Couples on the topic of sex: “My partner never initiates.” or “My partner always initiates.”

I hear these common complaints when I talk with couples individually (before meeting them together) during couples coaching. Next to frequency, sex initiation techniques are at the top of the list of problems for couples whose physical intimacy is less satisfying than they would like it to be.

In the Pathways to Intimacy course, one of the exercises is solely focused on initiation. In my 30 years of relationship coaching practice, I saw that the longer couples are together, the less likely they are to establish initiation rituals.

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 straightforward way that they are interested in having sex.

The reasons for using these kinds of “codes” can be positive. It means they have a mutually, agreed-upon means of verbal intimacy. It 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 actually turn me down.”

Anything that is often unsuccessful or leads to boredom indicates that the relationship has a problem in this area. One sign that initiation needs attention can sometimes be when non-sexual physical affection has begun to wane.

Knowing what your partner wants is key

While there can be many other reasons, partners often say, “I’m never really sure what he/she wants. Is my partner just being affectionate, or does he/she 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 or initiation 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 were so powerfully pervasive in your marriage that any display of affection (or even just your very presence) was irresistible. However, in reality, when you need to make the kid’s lunches, you still have 25 emails to answer from work, and the laundry is piling up… well… Right?

Stress and responsibility can sometimes turn down the burner on the flames of romantic passion.

There is a lot 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?”. Your partner may just respond with the usual, “It’s fine”. This also reads 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 initiating intimacy, 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 it’s not broken, don’t fix it” applies. However, it is necessary to be sure that you both fully agree that your current arrangement meets your needs.

Get a good start with how to properly communicate your passion with Dr. Bloodgood’s Fanning the Flames e-book. It will open doors for you and your partner. Coupled with online coaching sessions, those doors will remain consistently open.