Learning how to have tough conversations

Tough conversations. Ugh.

Recently, one of my lovers was telling me how much he enjoys his partner being on top during sex. He was excited and sharing sexy thoughts about having a woman pleasure herself while riding him, and instead of getting turned on, I started resisting the conversation.

In that moment, I felt myself closing down and then, I did the hardest thing imaginable – I stepped into the yucky feelings and told him I wanted to make an embarrassing confession:

“I feel like I don’t know how to fuck when I’m riding a guy. I mean, I can, but I’ve never really had a partner to practice with, and I always feel like I’m doing it wrong, so I rush to get off. I want to be awesome at it because I’ve heard it’s a fantastic way for women to cum and because, well, my tits in your mouth and you’re so kissable are both great things. But I’m self-conscious about my belly.”

I held my breath as my cheeks burned with shame.

He thanked me for being brave and said I was “damn courageous”. He said he appreciated that I spoke my truth, and felt grateful I trusted him that much. Then, he offered some thoughts, went online and found some body-positive resources with tips from plus-sized women about being on top, and told me I’d be hot as hell in that position no matter what.

Our exchange felt liberating and empowering. I felt heard, and more importantly, speaking my truth allowed me to release those feelings completely.

In fact, a week later when I played with my submissive (not the same person), I practiced some of the techniques I’d read in the forums. I rode him, tried different movements, and in the end, I came beautifully.

All because of a conversation that was done in the safe, open container that is this relationship I have with my lover.

Hiding our truth is toxic

So many of us don’t speak our truth for fear of being judged or not heard, but the reward for taking that leap of faith can be tremendously freeing.

I know from personal experience that when problems arise or doubt settles in, it can feel like a ton of bricks settling on your chest. The longer you carry that burden, the larger the wedge between you and your partner. Small issues become huge problems.

Carrying around an unhealthy secret can foster bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, a feeling of being misunderstood or alone, and causes a great deal of stress.

So what happens when we step into the fear and let go?

Maybe we cripple the relationship, but wasn’t it already crippled if we weren’t living honestly? Maybe we suffer humiliation or rejection, but at least now we know and can move on. Or maybe, the thing we’ve been hiding becomes something important and validating.

I’ve had relationships that were filled with unspoken needs and wants. Those hidden feelings become a festering wound that cannot heal. That elephant in the room takes up more and more space – whether it’s unsatisfying sex, an annoying habit, an insecurity, or a fetish you cling to in the darkest, quietest moments.

In my experience, it’s much easier to start a relationship based on honesty and open communication than it is to shift an existing relationship into that space, but it is possible to do.

If you and your partner want to grow and explore, you’re going to have to sit in discomfort from time to time. You are going to have to open yourself up to criticism, judgment, and rejection.

The good news is when you set that example and model the behavior, it makes it so much easier for your partner to do the same and to take that leap with you.

Tough conversations aren’t easy for anyone, but the sooner you have them, the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes. Showing up is hard as hell, no matter who you are.

So, where do you start? How do you open Pandora’s Box when it’s been sealed shut for so long?

Here’s what you don’t do:

  • Don’t drop a surprise bomb if you’re already fighting about something else.
  • Don’t use your secret as a weapon.
  • Don’t blame your partner for how you’re feeling.
  • Don’t create a bonfire of issues by blurting out a list of all the things that are wrong.
  • Don’t laugh, judge, criticize, or shut down when someone speaks their truth.
  • Don’t use someone’s truth as blackmail down the road.

If you find yourself doing any of these things, stop the conversation and hold yourself accountable. If your partner is doing any of these things, calmly point it out and offer to revisit the discussion another time.

Tough conversations done right

Long before you ever have a conflict, it’s smart to set a few ground rules for your relationship and agree to ways to initiate an important conversation.

When you decide how you’ll kick off those discussions, it is critical that you use that method to deliver compliments as well as scary confessions.

For example, what would it feel like if you asked, “Can we talk when you’re done reading that chapter?” And then when your partner settled in for the discussion, you showered them with gratitude for something they did well.

“I just wanted to thank you for being so gentle with me after I had that bad day on Monday. The way you listened and rubbed my back felt really good and I love you so much for supporting me that way. Is there something I can do as a thank you to make you feel special, too?”

The payoff is incredible. When you both feel safe opening up, your needs and desires are easier to articulate, your relationship stress decreases, and you learn how to trust each other in a powerful way.

If you approach your partner with love, you drastically increase the chances that you’ll be heard and understood. Honesty is important, but blunt brutality is not the way to go unless you’re completely out of options.

Pick a time and a place that is neutral. Approach the situation with the goal of making both of you happier and more fulfilled.

When you do have to dig into something scary or painful, practice what you’re going to say before opening your mouth.

Take a deep breath, be prepared to listen, and give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable.

Then, use this Tough Conversation Framework to create the most positive discussion possible (knowing sometimes it’s going to implode, and that’s OK):

  1. Take responsibility for your feelings and needs. “I feel scared.” and “I need more stimulation in order to cum.”
  2. Do not blame or accuse. Use “I” statements, avoid “you” statements.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. Probe for understanding and clarity.
  4. Offer examples. You don’t want them jumping to worst-case scenario thinking. Also, invite input.
  5. Be patient. Give your partner the space to have their own feelings without taking them on as your own.
  6. Share the reason why. If appropriate, offer what’s in it for them.
  7. Don’t rush the result. Sometimes it takes time, multiple conversations, and some back and forth before someone feels comfortable with a new idea. Never coerce or manipulate.

You deserve respect. You deserve great sex. You deserve support and honesty. You deserve a space where you can feel all of your feelings. Your partner deserves these things, as well.

Instead of hoping things will magically go away, take an active role in this thing the two (or more) of you are creating. Roll around in the fear. Your partner may surprise you with what they’re willing to do or try when they realize how important something is to you.

For me, the hardest part of tough conversations is recognizing my needs and being able to articulate them in the moment. The more I practice, the easier it becomes.

Most importantly, forgive yourself when you fumble it. Allow each other the freedom to mess up and to fail.

Pick up the pieces, express your love and gratitude, and try again the next time.

What is a tough conversation you recently had? What did you do well and what could you have done better? Or, what is it you’re scared to say? Comment below with your thoughts.

  • Dawn
  • June 15, 2014