Stop Talking! And Start Communicating...

“Have you mentioned this concern to your wife?” I ask.
“No – any time I try, she gets very defensive. We just can’t talk about things like this,” my client responds despondently.

We all have topics in relationships that are difficult to discuss. It can be tough to find the right words to talk about sex, intimacy problems, and relationship needs in a productive way. But once a topic becomes taboo in communication, it takes on a life of its own. If the lines of communication break down, this can breed distrust, secrets, resentments, and disconnection.

My suggestion? If you can’t speak it, write it! Although there are many forms of writing (e.g., emails, letters) I particularly like having a special journal. This is a place where your relationship can continue to grow and flourish, even amidst uncomfortable and heated topics. Choose a journal that you both agree is sacred to your deepest topics and a safe location to keep it. Then also choose a playful or attractive item to place on top of the journal, to indicate that a discussion has started within that requires a response. This could be a stuffed animal, a toy, a flower, or anything that feels safe and nice. In this way, you can completely avoid spoken words around the taboo topics.

How you write in the journal is also very important. Here are some suggestions to safely open the lines of communication:

  1. Explicitly state that you understand these are difficult topics and you don’t mean to make him/her feel uncomfortable or defensive. Acknowledge that you understand if s/he does feel that way and you’re sorry for the discomfort.
  2. State your thoughts and concerns clearly and concisely. Speak about how you feel. Be responsible and accountable for your feelings and your part in the current circumstances, and avoid blaming your partner for everything.
  3. Be proactive and offer a few ideas or suggestions of how to move through this tough topic. Write that these ideas are up for negotiation, so your partner knows s/he has a voice in creating compromise.
  4. End with 3 questions to help prompt a reply and direct the discussion towards clarity and authenticity.

Place the chosen indicator item on the journal and move on with your day. Agree ahead of time as to what length of time each person has to respond (1 day? 3 days?). This method won’t solve all your concerns and taboo topics overnight, but it does allow for movement through stagnation, and a potential path forward.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego