A long time ago my mother once told me that a good relationship means never having to compromise. I didn’t believe her, and in fact thought she was rather batty. I still think she was pretty batty, but I now must definitely agree with her statement. A compromise, to me, means that each side is giving something up, whether they like it or not. Saying things like “That’s just the way it is” “Because I say so” “I’m important to you, right?” or “If you really cared you would…” stinks of compromising positions, and NOT the fun kind! In the end, neither party is really happy, and neither party is actually communicating, nor negotiating.

Because, negotiation IS communication. One doesn’t work without the other. If you can’t communicate with a partner, you can’t negotiate with her. A lot of trust is needed here. You need to trust yourself and your partner. You need to be honest and up-front. This doesn’t mean you need to be rude or nasty. And, if you have a partner you CAN’T be honest with, start questioning why you are with him. (And if I hear you say “But I love him!” I’ll scream. Love IS trust and trust IS honesty.)

Start with little things, because the little things do matter. If she leaves the cap off the toothpaste and you really need that cap back on every time, say something. Here’s the trick — say it nicely and constructively using that Psych 101 idea called “I messages.” For example, “Honey, I really need the cap to be on the toothpaste. It gives me structure and makes me feel comfortable in my surroundings. Next time, please try to replace the cap.” Okay, that’s hokey, but good!

So, you ask, what happens when she STILL won’t replace the %#!@* cap on the toothpaste? Do it yourself! If it is THAT important to you, just do it yourself. And, if it IS making you angry, study that awhile. Do you REALLY care about that cap, or is something else bugging you and you’re choosing this insignificant thing to hinge all of your anger and frustration on?!? (Whew! Almost lost it there.)

I hope you get my point, though. You NEED to talk with your partner, about everything! Toothpaste, baseball, gardening, the monthly book club…. oh! And sex! You definitely need to talk about sex.

Sex is a tricky topic for most folks. Shouldn’t be, but many of us were raised in very restrictive households where sex wasn’t discussed in detail much less acknowledged. We aren’t taught as young adults how to communicate with a partner, or even how to develop a good relationship with a partner. This is a skill that can be learned, and should be learned. I know I would have avoided many unhealthy and unhappy relationships if I had only known how to communicate my needs and wants AND if I knew that I could NEGOTIATE the limits and boundaries of the relationship.

When talking about sex with your partner, timing is essential. Try not to bring it up right before bedtime, right before a big meeting, right before you sit down to dinner with the in-laws… I think you get my drift. Also, DO NOT discuss how the sex was (unless you are giving POSITIVE reviews) RIGHT AFTER YOU FINISH! Especially if this is someone you love and want to have sex with again. Sexual critique is best left to more casual times — a lunch together, while you’re doing housework together, instead of watching television. Again, if you need to communicate “That thing you did last night really didn’t work for me” try to find a more constructive “I” message like “After thinking about it today I’m realizing that I was uncomfortable with the position we were in last night. Maybe we could try something else tonight?”

When communicating your sexual needs it is always helpful to be as clear as possible. “You should just know!” should never cross your lips. Talk candidly and openly. I have yet to meet someone who was turned off by her partner’s descriptions of what really works her. Demostrate if necessary. If this kind of in-depth communication isn’t working for your partner, there are probably other issues at play that need to be discussed and dealt with.

So, you’ve talked with your partner about what works for you AND what doesn’t work for you. A wise gal I know instructs folks to make sure they add “at this time” to the end of any statement about your sexual (or really any) interests. Like, “I am not into anal sex, at this time” or “I really enjoy spanking, at this time.” Let’s face it, our interests and tastes change. Allow room for yours to change and grow, for yourself and your relationships.

Hopefully, your partner has also communicated his interests and needs. So now you two have these two lists of things: What I like now/ What I do not like now. Be creative. Be willing to think beyond your direct experience. Now what? (If you want some ideas of what could be on a list like this, send me an email!)

NEGOTIATE! Check one another’s lists. Are there items that are the same or similar? Make sure you’re using similar language. If you’re not sure about something, ask. Explain to one another what you mean when you say something like “I like rough sex.” When we talk about this in the panel presentations, younger folks tend to see this process as boring and removing the spontaneity. Really, this discussion alone can be VERY hot. And, leads to a lot of GREAT spontaneity later, without nearly as many regrets as hiring that stripper for his birthday when what he really wanted was to see YOU strip!

As we continue to negotiate we will come across those items that just DON’T work for us. A partner will be interested in something that we just couldn’t care less about, or that we feel squeamish, freaky, or disgusted by. This is okay, but be nice! Don’t say “Oh my God! You’re into THAT! EW!” Not hot. And not good communication. Don’t expect your partner to like everything you do, and vice versa. NO ONE is going to be a perfect match for you all the time. (Personally, it is one of the reasons I advocate polyamory, but this can work in monogamous relationships as well.) SET BOUNDARIES! It is okay, and really preferrable, that BEFORE having sex you discuss what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t like oral sex and he’s headed that way during a sexual encounter, wouldn’t it be better to have discussed this ahead of time? Maybe those boundaries will sync up okay. Maybe the things each of you dislikes about the other’s interests is not that big of a deal. Maybe some of those items need to be tabled until a later discussion. Maybe you are curious about some of them, but need some time to think about it first. And, maybe, when actually discussing your sexual interests, you find you’re really not that compatible after all. If you were going for a long-term relationship and you have this discussion early on, you may save each of you some heartache if you come across items that are NOT negotiable, and NOT going to work for both of you. This is the hard part, but honesty is really necessary here. And especially in the U.S. in 2008, there is NO good reason to stay in a long-term relationship with someone you are not sexually compatible with. You will both be miserable.

To end on a high note, try some negotiating with your partner. See how things go. You might actually find that you have more in common than you thought, and create a whole list of fun things you want to try together! (BTW, after 13 years in a relationship, we STILL negotiate. And it’s fabulous!)