Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Getting negotiation going.

First, some big news:

I am going to be speaking at the University of Chicago Sex Week!
More details available here, but the short version:
  • 5:30 to 7:00pm on February 16th
  • The eighth floor of Logan Center (directions on linked page) at the University of Chicago
  • It's free and open to the public, and you can register here.
I’m going to be speaking about “How To Have Sex On Purpose”—about creating an intentional and conscious sexuality, informed by kink and poly ethics. Or, less pretentiously: how to go from “sex just happens between us” to “we do sex.” (Doing is better. Not just on, like, an ethical philosophical relational whatever level. Better on the “OH FUCK YEAH” level too.)

We now return you to your incredibly irregularly scheduled Pervocracy.

I never can find pictures that represent these abstract topics.
Here's the cuddly enema that hangs out next to my lab bench at school.
A question I got on Tumblr:

So, I've reread your blog posts on relationship negotiation several times each, because they're so awesome, so I was wondering if you might have some advice. Relationship negotiation meetings is something I'd really like to do. My partner likes the idea too. However, we're both worried that we'll just end up sitting there with neither of us having any idea what to say. Do you have any advice/resources for beginning/structuring such a meeting? Possible discussion questions/categories, etc?

The way these things begin is: awkwardly.  Sitting down and talking frankly about what you're doing in a relationship is awkward as fuck and I can't really sugarcoat that.  It's awkward because it's an activity that completely lacks a cultural script.  It's not something you're "supposed" to do, it's not something you get to watch others do in real life or in media, and the only version of it that does get talked about is one where "can we talk?" means "you're in trouble."  So this isn't going to go super smoothly the first time, and that's okay.  Being real and vulnerable enough to be awkward with each other is great for a relationship.

But how do you get it to go at all?

It starts before you meet, with both of you asking yourselves what you want to get out of the discussion.  What needs work in your relationship?  What's causing you difficulty right now?  If you could have the perfect relationship, how would it be different from this one?  It doesn't have to be all big-deal serious things.  "I need you to stop stealing the blanket" is every bit as legitimate to bring out here as "I need to know how you really feel about my body."  Plus, seeing how able you are to come to an amicable agreement on a simple thing like "we should have two twin-size blankets" is good motivation and practice for working on touchier issues.

I've said this before, in a different context, but any time you catch yourself thinking "well, of course what I would say if I could is XYZ, but I can't possibly," that's your brain telling you exactly what you need to say.  Also, any time something makes you think "I'm unhappy about XYZ, but obviously my partner knows that and has decided to do it anyway," definitely bring it up, because like 75% of the time the answer will be "oh shit, I had no idea that was a problem."

Come to the table with requests, not complaints.  Try to turn every statement about what's wrong into a statement about what you need instead.  (It's okay to not always have solutions in mind.  Just say "I need [thing] to stop/start/change" or "I want us to find a solution to [thing]," rather than "[thing] is bad.")  Even though it's almost the same statement, "I want to have more sex" is a lot easier and less upsetting to address than "I feel like we never have sex anymore."  It makes "we can totally have more sex, I'd like that too" into an agreeable response instead of a defensive one.

Make a date for your first discussion (we call ours the State Of The Relationship Address, because giving it a silly name makes it feel more like "our thing" and less like getting called to the principal's office) somewhere quiet that doesn't mind people camping out for a while--a park bench, a coffeeshop, or a particularly boring bar.

(Actually, it got updated to State Of Our Union, and then corrected to State Of Our Intersection, but anyway.)

Bring notes, and take notes.  It may be dorky--it may even help to acknowledge it's dorky and laugh at it--but nothing says "the serious part of this conversation has started now" like getting out a notepad with "need more attention paid to my clitoris" on it.

As for things to actually discuss, if "stuff that you want to be more better" feels like a hopelessly broad field:

  • Sex! Are you happy with the amount you're having?  The type?  Who initiates?  Is there something you'd love to try but couldn't possibly bring up?  Is there something you secretly hate but have been politely not complaining about?
  • How much time you spend together.  Too much, too little, too often spent fiddling around the house being bored?
  • The path your relationship is on.  Is it something that's going to escalate along the traditional dating -> moving in -> marriage -> kids pathway, follow a less traditional path, or simply stay where it's at?  Obviously your partner can't promise you what the future will bring, but at least saying "I'm hoping if we stay together we can..." versus "I'm really not ever looking for..." can seriously clear the air.
  • Fun things you'd like to do together.  Like I said, this doesn't have to all be Heavy Processing.  "We should plan a trip to Maine!" is worth bringing up too.
  • Are you monogamous?  If so, what does that mean to you--just no sleeping with other people, or no expressing any kind of attraction, or something in between?  I know this one can be pretty easy to shove under the rug of "but I don't want anyone but you anyway," but it's good to clarify how you feel about flirting/kissing/dinner dates/etc. before you're debating about a specific incident.
  • Are you open or poly?  If so, there's a whole bunch of issues that open up, but some relevant ones are: scheduling, how you can express it and what will comfort you if you feel jealous, how much you want them to tell you about what they do with other people, when/whether you want to meet their other partner(s), how you're handling safe sex issues.
  • Their friends, your friends, mutual friends--is there anyone who's a major problem for you?  It's hard to ask a partner to drop a friend (although... depends what they've done), but they should at least know what you're feeling.  Or, conversely, do you want to spend more time with your/their/plural-your friends and feel more like you're partnered socially as well as romantically?
  • If you live together, all the roommate issues that brings up--chores, budgeting, standards of cleanliness, making your sleep schedules work together, making your "I want to be totally undisturbed while I do this" versus your "I want to interact with you" needs work together.
  • How you argue.  "We never argue" isn't good; it means at least one of you is suppressing their disagreement.  But obviously fighting rather than arguing is really, really bad.  Make it explicit between you that dissent is always okay and personal attacks never are, and that you will make every effort to remember the difference.
  • That you love each other, and feel your love is worth working on.  Because the end result of all the above shouldn't just be a workable arrangement; it should be a workable arrangement with someone you find incredibly awesome.  Affirming that before, during, and after the meeting makes a big difference.

So that's kind of a lot!  I hope it helps.  I'm sure smart people will add things in the comments that I didn't even think of.

Cosmocking is next!


  1. Hey Cliff. Like the person who send the above comment, I thought the ideas of relationship meetings was great and if I ever have them, this list will be an awesome start point (I collect lists, like the one you once made about talking about what sex acts to do and more basic ones that are similar from other websites).
    Anyway, I know you write for Captain Awkward but this isn't really Captain Awkward material. I posted about something on the scarletteen forums for lack of anywhere else to put it but I don't know if their reply has been overly helpful so I was hoping the geeky/feminist/kinky community might have some opinions.

    1. I'm sorry he treated you that way, and I'm glad you're broken up now. It sounds like you weren't acting "passive" so much as "entirely in accordance with your desires, which were to not do very many sexual things with this guy," and he didn't respect that.

      "No" is a complete sentence. It doesn't require justification. You don't have to make a case for what you want to do with your body. (But in future, if you do still feel you need to explain yourself, "my ex pushed me into sexual stuff I didn't really want, and I don't ever want to go down that path again" is a very good reason.)

      "I don't know exactly what I want, so let's take this slow, and please check in with me before going any further" is also a complete sentence. You don't need to draw perfect and permanent lines in the sand to make it clear that you're not in an "anything goes" state of mind.

      I wish you the best of luck in the future, remind you that there are guys out there--tons of them!--who know that silence or "I'm not sure" means "no"--and you deserve to be with one of them.

    2. Thanks. :) Sometimes I just feel the need to explain it without all the detail as he's still part of an organization that me and my close friends are also part of, so when we interact with him they find it hard to understand why I get so uncomfortable around him (they get that I don't have to like him but some days it goes a bit further than that - more icky). Anyway, before I generally tell them that he pushed me further than I was comfortable, maybe I needed to know that I wasn't being totally unreasonable. It helps when people just confirm that that's not what life/sex is meant to be.

  2. If one of you wants kids, that should come up, along with how many. If you want kids, and you have different religious beliefs, it's better to bring up what you're going to do WRT your kids' religious instruction, before said children are actually there.

  3. Sound advice, and I'd like to add a discussion of how to handle an unwanted pregnancy, if there's a possibility the issue would come up; and also that if you don't really like a partner's friend it's not always necessary to ask them to drop the friend, just ask them to see their friend without you (of course, like you said, this depends on how bad this friend is). And safe sex issues should be discussed even in monogamous relationships.

  4. we should have two twin-size blankets

    YOU JUST SAVED MY MARRIAGE!!!!!!!!!11111!!!

    1. Depending on the bed size, you can also go with an oversized blanket/comforter. Having a king-sized comforter on a queen-sized bed generally helped my partner and I alleviate this issue.

    2. Oversized blanket can work for some people, but not all, depending on just how much we bunch up/throw around/roll ourselves into our blanket while we sleep. My inveterate blanket-stealing even defied the two-blanket solution at one point: in my sleep, I apparently threw my blanket on the floor, then proceeded to steal my partner's blanket, and then sleepily began to bitch at my partner when he tried to get his own blanket back. Poor guy, he was so confused. The upgraded protocol is now "two twin-size blankets and blanket stealer gets spot next to the wall".

  5. I worked at a place once where every week we would have a meeting on how our current project was going. We had a spreadsheet template with one column for things we were happy about, one column for things we were unhappy about, and one column for observations that were somewhere in the middle. Then there was a final column on the end for what action we wanted to take, if any, about any of the things in the other columns. At the beginning of a meeting, we would all fill in those first three columns with any observations we had about how the project had gone in the past week. I thought it was an excellent way of doing things and have often thought about using a similar spreadsheet to facilitate relationship discussions. It provides an easy way to identify problems without requiring that you immediately have specific solutions to them, and it helps make the conversation about more than the problems in the relationship. It provides an easy opportunity to say, "Hey, this thing that you're doing is really awesome!" in addition to providing a way to discuss things that are less awesome and that you want to change.

    1. Oh! I really like this idea! Being like 'oh, and this is a thing we're good at' both helps with making a complete general list of discussion topics (like, if my partner and I aren't having any issues with say date frequency, we might otherwise not think to include it, and then we might overlook changes in that area that might have benefitted from being addressed) and would totally help with the last point ('we love each other').

      I've been struggling for a while with the issue of how to present complaints without making it seem like I don't love, or like I'm just super whiny and demanding.

      This definitely seems like something that could help with that! Thanks!

    2. I like this Alot.* Your plan sounds like a great way to keep discussions from becoming unnecessarily negative. :) The last column makes me happy too.

      * Deliberate error, a la Hyperbole and a Half. Pedants, please don't go correcting me here.

  6. This is a fantastic list, and I also love the other commenters' suggestions. I think it's a huge loss that we don't have "relationship ed" along with driver's ed and sex ed. If we're lucky, we spend ten years trying to figure out how to have healthy, functional relationships and communicate about difficult things. If we're unlucky, we spend our whole lives trying and never get there. I think it will always be a challenge, but I don't think we do teens and young adults any favors by not talking about it, by not developing those social scripts that are needed to start those difficult conversations. It means we all come into relationships so ill-equipped, and we hurt each other, and ourselves. Cliff, I think this post is a great step toward fixing that. Cheers.

    1. I've been sorely tempted to write a book entitled "What Teens Should Know About Dating, Sex, and Healthy Relationships," but I don't know if it would sell as well as I'd hope. Topics in this potential book would include:

      - A frank introduction stating, "If your religion bans something, you really don't have to do it. We are not trying to make anybody do anything in this book."
      - The mechanics of reproduction, because I know from experience that not all schools actually teach it, and those that do, don't always do a very good job;
      - An explanation of what birth control is, how condoms prevent the spread of STDs, and what "failure rates" actually MEAN. I've seen textbook discussions of this subject that don't bother to explain what the failure rates mean, leaving you with the impression that it's "per act of intercourse" instead of per year.
      - How to have good relationships with friends, significant others, etc. Communication will be stressed repeatedly as a Very Good Idea, if not an absolute necessity.
      - Signs that the sex you're considering having could actually be rape or sexual assault, including "This person is heavily-intoxicated or unconscious and can't meaningfully consent right now, so if zie said no yesterday, don't be so sure of a Yes tonight," "How to ask about sex in a sexy way," and of course "When a Yes sounds like a No, slow down and see if you can take the pressure off so you get an honest answer." Also, a note that rape and domestic violence are not funny, and should never be suggested even in a joking manner.

      My lack of focus when it comes to writing, combined with uncertainty of where to publish such a book, has kept me from doing so. I know Scarleteen is out there (it'd be listed under "For Further Reading"), but some kids are in the unique situation where their parents are monitoring their Internet use but might not notice a particular book among the others on the shelf.

    2. Scarleteen also has a book out

    3. Laura, THANK YOU for the thing about failure rates. As a 21-year-old who considers herself well educated about birth control, this still confused me. Charts always seemed to imply "per act of intercourse," but that seemed a ridiculous high rate of failure to me, so I cautiously assumed it was something else.

      Wow I feel stupid.

    4. Ozy also pointed out once that "perfect use" isn't what you think it is. Condoms have a failure rate of 10-15 % for "normal use" and 2-3 % for "perfect use". Spontaneously, one might interpret "normal use" as "putting on a condom before sex the way a normal person would" and "perfect use" as "being a condom expert with a degree from condom university putting on a condom before sex". But that's not it at all! "Perfect use" just means USING A CONDOM EVERY TIME YOU HAVE SEX (and, well, not tearing a hole in it with your nails or anything). While "normal use" means "forgetting the condom and having unprotected sex once in a while".

  7. I see a TED talk in your future!

  8. I would suggest a ground rule: You and your partner are still together at the end of the conversation. Because if one of you has already ended the relationship, they shouldn't wait until the Relationship Discussion to tell the other; if not, minimizing the fear of "if I tell them about this, they'll dump me/it'll lead to an argument that will end in a breakup" will give more space for meaningful discussion.

    Also, my philosophy of asking for things in any sort of relationship is to focus on outcomes, rather than means, when possible. "I need you to act in a way that produces $RESULT" rather than "I need you to do $THING". It allows for easier negotiation on how they can produce $RESULT even if they're uncomfortable with $THING.

    1. Absolutely!! I once had a relationship end at the culmination of a relationship negotiation discussion, because she didn't like my answers and wasn't willing to work on those issues. And all I wanted was to figure out how to meet each of our relationship needs/wants as best we could. In hindsight it is for the best we broke up, but damn was it harsh.

    2. Yeah, I think this is a good idea, because anxiety over "if I share what I really think, they'll dump me!" is going to put a serious cramp on people's ability to be open with each other.

      You might end up uncovering truly irreconcilable differences during the talk (which is a good reason to have it sooner rather than later), but using the talk directly as a reason or opportunity to break up with someone is cruel. That's too much like punishing them for being honest.

    3. But sometimes from an open discussion as such you might expose inconciliable differences that you weren't aware of before...
      With a previous partner - we didn't call it any "meeting" name, just a question, how do you see yourself in 5 years - we found out that I wanted to have kids and he didn't. We loved each other dearly but shortly after that conversation we decided to break up.
      What I mean is: I agree with not firing up during an open conversation, get into a fight and break up. Of course.
      But what if something really big comes up and there is no possible agreement? All the example about pregnancies (wanted or not) and kids leave very little space to compromising unfortunately...
      Just to say I don't think anybody can guarantee to the other partner that there will be no break up - well just as you can pretty much never guarantee something like that...

    4. I have two thoughts on this. First, I think that actually brings up an interesting difference between monogamy and polyamory. In polyamory, there's somewhat more leeway for relationships where the people are 'incompatible' in some way, as long as that way can be dealt with, because of each partner being able to have other relationships to meet needs/desires this partner can't. Person A wants to have kids/move to Maine/go on an expedition to the North Pole/take a vow of celibacy and person B doesn't? Well, there's the potential for them both doing what they want, and still remaining in a relationship, just maybe a non-primary/non-lifepartner/long-distance one, etc. On the other hand, when you're looking for someone to be your 'one and only' there can be less of this leeway.

      Second, I think if there is a question of 'OK, can we be primary partners/one-and-only's/etc', that should be a separate discussion from a relationship negotiation meeting. I think that way it might be somewhat easier to handle the outcome - it would be 'OK, we needed to know if we could do this, and the answer is no', and not as much like punishment for being honest.

  9. thanks for this - my partner and I have been having this conversation in bits and pieces, but there were some aspects of it we definitely missed that are currently problematic, so thank you for giving me an outline to think on to help us get back on track. Always enjoy reading your work - it's an unexpected positive in my day when you post!

  10. You are so good at what you do! I love the way you encourage constant renegotiation of what works in one's relationships. There's entirely too much advice along the lines of, "Find one perfect state of being with this person and then remain there," which is so unrealistic to basically every type of relationship ever.

    Wish I still lived close enough to Chicago to see you speak. I'm sure it's going to be amazing.

  11. I don't want children, and that is a conversation I have around the second date or so. (If not sooner.)The HUGE LIFE THINGS should be front and center from the start, in my opinion. Babies, polar religious differences, etc.
    I will say that I agree with the discussion points you've made, especially "t should be a workable arrangement with someone you find incredibly awesome."

    1. I think I'm showing my youth in the things that I picked and the things I missed... which is why I'm really glad people like you are adding some of the more "adult" concerns in the comments.

    2. Yeah, once you reach a certain age, children/no-children is CRUCIAL.

    3. Indeed. My partner (now wife) and I nearly split up because she wanted children and I didn't. I decided being with her and making her happy was more important than my reservations, and I'm glad I did, but the reasons I didn't want children still look good to me.

      And of course once you're a parent, everything gets rather more complicated, because there's not just two of you in the relationship anymore (and unlike a polyamorous scenario, at least one of those involved never agreed to the idea!).

      Later this year, we're expecting our son to leave home for college (although of course he'll still need our support; only having one child wasn't a compromise, BTW, a planned second never materialised). Other big changes in our lives have also either happened or are planned. Also, although we still love each other, enjoy time together, and have mutually enjoyable sex, there are sexual aspects of our relationship I'd like to change - something I'm only just admitting to myself. So negotiation is clearly needed there - but when, where and how to start when we've jogged along without much of it in that area, and when there are so many other changes afoot?

  12. '"We never argue" isn't good; it means at least one of you is suppressing their disagreement.'

    I have never liked the (apparently widely-held) view that SOs should argue sometimes, but perhaps it's down to what is meant by the word 'argue'. I disagree with my SOs sometimes, and we talk about it, politely; it's not that we don't occasionally have desires that conflict. But when I picture 'arguing', I picture what couples do on television, or what my parents did occasionally when I was a kid. (Raised voices, stomping about the house, etc.) I have had arguments like that with SOs in the past; but never with either of my current SOs, and I don't see those kinds of 'arguments' as in any way a desirable thing.

    Completely unrelated thought: I liked this post; I would love to sometime see a post about _metamour_ discussions; i.e. direct discussions between metamours of the sorts of issues that might come up. Those are of course unheard of within the general culture, and aren't necessarily even that common in the poly culture, I think. But I like to have them, and I had one recently which went okay, but was indeed awkward.

    1. I think that's what I'd call the difference between "argue" and "fight." Arguing is any time you have a strong disagreement; fighting is when it stops being civil and turns to yelling and stomping.

      At any rate, I think SOs should have strong disagreements sometimes. :)

      Metamour relations is an interesting issue. There's a lot of different types of relationships, from "we're almost like partners ourselves" to "we barely ever see each other," and I'm not sure if I'm poly-experienced enough to do it justice but... heck, that never stopped me before.

    2. Re: arguments -- interesting. I polled a couple of friends who read Pervocracy.

      One of them came down on 'your side', i.e. that any strong disagreement is an argument, and that, if it gets heated, it's a fight. The other came down on 'my side', quoting google's result for 'define: argument', "An exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one." In her view (and mine), it's a discussion until it gets heated or angry, then it's an argument; a "fight" involves actual violence.

      I'm not sure what to make of all this, except maybe to keep in mind that some people may get the wrong impression about what you mean by 'argument' (but other people definitely take it to mean exactly the same thing you do.)

      Most days it seems like I came from the most well-adjusted family of essentially anybody I know, but I still don't think the (very occasional) 'arguing' my parents did was healthy, and that's the model I have for "relationship arguments".

    3. In my family of origin, arguing is a nerd thing, and less personal than discussion. My husband often gets upset when he hears me and my daughter arguing over something that we enjoy arguing about -- he assumes it's a fight and says things like "What a silly thing to fight about." I've tried to explain this to him as a cultural difference, but it hasn't quite gotten through.

    4. It's possible to take "couples should argue" too far. My ex-girlfriend used to pick fights. She might have had an actual reason, but the closest I could get her to acknowledge was "it's healthy for couples to argue."

      Better, I think, to couch it as "you should not make 'never arguing' a metric for the health of the relationship, or a goal within the relationship." Though I realize that's not very pithy.

    5. And there's a difference between supressing disagreement and just not disagreeing.

      I've had fun relationships when I was young where me and my partner were pretty different from each other and would argue regularly over various stuff. However, when I met my now husband, it was so different from anything I've ever experienced before, just because we think so much alike, have such similar tastes and have also lived very similar lives up to the point where we actually met each other. It was this epiphany of "wow TOTAL SOULMATES!" that made us decide to get married after we've been a couple for a few months.
      If by "argument" you mean anything more than just "minor disagreement on some unimportant issue" we might have had like... five? six? arguments during twelve years of marriage. Which is probably pretty odd. And I totally respect the opinion of people who think it must be boring to be this similar, although we think it's awesome.

      But the point is; it would be weird to have a "couples should argue" rule. Like, what should we do with that rule? Have arguments like the ones you sometimes had in high school, where you got handed an opinion and then you were supposed to defend it against an opponent who had been handed the opposite opinion? Much better with a "couples should not suppress disagreements" rule!

    6. I agree with Dvarghundspossen... it's totally possible for two people to just rarely disagree. Or at least, rarely disagree on anything important. My "partner" (aka non-romantic life partner cohabitating friend) and I have disagreed to the point of arguing on maybe 2 important things over a decade long relationship. For the most part the things we disagree on are more the different-opinion-doesn't-bother-me flavor than the this-is-a-big-deal variety.

      Of course, we have plenty of minor disagreements. But they don't rise to even the level of civil argument - we pretty much stick to friendly negotiation that leaves everyone happy. We also have... scuffles? Where one of us is grumpy/stressed and grumps at the other one and hurts her feelings, then apologizes for being a jerk. This is distinct from debating: I LOVE to debate things for hours on end, and get very passionate about it. But generally that's more of a brain exercise than an interpersonal problem-solving thing.

      Anyways. I think people should be able to argue constructively when appropriate. I just don't think disagreement is a guaranteed thing.

    7. Some people will actually pick fights because they really like make-up sex (I have only heard about this -- no direct experience -- and I'm definitely not claiming to know what was going on with Hershele's ex). I think there must be some healthier way to meet that need, but I'm not sure how, because I don't know what about it works for them. It's possible other risky, out-there, emotional discussion would put them in the same frame of mind without triggering the other person's "no, I'm in conflict with you, sex is the last thing I want" response.

    8. I'd say that the point of these State of the Union discussions is to minimise the incidence and severity of arguments. Developing a culture of conversation and negotiation in a relationship allows minor issues to be dealt with before they become argument topics. For example, I can say to my partner, "Can you make sure to put your McDonald's wrappers in the bin after you eat?", instead of "Clean the fuck up after yourself, you disgusting slob."

      I don't think we're repressing or bottling emotion by not arguing/fighting; I think issues of contention are dealt with before they *need* to become arguments.

    9. I haven't had metamour discussions in the sense you mean them, but I've recently had some intense three-way discussions about plans/life decisions involving me and two of my partners (who are good friends, but not partnered to each other). That along with discussions between me and each of them; I don't think they've sat down to talk about this without me, but they may have.

  13. I think you should also add a question about future career plans or moving plans. It's worth discussing if/when you would move for work/school. If both partners are doing something that might require them to move around, decide how you're going to handle it: does someone's job take priority or do you take turns, or what? Where do you both see yourselves ending up, or does it matter? Perhaps this is a question for a couple that has already decided to stay together in the long term, but I think it's as important as the question about marriage and kids!

  14. Ok, my thoughts - full disclosure: I'm a marriage/family/child therapist in training, and recently got couples counseling with my partner (we both found it beneficial).

    - First, acknowledge the awkward. Commiserate. Remember that you're not alone in this awkward cause you have your super awesome partner with you. tell them they're so awesome you'll put up with awkward for them! ... or something :)
    - Set a time limit on how long you want to talk. This is a good habit to get into, and you can negotiate it as needed depending on the day
    - Talk about when is a good time for each of you to sit down and give each other your full attention (for future reference). Decide how you want to tell each other when it's time to catch up on your relationship.

    More incentives for communicating: Feeling more comfortable/at home with your partner. Good to awesome sex!

  15. Another thing that sometimes doesn't get discussed explicitly is the frequency of nonsexual touch! It would be great to check in about wanting more physical affection that doesn't come under the heading of sex. I feel really emotionally disconnected with my partner when we don't cuddle and touch in passive nonsexual ways, but it's also really important to me to have active nonsexual touch like massages and backrubs. It's something I have been trying to make clearer with partners.

    1. YES THIS. There are times when I really wish my husband and I had established the habit of kissing hello and goodbye -- it must have seemed way too mechanical, too 1950s or something, back in the day. And there's a tendency when people have kids to transfer a great deal of the physical give-and-take to the relationship with the child, who after all needs it more, and end up stinting the adults. It doesn't help that I grew up with parents who were very distant with each other (to the point of separate bedrooms -- and not for practical reasons like sleep problems).

  16. !!!

    Thank you so much for this! The 'narrowing the field' bullet points are really helpful, both as points in and of themselves and as helping me think of my own points, now that I now what I'm trying to think of.

    The notebook idea is definitely one of those 'I never would have though of that, but wow, yeah' - as someone to whom 'signifiers' can be really important to how my feelings run - yeah, that's definitely something that would help me get into the correct headspace a lot. Especially if we were both doing it - when I go the route of excusing myself to be kind of furtively taking notes (because I want to remember what we say!), I tend to feel rather bad about it.

    And the 'needs, not complaints' is a really, really powerful insight. Both for how I can go about expressing things, and for the other side - I never though about this before, but people expressing complaints tends to make me feel 'ahh, I've been doing bad things, I must fix it, but ahh, I don't know how', but I feel bad about asking for clarification. Someone expressing needs to me, on the other hand, is not only not anxiety inducing, it's also something I really really want.

    Also, your discussion names are awesome.

  17. Thanks for this.

    I'm wondering at the moment whether some sort of similar-ish 'negotiation' model could be applied to platonic friendships? Realise this is a broad area but I quite like the idea of having an agreed allocated time to talk things over in a similar way, but also wonder whether it comes off as over-formalising/dramatising friendships or something... thoughts would be appreciated

    1. I think friendship negotiations are a great idea.

      A lot of people think relationships - whether romantic or platonic - are just supposed to succeed by magic or something, so yeah, probably some people would see the idea of negotiations in a friendship as "over-formalizing"...but they'd probably say the same about negotiating a romantic relationship, too.

      And anyway, if you like the idea of having those kinds of talks with a friend, and your friend also likes it - that's an awesome sign of your compatibility, no?

  18. Perhaps another ground rule could be 'each of us will be both honest, calm and respectful, and we will not be responsible for how the other reacts to what we say'.

    My other half has been raised to feel responsible as a man for any negative feelings a woman might have. So when we discuss things, if I express concern or upset in response to something he says, he feels terrible and doesn't want to ever be honest again. This means he would feel very anxious going into this type of relationship discussion. I try not to get worked up when he says something unexpected or difficult, as well as trying to get him used to the idea that if I do get upset, it's my issue to deal with and not his.

    1. oops, too late I realised grammatical error...

  19. Negotiations always remind me of the Ugli Fruit exercise that a lot of business training seems fond of using.


    Basically both groups think they need the fruit to solve Big Important Problem and it turns out that one group needs the rind and the other juice and ha ha ha isn't funny how we both thought we needed the whole thing.

    It's basically root cause analysis. Keep asking why until it gets ridiculous. Focusing on what you need (warmth) vs how you're not getting it (blanket stealing) will get you to a solution faster.

    1. Although there are situations where both groups/people legit need the rind, and there's no way around that.

      I'm wary of any negotiation or communication exercise (and actually, this is one of the problems I had with Non-Violent Communication, although I still like many of its methods) where it always turns out there was a super handy-dandy solution to make everyone happy. Sometimes a compromise really requires compromise.

      However, yeah, it's good to not go in with the assumption that everything has to be zero-sum.

  20. This is mostly a very-early-on thing, but I wish people would be more explicit about their desires and expectations about how a relationship will progress. For instance--in what order do you expect intercourse, oral sex, and sleeping next to each other to happen? And with what respective degrees of emotional closeness?

  21. Great topic and some very useful questions to ask. Thanks.

  22. "We never argue" isn't good; it means at least one of you is suppressing their disagreement.

    THANK YOU. I hate to see festering resentment in the place of reasonable open discussion.

  23. We really need to do this thing. It's just... hard.

  24. Thank you for this.

    I just sent this link to my Love as a way of opening up a discussion, complete with a "can we do this, please?"

    So... yeah. Thank you.