Media Center

How to Tell Your Partner Exactly What You Need

  ·  Refinery29   ·   Link to Article

You’ve heard it so often that it can sound a little annoying, even cliché: The key to a good relationship is communication. But communicating — especially around things you want and need in a relationship — can be easier said than done, especially when it’s with someone you really like, or someone new. You may worry that asking for what you want will make you seem “too needy.” Perhaps you fear that you might offend your partner, and don't want to rock the boat. But on the contrary, people are often attracted to partners who have confidence and speak their minds.

The reality is, if two people aren’t being open and honest with each other, it's not a true relationship — and certainly not one that’s sustainable. Besides, being open with your partner paves the way for your partner to be open with you. And while it might seem a little scary, being open with your partner is likely to bring you closer and build respect. Here’s how to tell your partner what you want, even in some tricky situations.

It’s been a while, and you want to know where the relationship is headed.

There is nothing pushy, high-maintenance, or uncool about wanting to know if the person you’ve been sleeping with is interested in having a relationship, or just a hookup. It is always your right to know. Yet, many women worry that their partner will freak out, lose interest, and maybe even end the relationship if they ask.

But here’s the thing: Asking the question doesn’t fundamentally change your partner’s feelings, or make them like you any less. Or even influence the eventual outcome of your relationship. But it might reveal your partner’s true intentions, and help clarify how you both feel.

So what if you want to be in a relationship, but you’re not sure your partner does? Erin Basler, MEd, brand manager at The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, says you can start by talking about the things you like about your partner, how they make you feel, and why you like spending time with them. Then, you can say something like, “I’ve really been having a lot of fun with you, and there’s just no part of me that is interested in seeing other people. So, where do you see this going?”

You want to use a condom. He doesn’t.

Your RIGHT to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy trumps your partner’s PREFERENCE not to use a condom. Even if you’re on the pill or using another contraceptive, and even if a partner who has a penis says they’re “clean,” you can insist on using condoms. People have a right to protect themselves, and insisting on safer sex is not at all selfish,” says Fred Wyand, the director of communications for the American Sexual Health Association.

If someone you’re seeing is being adamant about not wanting to wrap it up, tell them, “I can’t enjoy sex and relax and have fun unless we use one.” They might counter with, “Well, I can’t enjoy sex if we use one.” But unless they have a latex allergy (in which case you can buy special latex-free condoms) that’s probably not a real excuse.

“There are a lot of reasons guys gripe about condoms — but most of them are bunk,” says Bill Albert, chief program officer at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “On Bedsider we say not all condoms are created equal. If your partner doesn’t like the condoms they’ve tried so far, experiment with different brands, sizes, or types — you can even buy sampler packs — until you find one that feels right.”

At the end of the day, remember condoms can protect both of you. And, insisting on using a condom isn’t about a lack of trust. Many STIs don’t have any signs or symptoms, and most people don’t even know they are infected.

So even if your partner isn’t into condoms, stick to your guns and try out these talking points: 1) Condoms can protect both of us, 2) Condoms can also prevent pregnancy, 3) We can both have peace of mind, and 4) We can enjoy sex more.

If your partner still doesn’t agree, that’s a warning sign that this person doesn’t really care about or respect you. Frankly, you deserve better.

You don't like something your partner is doing in bed.

It’s not “below the belt” to tell your partner about something they’re doing sexually that you’re not into. And you can have a more satisfying sex life if you are honest about what feels good to you. Even if talking about it seems awkward, the payoff is well worth it — think temporary pain for long term gain here. “It’s important to acknowledge the awkwardness and insecurity when having these conversations,” Basler says. “But if you don't explain and ask for what you want, you'll never get it — whatever ‘it’ is.”

It’s almost always a good idea to start the conversation on a positive note. First, explain to your partner what they do that you really like, and then gently tell them what you don’t like. Another option, suggests Basler, is showing instead of telling. “Use your hand to guide his/hers. Let your partner know what feels good, rather than what feels wrong.”

You should also ask your partner what appeals to them, and if they’d like to try something new. It’s all about finding out what feels good and right to you and your partner, at the time.

Remember, a partner should never pressure or force you into having any type of sexual contact that is unwanted or harmful. Forcing you to have sexual contact — without your consent — is a crime. To get help and learn more, you can have an online chat with a specialist at rainn.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

You want to split the cost of contraception, including emergency contraception, with your partner.

If you’re covered by health insurance, many methods of birth control are available for free. And, even if you don’t have insurance, you might still be able to get birth control for free or at a reduced cost. However, in some cases you will have to pay for birth control, condoms, and emergency contraception. If this is the case, you might want to ask your partner to split the cost. Since it takes two to tango, this makes good economic sense, and only seems fair.

“It might seem awkward to bring up splitting contraceptive costs with a partner, but you’re both benefitting from not having a pregnancy before you’re ready, so it’s totally reasonable for both of you to contribute,” Albert says. Chances are, you split many other costs or you take turns paying for things — when you go out to dinner, events, concerts, etc. There is no good reason why the burden of paying for birth control should only fall on your shoulders.

You can ask your partner directly, “Would you be willing to contribute to the cost of my birth control?” Continue by clarifying how much it’s costing you per month, or if it’s emergency contraception or an IUD, how much it costs each time. Then, explain that even though the birth control is going into your body, avoiding a pregnancy is something that you are both heavily invested in — so it makes sense for you both to contribute.

You want your new partner to get tested for STIs.

Asking a new partner to get tested for STIs can be a scary prospect — will they be offended, put off, or think you’re a paranoid freak? “But asking a new partner to get tested doesn't have to be all doom and gloom, accusatory, or invasive,” says Jenelle Marie Davis, founder of TheSTDProject.com and spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com. “It's a way to be proactive about your sexual health and to convey to your partner that you care about them as well.”

The reality is, STIs are extremely common. If you are intimate with someone and share body fluids or have skin-to-skin contact, you can easily get an STI, just like you can easily get the flu or a cold. In fact, 50 percent of sexually active adults will get at least one STI by age 25, and nearly everyone will contract human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point. And the double whammy here, again, is that many people have STIs and don’t even know it, since they often don’t have any signs or symptoms.

When asking your partner to get tested, you can let them know that getting tested has nothing to do with trust. Instead, it has everything to do with simple biology, and with protecting and respecting each other. (Note: If you haven’t recently been tested, you should do it too.) What if your partner refuses? It’s up to you to decide if you’re willing to take risks with your health, and if this one is really right for you.

You know your partner isn’t the one, but you’re having fun for now.

While you’re searching for “Mr. or Mrs. Right,” there’s a good chance that you’re going to stumble upon a few “Mr. or Mrs. Right for Now.” And there’s no shame in that game! But it does get shady if a partner you’re not that into thinks you are really into them — and/or if they’re really into you.

The best way to avoid that type of potentially hurtful misinterpretation is to be upfront. Though your instinct may be that it’s “mean” to tell someone you’re not that serious about them, it’s much better than misleading them. Logan Levkoff, PhD, a sexuality and relationship educator, suggests saying something like this: “I really like hanging with you. But I want to be open with you that I'm not interested in anything long term right now. If what we’re doing is ever not fun for you, or if you want something more serious, be upfront with me about that.”

Communicating your needs to your partner is a must to have a happy and healthy relationship (and we mean relationship in all senses of the word here, even if it’s casual). Of course, good communication also means listening to your partner’s needs as well, whether it’s what they want in bed or the kind of relationship they’re looking for. At the end of the day, communication is a two-way street. The tricky part is balancing the needs of two people, and knowing when to compromise and when to stick to your guns. And pro tip here — if it’s a matter of your physical and emotion

More NCSH in the News

Media Inquiries

For general media inquiries or to schedule an interview with an expert, please contact: Susan Gilbert, NCSH Communications Director, susan.gilbert@altarum.org

It’s about honesty. It’s about knowledge. It’s about time.