N is for Negotiation: How to Negotiate Intimacy so Both Partners Feel Good

For a love that lasts, I have spoken about the importance of setting time aside for you and your partner to be intimate with each other. A key piece is to not only set the time aside to be intimate but to also be able to negotiate what your intimacy time looks like. What you and your partner want your intimacy time to look like is based of both of you and what you both want it to look like, not what it’s “supposed” to look like.

Unfortunately, because of the poor sex education most of us get it’s easy to fall into the trap of what sex is “supposed” to look like. One of the biggest culprits is the expectation that when you and your partner have your intimate time together then you have to jump all in and do the whole shebang. It’s like stepping onto an escalator and once you step on you are committed until you reach the top - penetration and orgasm. Yes orgasm is nice, which will be explored in next week’s blog post on “O is for Orgasm”. And sure this approach to sex can be a lot “easier” because it doesn’t require a lot of work and discussion. You can technically give your partner the ol' nudge, or mumble “hey do you wanna?” and once you both step on the escalator no other discussion is necessary. You know where you start and you know where you’re “supposed” to end up.

Although this all-or-nothing is seemingly easier, successful sexual intimacy in your relationship needs to look a whole lot different where there’s more discussion and negotiation. This allows for a positive feedback loop where the pressure is minimized, rejection is minimized, and there is the freedom of space for physical touch to happen in the middle ground rather than all-or-nothing. This is all possible when there is negotiation with both partners involved to give you both a voice and starts with the initiation.

Initiation of Intimacy

Negotiating intimacy needs to start first with a clear initiation. When we don’t use our words, the interpretation of body language is, well, up to interpretation. I’ve heard of many clients say they have repeatedly reached out to their partner for sex and thought it should have been obvious to their partner. When I dig deeper into what this bid for connection looks like it’s often the use of no words, unclear words, or an ambiguous gesture. For example, a husband may have been initiating intimacy when he kissed his wife on the cheek at bedtime and thought it was totally obvious what he wanted. Once revealed and talked about the wife is often surprised: “OMG honey I thought that was just a goodnight kiss!! I didn’t know you were reaching out for sex.” When you don’t know there is an initiation you unintentionally create unnecessary rejection and pain. Asking clearly for what you want will open up the lines of communication and negotiation.

Responding to Initiation

When your partner makes a clear ask for intimacy, it is of course 100% allowable to not want to be intimate. The whole #metoo movement has put an exclamation point on the importance of being able to say “no”. Unfortunately a flat “no” in combination with the all-or-nothing mentality of sex creates a negative cycle in the relationship between the higher-desire and the lower desire partner. The all-or-nothing type of intimacy creates a lot of pressure because if your partner does initiate sex, you can feel trapped feeling there is only a “yes” or “no” option. Either you step on the escalator or you don’t. Many defaults to “no” to any physical intimacy because they aren’t ready at that moment to do the whole shebang of sex and they feel there is no other option. The negative cycle is also perpetuated if your partner asks for sex and you say a flat “no” or shrug it off with your body language because then your partner is hurt from the rejection because there was no recognition of their feelings and they are left in intimacy limbo land.

What is Intimacy Limbo Land?

Intimacy Limbo Land is a place where the availability of intimacy with your partner feels ambiguous, elusive, inconsistent, unreliable and not dependable. A “no” can leave the rejected partner thinking things like “Ok... is it no until tomorrow? No until next week? Next month. Next year? Never!?!? Does she love me?! Am I attractive?!” The rejected mind can escalate rather quickly into feeling that the availability of connection will never happen and that the reason for that rejection is because of a flaw within them. It isn’t that I want to take the “no” away from you, I want you to express it in a way that honors both you and your partner. Saying “no” with a classy twist removes the inaccurate interpretations, removes ambiguity and anxiety of when a physical connection will happen and allows you and your partner to have fun with physical intimacy in a way that is on your terms, not on the terms of all-or-nothing.

Using a Raincheck

When responding to your partner’s initiation for sex you want to first acknowledge their desire to be close to you by thanking them. This ensures that you are honoring where your partner is at and what they are feeling. Then you want to check in with yourself and see where you are at regarding saying yes to physical intimacy. If it’s a yes to their initiation, well then you can both go play. If it’s not a yes, then ask yourself why and let your partner know. This will honor your feelings and it gives you a voice in the negotiation. Then ask yourself what you can say yes to and when. You have options of negotiating a different intimate activity at that moment your partner initiates, to give a rain check to a different time, or rain check both a different activity and a different time.

Negotiating a different activity can be any sort of physical intimacy that doesn’t have to end in penetration or orgasm. Perhaps it’s a yes to a naked massage or making out on the couch. These options for intimacy will be discussed further in my future blog featuring the letter “P”. If it’s a rain check to a different time, you need to make sure that you follow up at the end of the time you said. This means if you say “give me an hour to have some ‘me’ time and then I’ll be ready for intimacy” then by golly at the end of that hour you need to check back in with your partner. This is where you close the loop of the Intimacy Limbo Land and minimize the anxiety of your partner of when they get to be physically close to you and feel your love. When you constantly keep to your word of when you check back in, your partner will begin to learn that your availability is both reliable and dependable. This calms down those anxious thoughts and helps your partner to not keep anxiously reaching out to you.

For specific examples of how to use a rain check for physical intimacy, check out my Free Rain Check Cheat Sheet.

This raincheck is also helpful in other areas of the relationship. For example, if your partner is wanting to hang out and watch a movie, you can also rain check to a different time or negotiate a different activity. Or if your partner is wanting to go eat dinner and directly initiates “I would love to go get dinner with you right now”. You could say yes, or yes but hey can I have 10 minutes to change my outfit and freshen up, or thanks for the dinner invite but I’m not hungry at the moment, I’ll check back in with you in an hour.

Overall I want you to keep it keep it clear, classy and consistent:

Clear: Use your words to respond to your partner’s initiation so it’s clear and not ambiguous

Classy: Don’t just say “no” or “heck no I just got home from work, are you crazy?!”

Consistent: If you raincheck to a different time be consistent in returning to your partner at that time so they aren’t left in limbo.

Key Things to Remember:

  • A love that lasts requires negotiation around intimacy

  • Use clear words for initiating intimacy

  • A straight “no” brings ambiguity and anxiety to your partner

  • A rain check allows for a change in activity or time

  • Keep it clear, classy and consistent