It’s understandable that couples are wary about bringing up sensitive topics. The avoidance of pain and distress are major motivators to go into hiding. But too much avoidance can lead to marital corrosion. So how can this difficult problem be managed? Because of the extra length, this month’s column is divided into two parts with the second part finishing next month.
We will follow Tina and Tom through their truth-telling process. They met as students at a large Midwestern university and married soon after graduation. They both come from religious, church-going families. In their five years of marriage, they have been busy starting their careers and buying and fixing up a house. Tina has always faked orgasm when they make love; she’s beginning to feel she wants to speak up about it.
STEP 1: MAKE THE DECISION TO BE TRUTHFUL
Tina recognizes that sex is becoming more boring and longs to feel more pleasure. She wrestles with the thought of mentioning this to Tom. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but the pretense has worn thin. She hates feeling like a phony.
Tina decides to be truthful because, there’s a chance that they’ll be able to change their sexual routine. If she doesn’t tell him, she’s only going to become more and more frustrated.
STEP 2: DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO HAPPEN
Knowing what you want helps you formulate your approach and what you say. Tina hopes that telling Tom the truth will allow her to:
a. feel more genuine
b. make changes to improve their sex life
c. overcome her anger
STEP 3: EXPLORE YOUR OWN AVOIDANCE
It’s important to understand what led to the deception. Tina recognizes that, because of the way she was brought up, talking about sex is uncomfortable for her. She has also been reluctant to say anything that might hurt or humiliate Tom. She started faking orgasms to help Tom believe he was a good lover even when she felt completely apathetic. Admitting that she was faking would have defeated the purpose. And so on it went.
A key component of Step 3 is understanding your own ambivalence. You can ask yourself, “Is there a part of me that doesn’t want to change?” Understanding your own doubts will help clarify your resolve.
Tina realized, ironically, that faking orgasm eased some of her anxieties about sex: If she knew she was faking orgasm, she didn’t have to worry about whether or not she would actually have one. Also; a “yawn” of a sex life meant that they wouldn’t have sex very often. Though that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, it did feel predictable and safe.
STEP 4: SET A TIME AND PLACE
You want to create a situation conducive to your partner hearing your message and sensing the compassion you bring to it. It would be best for Tina to bring up the topic when Tom isn’t tired or otherwise preoccupied, such as when they are taking a walk or when they’re sitting comfortably in front of a fire.
Bad times would be right as Tom is walking out the door or the instant he comes home, weary with jet lag, from a business trip. Be sensitive to anything your partner may be dealing with that might make your truth an unnecessary burden. If there’s illness in the family or serious trouble at work, postpone the discussion.