So you’ve been researching the idea of sex therapy and perhaps followed a few sex therapists online. Maybe you’ve reached the point where you think the techniques you’re reading about could help with the relationship difficulties you’ve been having. You might be intrigued to give it a go.
But how do you go about introducing the idea of sex therapy to your partner? How receptive do you think they’ll be?
Whether you’re considering couples therapy with a licensed sex therapist in real life, or you think behavioral therapy via an app like Blueheart might be a better fit, tread carefully. The way you approach the conversation with your sexual partner could make a real difference to their enthusiasm to give it a go.
Luckily, we have some tips and advice, direct from our in-house sex therapists, that should help you work out how to broach the subject.
Many couples find talking about sex difficult, even more so if there are unresolved issues that have persisted over a period of time. Oftentimes people are conditioned from a young age to think that talking about their sex life or sexual desire is rude or wrong. Perhaps they’ve felt ridiculed or embarrassed about their thoughts and feelings when it comes to sexual activity.
While being in a romantic relationship with a partner we love and trust should make it easier to share our innermost feelings, that is not always the case. And there are many common reasons for this. A lack of sexual intimacy - be that physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, or both - can ultimately lead to difficulties in communication.
If this type of conversation really does cause you anxiety, try to distance yourself from the idea that suggesting therapy is talking about ‘sex’ specifically. Instead it might help to reframe it as a conversation about something that is causing relationship issues between you: comparable to money issues or childcare, for example.
And keep in mind that it is completely normal to meet with some resistance when you first moot the idea of seeing a couples therapist.
When we say honest conversation here, we don’t mean too honest. You may feel inside that the problems you’re having are down to your partner - but it may not be helpful to tell them that. In any case, that is rarely the truth of the matter. In our experience most couple problems, particularly if they have been going on for some time, are the result of the behavior exhibited on both sides. Usually, you both contribute.
Try to express a balanced view, talk about how the issue is making you feel without blaming your partner. Talk about the way you would like things to be and ask your partner if they feel the same way. Even creating a situation where you are able to both open up and state that you desire a healthy sex life and are willing to work towards that can be a great start point for many couples with relationship issues.
The way you frame the idea of sex therapy is important. Talk about how much you will be able to learn about each other from the experience. Explain that you can tackle it as a team, rather than being pitted against one another. And make sure your partner realizes that relationship therapy of all kinds is a lot more common than they might perceive it to be.
If you feel that recent challenges such as the pandemic have impacted your mental health and that could have had an effect on your relationship, mention this. It may be a relief to your partner that you see this as a temporary issue rather than a fundamental one.
When you’re trying to bring up the subject, make sure you choose the right time. A time that your partner is open to focusing on a conversation. This should be a time when they’re not rushing off to the office or about to fall asleep.
Instead find an opportunity when you’re both relaxed and the kids are elsewhere. Perhaps while you’re cooking dinner together or relaxing over a coffee at the weekend. Choosing a time when there is something of an emotional connection between you will help to make sure your partner is more receptive to what you say.
One thing is for sure though. Don’t bring the idea up during an argument. Spitting out, “We need to go to therapy!” during a fight might come across as a threat or make it sound intimidating. You want to associate the idea with a calm, positive resolution, not open warfare.
When we’ve been building up to a conversation for a while, particularly if we have a tendency to be the ‘anxious partner’ in the relationship, it’s easy to blurt everything out at once. This is an example of bad communication and can be incredibly difficult for the person on the receiving end. It can feel too intense and is a surefire way to put them on the defensive.
Instead, start the conversation gently by setting the scene. Ask if they’re open to talking about your relationship or simply say you’d like to have a chat about something with them. Focus on restricting what you say to a couple of sentences and then wait for your partner to respond.
And if you feel your partner won’t respond well to a conversation, or you’ve tried previously, why not write things down? That way you can be succinct in the conversation or simply let them read and digest it for themselves. It’s about understanding their comfort level and responding accordingly.
Once you’ve said what you want to say and made your suggestion, give your partner the time and space to process everything you’ve said. Remember, if sex therapy is something you’ve been mulling over for a while and you’ve learned lots about it, you’ll be coming to the conversation from a very different place to where your partner is.
Try to think about things from their perspective. If your partner isn’t familiar with the idea of therapy they may have preconceived ideas. Perhaps they fear it could expose flaws and leave them feeling vulnerable in front of you. Or maybe they see it as a sign of weakness. These are all normal reactions.
Validate your partner’s feelings, let them know you’ve heard and don’t expect a response straight away. If they react badly, give them some space rather than letting the situation escalate in the moment. You might find, in the cold light of day, when they’ve had time to process the idea, they see the benefits.
If your partner is reticent or feels that sex therapy is a big undertaking, consider an app like Blueheart as an alternative. By taking a free assessment, individually, you’ll get a really clear idea of where you both are at the moment and where you want to get to. And crucially, you’ll get a bespoke series of positive actions to get you there.
The beauty of using an app is that you can work through everything as slowly and gently as you need to in the comfort of your own home. If you know you need to make a change but you’re not sure how to go about it, this could be the perfect way to begin.
And since it doesn’t involve face-to-face therapy it may well be a much easier conversation when it comes to suggesting the idea to your partner.