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The following is an excerpt from the book Wake Up or Break Up
by Leonard Felder, Ph.D.
Published by Rodale; 2005;$24.95US/$35.95CAN; 1-59486-072-6
Copyright 2005 Leonard Felder, Ph.D.

Smooth Out the Initiation of Intimacy

I conclude with two additional fine points of lovemaking that I've seen help shift couples from a so-so to a spectacular love life. The first is something that I often hear good and decent men wish could be improved about their relationships. As most men and some women have explained to me in counseling sessions, "It's difficult to always be the one to do the initiating. It's frustrating to be the one who gets turned down time after time, but when I ask my partner if she would be willing to take the risk and initiate sex once in a while, she rarely does."

When it comes to your own relationship, is there one partner -- male or female -- who usually does the initiating or the asking, or who makes the risky first move? Has the situation become so one-sided that one of you has started to get resentful?

What I recommend is not to fight or bicker about this imbalance, but to have a creative and non-attacking conversation instead. A relaxed and playful talk about how to bring more mutuality and teamwork to your love life is bound to be more effective than a rant or a tirade. The best solution I've seen is to set aside twenty minutes on a good day or night every few months to clarify:

  • What are some of the subtle or obvious clues that your partner is comfortable giving you which would let you know ahead of time that he or she is sufficiently interested and will probably say yes?
  • What are clues that your partner is willing to give you that he or she is a definite no for today or tonight?
  • What are the clues your partner tends to give you that he or she is possibly interested, if you coax gently or warm him or her up?

Admitting to each other in a relaxed and nonjudgmental conversation how to read each other's clues is essential if you want to break out of the rut of "I always initiate and you don't" that happens in many relationships.

"I Don't Like to Come Out and Say, 'I'm in the Mood!'"

One of the couples I counseled recently are Brenda and Stephen, who have been together for almost ten years. They've watched their sex life change from hot and sweaty before they had children to "he's still asking but she's almost never saying yes" for the past two years.

When Brenda and Stephen took a romantic walk along a hillside trail near their home and admitted to each other what clues they each tend to send out that tonight might be yes, no, or maybe, they were each amazed at how often they hadn't known what to look for from their long-time partner.

Stephen was surprised to find out that Brenda often put her hand softly and lovingly on top of his hand at dinner on nights when she was feeling a little bit affectionate and was hoping he'd coax her with a first move and a gradually accelerating intimacy. Stephen commented, "I was so surprised to hear that this was one of Brenda's major clues that she might be feeling amorous. I always thought when she put her hand on my hand it meant she wanted me to stop talking or to lower my voice in the restaurant."

Brenda explained, "I don't actually want Stephen to have to be the initiator all the time. That's not fair to him and I wouldn't want to be in his shoes having to get turned down so many times. Yet I'll be honest -- I don't envision a time when I'll be the vocal, uninhibited partner who says, 'Hey baby, let's get it on.' That's just not my style. However, I will continue to send out signals and now I'll even let Stephen know ahead of time which signals mean yes, no, or maybe if you gently get me warmed up."

As a therapist I have heard about similar conversations where the partner who usually doesn't initiate does in fact reveal in these heart-to-heart talks the subtle clues that tonight might be a good night for affection. Some women put on a special piece of clothing or lingerie that signals, "Try me tonight -- the stars and the moon are in alignment." Other women and some men say they tend to make especially strong eye contact or they brush up gently against their partner once or twice to signal, "I'm waiting for you to make a move in response."

One woman said, "I don't like to come out and say, 'I'm in the mood!' but it's not hard to read my number one clue that I'm starting to feel a bit amorous. I usually walk up to my partner when he's doing something in the kitchen, the living room, or the bathroom. I gently brush my breasts against his back and wait to see if that gets his attention. What I didn't realize is that my partner has been told no so many times by me on the nights I'm not in the mood that he didn't understand the breasts against the back actually means it's safe again to ask. If we hadn't had this twenty-minute heart-to-heart conversation to clarify the clues, I think I'd still be sending out my signal and he'd still be assuming I'm not interested. Now he knows that when he feels my softness brushing up against his back or he sees me stroking his arm while he's talking, it means the odds are in his favor and he better make a move before the winds change direction."

This question of who initiates and who doesn't may seem inconsequential, but it's not. If year after year there is one partner who gets rejected often and isn't sure what might lead to a yes, then there will eventually be some escalating emotional distance and resentment in the relationship. On the other hand, if you and your partner can give each other a few clues that reveal when you would like to be coaxed into lovemaking (and when you don't want to be coaxed), you will prevent a lot of disappointing moments and hurt feelings. All it takes are a few playful conversations that clarify, "Here's my way of expressing my sensuality without having to blurt it out." Then enjoy the resulting intimacy.

What About the Afterglow?

There's one final important choreography issue that has helped hundreds of long-term couples feel more loving, passionate, and satisfied with each other year after year. For many couples, there is a huge difference between a good relationship and a great relationship, depending on how you each handle the afterglow -- the quiet, vulnerable moments of connection and bonding that happen (or fail to happen) right after the two of you have reached orgasm or completed your lovemaking.

With your current partner, does that tend to be a moment when the two of you feel extremely close and at peace with the world? Or does your lovemaking frequently end with one of you drifting quickly off to sleep, or one of you taking a phone call, or one of you getting swept away by thoughts about work, money, stressful topics, the kids, sports scores, or domestic chores?

Instead of having one partner longing for closeness while the other partner has gone on to other things, are there alternatives that might help each of you get what you need during the afterglow? Here are a few ideas from my counseling clients. Talk these over with your partner and see which feel right for you and your particular style of post-orgasmic connecting:

  • A heterosexual couple told me they like to "spoon" after making love.
  • Another heterosexual couple said they usually have only a few minutes after lovemaking until one of them falls asleep, so they maximize these few minutes by making sure they gently kiss each other several times. Sometimes they talk briefly about how grateful they are for the caring, the passion, and the warmth of their lovemaking.
  • A lesbian couple told me they feel like the best of teammates at these times.
  • A gay male couple told me they prefer silence after lovemaking, and to drift back into the everyday world slowly without words.
  • One heterosexual couple included a male partner who simply couldn't stop himself from falling asleep immediately after climaxing. His partner said she often felt "lonely" and "abandoned" at those moments. So her partner offered to give her something the day after they'd made love, such as a flower, piece of chocolate, romantic note of gratitude, or warm morning kiss, to make sure she knew that he truly did care about their intimate moments.
  • Finally, another couple told me they have very active young children who sometimes pound on the locked bedroom door moments after the parents are done making love. According to this couple, "At that moment when we hear the insistent shrieks and fists of our beloved younger child, we look at each other and smile. We're like co-conspirators enjoying the fact that we had some great sex without getting caught. Then we put some clothes on and quickly open the door to hug our insistent child."
Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity and innovation to come up with an afterglow style that works for both partners in a particular situation. Don't judge or attack your partner for needing to sleep after lovemaking or for starting to think about work, food, finances, or the kids. Simply explore with your partner, "What can we do to prolong the closeness and warmth just a few moments more? Can we find a way to give each other reminders of our affection and our appreciation for one another before we move on to our responsibilities?"

As a leaf falling into a pond sends out hundreds of small ripples, so the smallest gestures of caring right after lovemaking can send reminders of your love into your hearts and strengthen your closeness in the hours and days ahead. The beauty of the afterglow of making love is that you can look into each other's eyes for a moment and realize how miraculous it is that you have found someone to love and someone to share life with. Even if you have very stressful lives, those few moments together can become a peaceful sanctuary that revives and renews the two of you.

Reprinted from: Wake Up or Break Up;Copyright 2005 Leonard Felder, Ph.D.  Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at