In my first post on Dead Bedroom Syndrome, I talked about the merits of getting to having more sex by not directly setting out to have more sex. By aiming for intimacy and connection instead. By preparing the ground so the flowers of desire can bloom.
Today I’m addressing a separate issue. What do you do when relationship partners have discrepant sexual needs? Jill wants to have sex three times a week, Joe’s a once-a-month kind of guy. Or Jill loves receiving oral sex and Joe won’t go there. How do very real (and all too common) challenges like these get resolved?
A common recommendation is negotiation. Pat wants sex three times a week, Kelly wants sex once a week, so hash things out and compromise on twice weekly.
Well, yes and no. Finding a mutually acceptable middle ground is a fine thing. The negotiation paradigm, less so.
Negotiation is something lawyers do. They sit across the table from each other and horse-trade in a context that typically assumes that it’s a zero-sum game (one wins and the other loses) and that you’re seeking concessions from your adversary.
And the heart? It’s not in the game. It’s not even allowed in the stadium.
Is this the best framework for resolving differences in an intimate relationship that (in theory, at least) is based on love? Perhaps not.
Your ‘finding agreement’ conversation will usually be much more productive if your framework is based on giving, not getting. If its foundation is a paradigm of abundance (gifts create gifts coming back to you), not scarcity (zero-sum—you win, the other loses). If it brings the heart front-and-center.
Pat: “I’d rather have sex three times a week, but I’ll go down to two because it’s a gift I can give you. Because I love you.”
Kelly: “I’m not really into sex more than once a week, but because I know you want sex more often, it’s a gift I want to give you, especially since you’ve just shown such generosity toward me. Twice a week it is, then.”
The loving heart, not hard negotiation.
That’s just the first part of the game, because the time will come to have that second weekly sex date. What emotions will you bring into that encounter? Will Kelly be pissed and withholding because they’d really rather be salsa-dancing? Will Pat be ticked off because despite this second date, her sexual needs still aren’t really being met?
It’s easy to have these negative emotions and sometimes difficult to purge oneself of them. Yet it’s important to clear them out. They can ruin the encounter and create a powerful incentive not to try that second date again.
Here’s the good news: The heart has a toggle switch that can be flipped to ‘on.’ It can take time to learn this skill, but it is learnable. You can choose to love. Or not. We do this with our children all the time. We run ourselves ragged being in service to them, wish we could be doing something else (like having time for ourselves)—and love them anyway.
If we can do this with our kids, we can also do it with our intimate partner. We can choose to enter this encounter with an open heart.
If it’s proving difficult to do this, sometimes our partner can help. Emotional honesty is crucial here, especially if it’s alongside the shared intention to get past the sexual and emotional knot that’s getting in the way of the relationship.
Kelly: I’m having trouble clear my heart of resentment for having to be here.
Pat: I can certainly understand why you might feel that way. What can I do to help?
Kelly: Maybe tell me how much this means to you? And that you love me for it?
Pat: I’ll be happy to. I so much appreciate that you’re willing to do this for me. It’s so generous, and it makes me feel so loved by you, and it inspires me to love you that much more in return.
Kelly: Ah, I can feel that knot in my heart melting. Now let’s play!
Pat: Great. I’ll make sure to express my gratitude in that special way you love so much.
Choosing the path of love isn’t a magic bullet. The challenge of discrepant sexual needs is a tough nut and can’t always be cracked.
But moving the conversation from head to heart can help.