is important to be respectful. Avoid name-calling, insults, and other hurtful language," says LeClair. "Instead, focus on the issue at hand and try to find a solution that works for both of you."
"When faced with criticism, our natural instinct is to go on the defensive. Yet, this often causes the other person to become more entrenched in their position," says Mitchell. "A more effective strategy is to find a point of agreement in your spouse's complaint, thereby reducing tension. For instance, if your spouse remarks, 'You're always so busy; we never spend time together,' acknowledging their concern by saying, 'You're absolutely right, I have been overwhelmed and it's taken a toll on our time together,' can pave the way for more open and constructive dialogue. This approach makes your partner feel heard and validated, encouraging a more amicable resolution."
"Sometimes, the most profound conversations happen in silence," says Prihandito. "It's OK not to fill every moment with words or weird jokes. Just being there, holding hands, and sharing a quiet moment can speak more than words."
When conflicts arise in a relationship, "Keep in mind that it's a conversation, not a court case," says Verber. "Nobody ever won an argument, because even when you win, you lose. Address your partner's feelings before you get lost in the weeds objecting to details."