We were recently asked, “Any advice on getting your spouse to open up about their fantasies when they claim they have none?”
I can definitely relate to this question, there was a time when we weren’t able to clearly communicated desire, Aubrey didn’t express hers, and I had a difficult time eliciting them. At one point I actually didn’t think she had them, I think even she was in denial about some of them. Discussing sexual desire can be a touchy subject, but extremely rewarding with the right mindset.
I’m no expert, but I am happy to share my experience and what worked for us. I’ve always been an extremely sexual being and I remember feeling like it was hopeless to get Aubrey on the same page. No matter how much I prompted her, conversations surrounding sex and desire always felt foreign and uncomfortable to talk about. We were both afraid to trigger the other person by saying something that couldn’t be unsaid. Exploring your partner’s sexual desires can be a tricky hurdle, but once it’s overcome, extremely rewarding.
I think that’s at the root of most misunderstanding and communication on this topic. Nobody wants to say something that will impact the other person for life, something that can’t be taken back and will cause trauma for years to come. What a horrible feeling to have! But there’s hope I promise, because once I realized the fear was based in miscommunication, it was simply a matter of creating a safe space for discussion to happen so neither of us would fear reaction if something wasn’t clearly articulated. By creating a “safe space”, I mean prefacing a conversation with a conversation. Talk to each other and lay the ground work with something like this:
“I love you, there are things I want to discuss related to our intimacy and sex but I’m afraid of a negative reaction. I don’t assume you’ll have one, but I’m afraid that if you do, I won’t be able to take it back. I want you to know I’d never intentionally hurt your feelings. The things I want to talk about are because I want to know you better, to know your desires and the naughty thoughts that bounce around in your head. I want to continue falling deeper in love with you and to do all the things that make you happy. I want to live a happy and full life where you can experience the fantasies in your mind. To do this, I’d like if we could have a safe place we can converse about intimacy and sex with complete honesty. If I say something you take offense to, please give me an opportunity to explain where my thought came from. I’m not looking to place blame for any problems we may have and I recognize I’m just as responsible for our sexual relationship as you. I want you to have the freedom to tell me what you like and don’t like. I won’t take anything personal or respond with a negative reaction because I also know you don’t want to hurt or blame me for anything. I want to work together to make it even better than it already is.”
Once you have a foundation laid where both parties feel they can actually engage in an honest conversation, take it for a test run! Remember though, you WILL hear things you don’t like. Your ego and pride will be tested. It’s important to remember, they are telling you things because they trust you and want things to get even better. So if your feelings are hurt, simply express that, and ask for more explanation or acknowledge the way they feel and tell him/her you will do better, and then put action behind your words.
Once I knew we had a safe space to talk, I began playing with it. I’d ask her which category she’d click on if she were looking at porn. Sometimes it’s hard for a person to explicitly say what they want, but if they are given an opportunity to speak from a different perspective, they find the ability. For example, I knew Aubrey would have a hard time saying, “The idea of being with a woman excites me” However; it was easier for her to tell me she’d probably click on a girl on girl category of porn. It was a way of letting me know her mind goes there, but she’s unsure if she’d want her body to. Just knowing that was a desire in her thoughts was an insane turn on for me though, so I’d express that. More so because of the fact that she opened up and allowed me into a place in her mind nobody else had been. Then we’d actually watch porn together, she would “drive” and it was really fun for me to watch her navigate the categories, video titles, etc. I know the way my mind works and the things that turn me on, and I thought I knew what turned her on, but I had only scratched the surface! We’d watch whatever she chose, get all hot and bothered, and move that ecstasy to the bedroom… or sometimes wherever we happened to be standing. For those of you that have a moral issue with watching porn, I hear you. I was raised with Christian beliefs and taught it was sin to engage in the desires of the flesh. My beliefs in this arena have changed over time and I no longer feel this way, but I certainly understand why this could be problematic for some that haven’t allowed themselves that freedom. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways to attack this issue without compromising your moral or religious views, keep reading.
Another game I liked to play was one we call Celebrity Island. I’d ask her what three celebrities she’d want on her island if she had to be there forever. The caveat was she could only pick them for sexual reasons. Will Ferrell, you’re hilarious, but I don’t want to imagine you naked with my wife. Sorry not sorry. It was fun for her to imagine sex in an open discussion with me about her celebrity crushes. If you think they aren’t already playing this game with their friends, you’re sorely mistaken. You may as well join the fun and learn a little more about what makes your spouse tick.
Once we could play Celebrity Island and not worry about reactions, I began changing the game a bit. I’d ask, “If you could sleep with anyone you know, who would it be? “Whoa!!! Slow down buddy, now it’s getting real!” Again, if you think your spouse hasn’t already wondered what sex with someone else is like, probably someone you know, you’re mistaken. We all do it! We’ve been trained to think it’s wrong, but it’s part of being human and trying to turn that off is like going to battle with an instinct that’s as old as time, good luck with that one.
She approached this much more cautiously because she was afraid this would change the way I would feel when she was around whoever she named. I knew it was important to show her I trusted her. In fact, the more trust you show, the more confidence you’ll earn. Just because she said it would be fun to have a roll in the hay with Joe Schmoe, didn’t mean I’d be insecure about it, I knew she would never act on something without telling me. I also lowered my walls and released possession over her actions by telling her if there was something she really wanted, I’d support it. Don’t get your mind wrapped around the axle on this, it’s a harmless game and even if you aren’t interested in opening your marriage to the idea of others, it’s an exercise is having an honest conversation. Each time you’re able to have a discussion like this and walk away with more understanding, your overall communication will improve and you’ll have new insight into the desires of your partner. Remember, it’s just a game! Nobody will actually take action unless that’s the direction you choose to go.
Explore the many kinks that are out there together. I don’t necessarily mean to say you should engage in them. But have a conversation for crying out loud! People have so many different kinks and finding out what they are is amazing. You may be thinking to yourself, “Ya I don’t really have those, I’m a pretty traditional sex kind of person” I’d be willing to bet that just means you haven’t discovered yours yet, it’s out there. Whether it’s role play, dressing up, involving others, foot fetishes, Dom/sub, etc. It doesn’t hurt to have a conversation on them and who knows, you just may learn something about your partner. Maybe this is all foreign to you; maybe you haven’t even researched what kinks are out there. Do some homework! Jump online and start doing some research on what turns other people on. Make a list of ideas and run them past your spouse. If any of them sound fun, put action to it.
Remember to be objective and not exhibit negative energy towards any of the kinks your partner may have. After all, the idea is to have a safe space free of judgment from the person that matters most in your life. If you have a negative opinion about something or a poor response, they will begin building walls and inevitably become more withdrawn. We’re all varying degrees of “weird”, the sooner you accept it and embrace it, the more inner peace you’ll find.
Lastly, just as important as having a conversation about laying a safe foundation, it’s important to discuss disagreements BEFORE THEY HAPPEN! You heard right, I’m saying you should talk about the way you fight, before you fight. It’s inevitable, you’re going to get upset, or your partner is. You’re talking about a very volatile subject, accept that and realize that you’re going to be fine as long as you work towards understanding. Come up with a plan to address a disagreement before it happens. Then when it does, it’s almost kind of funny. Try to have the wherewithal in the moment to say, “Hey, we’re having a disagreement, let’s try and integrate some of the things we discussed” Aubs and I spend quite a bit of time talking about arguing when we aren’t arguing. Those test runs when our emotions aren’t on the fritz make it easier to overcome when it’s game day.
Remember to take a pause at the end of these conversations (whether or not you feel it was productive at the time) and congratulate yourselves on the ability to have a conversation many can’t. Find victories to celebrate. Even if you have a difficult conversation that feels like a fight or argument, it’s only a loss if you abruptly end the conversation and don’t acknowledge that even the fact you had the conversation to begin with is a win.
If you’re the person in your relationship initiating these dialogues, don’t be in a hurry for answers. Chances are you’ve been dwelling on this topic in your mind for a long time. You’ve put a ton of thought into it, try to recognize your partner probably hasn’t. Don’t expect an answer immediately. If he/she becomes upset, simply hit the pause button, ask them to spend some time thinking on it, and tell them you’d like to revisit the topic in a specified amount of time. I think it’s important to explicitly define a time frame because if you leave it up in the air with a , “let’s revisit this later”, you essentially just set yourself back to the beginning and re-opening the topic for discussion will take courage. Rather, prime your next conversation by asking them how much time they’d like to think on it before resuming your chat. This shows your partner it is important to you, you have an expectation they take it seriously, and puts them at ease knowing they have time to consider your thoughts.
You’re together for a reason; you’ve probably experienced pain, loss, and trauma together already. You should be able to have an honest conversation about sex without fearing it will unravel your relationship. It may be uncomfortable at first, but trust me, once you dive into it and experience that complete transparency with one another on a level you may have never experienced, you’re going to be hooked because it feels amazing.
I’d strongly urge any couple looking to dive into discussing sexual desires to take a day off and set aside some time together without interruptions. Wipe the calendar of any plans for one whole day, get a sitter if need be, and spend some time being present with one another where you have plenty of uninterrupted time to bond.
The most difficult part of introducing fantasy talk into a marriage is the changing of old habits and breaking through comfort zones that are deeply rooted in long term relationships. Folks in new relationships ought to start those conversations at the beginning, so it doesn’t end up being a sticky subject later. When these types of conversations aren’t normalized in the beginning, it can feel like they are fixes to problems when they come up, which can stifle the excitement.
I think we can identify very closely with this question, as it’s exactly what began the busting down of walls we had up. When I met Jason, I had previously been a serial monogamist. Sure, I was sexually active and felt very open in my core, but was very nervous to talk about or suggest anything that seemed out of the norm. My previous relationships didn’t operate under honesty in many areas, including talk about desires. The person who lived in my head wasn’t truly let out until we started to talk about fantasies. It was a slow movement, which has helped me.
Jason and I are very different people. We are polar opposites, in fact. He tends to identify an interest, sets a path, and tackles it head on. I weigh options, analyze, and consider possible outcomes before moving forward. He helps teach me to be bold, take calculated risks and trust myself. I help teach him to consider possibilities and slow down to enjoy the moment. It was the implementation of his fearlessness in moving us into a more communitive space that allowed for the conversation to start.
It started with various hypotheticals that would get my gears spinning. I would answer but it took me a while before I truly felt safe enough to share openly. I dissected his reasoning at times. “Is he trying to uncover something?” “Is he hoping I want these things in effort to do whatever he wants?” “Why do we have to go down this road to find satisfaction?” At first I was so fearful of where this conversation would take us, so I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted to protect us. My upbringing and faith told me this is a no-no. However, my humanity and sexuality wanted to go there. I started to trust his intentions and saw a shift in how I received his hypotheticals. He tried to make it fun and I wanted to join him in that. I started to answer my own questions with a different frame of mind. “Is he trying to uncover something?” Yes. He wants to uncover everything. He wants to know me, all of me. “Is he hoping I want these things in effort to do what he wants?” Yes. He is hoping we can share our innermost feelings and desires and through that process live a life that feels free and honest for us both. “Why do we have to go down this road to find satisfaction?” Neither of us were completely satisfied and we both knew going down this road held the answers. He was the one who made the tough decision to take us there. Who knows where we would be now if we hadn’t learned how to open up completely to each other. I kept a lot of myself private and was riddled with guilt as a result. The things that once made me feel guilty and fearful are now part of the norm for me.
Through the process, I found my sexual identity and have put most of my insecurities to bed. I live in fear of very little these days. I commend Jason, regularly, for taking the risk to open the floodgates for us. He had a lot to lose and for all he knew, I very well could have hated him for even putting these topics on the table. He was very careful in his pursuit to open up. He would bring things up intermittently, so it allowed me to digest and think and respond in time. I didn’t feel pressure to answer right away or make things happen. He simply planted seeds, helped water them and watched them grow. In hindsight, I have so much admiration for his tactfulness and ability to make me feel safe. He created a dynamic where I felt his protection over my feelings and desires, which allowed me to break free of judgment and misunderstandings.
It’s difficult for me to identify with the side of the equation as the person who wants to start the conversation. I can only give my thoughts on what worked for us. If I were to sit down with various couples, prompted with this question, and had to give advice, here would be some things I would consider mentioning:
-Ask yourself what your ideal outcome would be before starting the conversation. Then, consider all the possibilities. Being that you are the driving force, your spouse will likely be reactive in some way and you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of what your intentions are. She/he will be paying attention to your confidence and body language. The more comfortable you are, the kinder you are and the more understanding you have, the easier it will be for him/her. Try to stay away from blame or past disappointments. You can likely talk more openly about these things once you’re communicating differently. In fact, you’ll probably revel in the opportunity to make amends and show understanding, eventually. Hopefully your spouse will be excited by your leadership but be sure to read their signs if they have had enough. Pump the brakes and ask to revisit when they’re ready. Then follow up. Don’t let them off the hook. Deep down, they want to talk.
-Enjoy the process and try not to focus on an end result. There is no end result. It is a journey you are about to embark on together, regardless of where it leads. The fact that you are in a place where you WANT to talk and learn about and possibly act on desires is already a monumental step in a marriage.
-Get creative and keep it fun! It’s likely your significant other is afraid to talk about their thoughts, so create some for them. Maybe he/she has no fantasies at the moment, but it’s likely they don’t know how to anymore. Turn that switch back on for them. If it starts feeling too heavy, lighten it up with some humor.
-Understand that your spouse WILL see this conversation as a failure at first, and try to remind them that’s not where it stems from. Remind them it’s rooted in love and partnership. You could be talking to someone “you shouldn’t be” about these thoughts and questions but chose to share with the person you love the most. Remind them it’s about growing your bond.
-Any time you feel a “win” in the conversation, praise yourselves. Praise him/her for their willingness to join you. Praise yourself for taking this step in effort to take each other places you’ve never been. Feed positivity into your relationship as much as you possibly can. Don’t forget this relationship needs nourishment, constantly. It feels really good to fall in love like this.
There’s nothing wrong with having thoughts. It makes you human. To have thoughts that include your spouse means you adore them and crave their essence. To share those thoughts should be a joyful growth opportunity. If your intention lies in that growth, you may be surprised at the reactions you may get. I wish you good luck and great sex!
We enjoy discussing sexual desire and all the topics related to our open marriage. Be sure to take a peek at our Open Relationship Q&A