Q: I don’t dig ultimatums, but what would you generally advise to a person that is monogamous, but has a partner that is not satisfying their sexual needs?

A:  The following all presumes that the relationship is pretty good to begin with. This is a big assumption — many relationships are shitty.

It’s pretty simple – you have to figure out how important it is for you to be satisfied in that way and weigh that in the full context of your life. If they’re seeking counseling BECAUSE of that, then odds are pretty good it’s a big fat hairy deal, and they’re really unhappy (since everyone’s busy enough that very few come to therapy for that final 5% self-actualization hurrah, although some do). Sometimes though, they’re perseverating on something that’s not a big deal (perfectionist patterns rather than true need), and things can resolve well with just a bit of reframing and putting the issue into context. People compromise all the time on stuff that’s not a huge deal.

But at that point, if they’ve decided that they can’t just let the desire go because it matters in a deep way, it’s best that they tell their partner if they haven’t already – typically there will be some practice/roleplaying on how to frame that as a preparatory measure for the tough conversations. Sometimes the partner actually comes in as part of a session (although this is risky, and many will feel ambushed and cornered by this) .

What’s important is that the conversation doesn’t start from an ultimatum place, a partner needs to be engaged in the issue, needs time to process. A lot of times, they WILL come from a place of defensiveness, and honestly, most of them will stick to their guns — there’s usually a reason they’re not doing whatever it is and often this is not easily changed. Actually, change shouldn’t even be the aim of the partner doing the informing — informing is the goal. If the partner is going to change, they have to want to change and be an active part of that process.

Something like non-monogamy is part of the negotiation phase — not part of the informing phase. You never open with the proposed solutions before your partner has a chance to digest the problem.

If they’re not down for it, ending the relationship is also an option. Honestly, I don’t think people should bring up gut-wrenching stuff that will turn things upside down unless they’re prepared for it to go that route. But starting out there? Starting at an ultimatum? You’re basically guaranteed to fail — psychological reactance kicks in when someone’s trying to force you into a corner.

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