“My partner never initiates.” or “My partner always initiates”. Those are very commonly heard complaints when I talk with couples
individually (before I meet with them together). Next to frequency, initiation techniques are at the top of the list of problems for couples
who’s physical intimacy is less satisfying than they would like it to be. In the Pathways to Intimacy course on pathwaystointimacy.com , one of the exercises is completely focused on initiation. What I saw in my relationship coaching practice for the last 30 years, is that the longer couples are together the more likely they are to establish very limited rituals of initiation. A touch on the knee, a specific “look”, or a kiss on the ear can be the exclusive signal that one person is feeling passionate. For others, they have chosen a word or pet phrase that has come to
indicate their desire. In a few cases couples simply state in a very forthright way that they are interested in having sex. The reasons for using these kinds of “codes” can be positive—a mutually agreed upon means of verbal intimacy that mirrors the connection and understanding they have with each other throughout their relationship. More negative reasons include being uncomfortable with risking rejection somehow one partner feels less vulnerable to the disappointment or pain that accompanies rejection. So, a more ambiguous method is employed. “I can tell myself he/she didn’t really turn me down.”
Anything that is often unsuccessful or leads to boredom indicates the relationship has a problem in this area. One sign that initiation needs attention can sometimes be when nonsexual physical affection has begun to wane. While there can be many other reasons, often partners say “I’m never really sure what he/she wants. Are they just being affectionate or do they actually want to have sex?” A corollary to this is the observation , “I’m afraid to touch or kiss him/her because they will interpret it as “I’m ready to go, and sometimes I just want love and affection”. Much of this stems from a (usually) mistaken belief that one person thinks that even the slightest hint of seduction should immediately drive their partner “wild with desire (you know, like it did when we first got together)”. It would indeed be gratifying if passion and romance was so powerfully pervasive in your relationship that any display of affection (or even just your very presence) was irresistible. However, in reality, when the kid’s lunches need to be made, you still have 25 emails to answer from work, the laundry is piling up, and you are concerned about a big presentation you have to make at work tomorrow……. well……. Right? That kind of stress and responsibility can sometimes turn down the burner on the flames of romantic passion. There is lots to say about this subject. The best place to start is to simply ask your partner: “What do you think about how we handle the initiation of sex?” You partner may just respond with the usual, “Its fine” (read as: “this sounds like it could lead to conflict so I’ll try to duck it”). If that happens, try this. “You know , when it comes to initiation, I love it when you ___________. Is there anything you would like me to do that you would enjoy?” Like everything else in relationships the adage: “If its not broken, don’t fix it” applies. However, its important to be sure that you both are in total agreement that they way things are is meeting both your needs.