There is nothing more fundamental to a good relationship, and therefore to a good sex life, than communication.
It is absolutely, categorically, completely and utterly vital.
It would be nice to think that after years together you might have developed an “unspoken understanding” but don’t count on it. The number of times I’ve heard clients complain about their partners, and when I ask: “Have you told them?”, the answer is along the lines of: “No/There’s no point/They should know” and so forth.
Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact but true - humans are not mind readers. You do actually have to speak to each other. And that also means listening to each other. And clarifying that this speaking and listening has in fact resulted in mutual understanding.
Communication is an art.
Because humans aren’t mind readers, we do actually have to speak to each other to communicate what we feel and want. Of course body language and gesture are elements of communication too. But it’s actually the faculty of speech that has enabled us to come down out of the trees and become such a successful species. It was speech that enabled early humans to cooperate and progress. It’s still just as important in modern society, particularly in the most fundamental human grouping of all, the family.
You can’t just “expect” your partner to know what you want. Even if you think they should (that dreadful word again). Just because something is blindingly obvious to you, doesn’t mean it’s blindingly obvious to your partner. You can’t assume anything. You have to speak so you are both clear about what’s going on. Whether it’s logistical matters or something more emotional, you must speak. Silence does not achieve anything.
But neither does nastiness. You do actually want your partner to listen to what you say, and they’re not going to if you’re sarcastic and condescending, if you appear to be blaming them, or if are judging them and finding them wanting. At best they’ll just tune out and ignore you; at worst they will become defensive, and once the listener becomes defensive, you’ve lost them. You might even have a full-scale fight on your hands.
It doesn’t matter how correct or right your content is, if it’s presented in a negative tone, your partner will respond to the tone rather than the content. And that is not going to get you the result you want.
You have to speak respectfully to each other. I don’t mean formally, I simply mean: appreciating the other person’s point of view, respecting that none of us is perfect, that we may not be making ourselves clear despite our best intentions, and that the listener is not ‘wrong’. Speak clearly, factually and honestly. And keep it light, practice using humor to get your point across. Gentle, light-hearted ribbing is much more effective than outright criticism:
What you say is one part of the communication process, and of course it’s a very important part. But it’s what they understand that counts. So even if you think you have been clear and succinct and got your message across well, you still have to make sure your partner understands what you’re saying. So much misunderstanding occurs when one person thinks they understand what the other is saying, but doesn’t. And then blame starts happening - “I told you …” and “No, you didn’t, you said …”, “No I didn’t, you weren’t listening…”, etc., etc.
Well, chances are you did say and your partner was listening, but for whatever reason, mutual understanding didn’t occur. So check to make sure.
Listening is obviously just as important as speaking, and the skill is similar. Listen without judgment, with respect for the other person’s feelings and opinions.
And if your partner is bringing up something about you, make sure you don’t immediately become defensive. If there’s something that’s troubling your partner, listen carefully and objectively, even if their trouble is you, so that you can understand their issue and that way do something about it.
And even if they’re not doing a very good job of communicating, if they do seem to be blaming you, or if they’re being cutting and sarcastic, there’s no need for you to take it personally (hard as that may be). Do try to stay calm and objective so that you can get to the heart of the issue, rather than letting it get emotional and escalate out of hand.
Sometimes your partner will just want to let off a bit of steam, to express how they’re feeling. You don’t necessarily have to solve the problem; sometimes just sympathetic listening is enough. But if a solution is required, then work towards it.
And be sure that you have understood what they’re saying by repeating back what you think they’re conveying. Don’t assume you understand what they’re saying even if you’ve listened well. Some things are difficult to convey, and some people just aren’t very good at expressing themselves.