Thanks for reading Can We Talk? a sex and relationships column that aims to tackle the burning questions about sex, dating, relationships, and breakups that you’re too afraid to ask your partner — or maybe even your besties. Today, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, hears from three Refinery29 readers about the questions they were scared to ask their partners (and how it went if they finally got up the courage to inquire).
S. Lucia Kanter St. Amour, 52
It wasn't until recently that S. Lucia Kanter St. Amour worked up the courage to tell her spouse she wasn’t sure monogamy was a stable structure.
"It had been on my mind for a few years — and I realised I had questioned it earlier in life, too — and I worried that if I brought it up, he’d think I was questioning our marriage and that I didn’t want to be with him. But I finally did. I proposed to him that polyamory could be an option to consider that might, counter-intuitively, provide more stability to the primary relationship."
Kanter St. Amour says her spouse was initially a little shocked and even worried, but, once he understood where she was coming from, "it opened up a whole new universe of conversations and connection" for the pair. "We discovered that there had been a lot that had gone unsaid in our relationship for 14 years," she adds.
Although she was initially scared to bring it up and sat on her question for a while (while also doing her own research on the topic), she's glad she brought it up. "How many more people are not saying what they want because it would rock the boat? But in the meantime, it's hurting them?" she asks. "For me, it was like, if I don't say something, I might do something crazy or become resentful. Of course, you're worried about how the other person will respond. What if they say it's over? You don't want to upset the apple cart, but you pay the price for not bringing it up too."
Kanter St. Amour adds that her professional expertise in negotiations as a VP helped her be brave enough to ask the questions. For those who don't have as much experience and are more conflict-averse, she recommends doing some homework, having a practice conversation with someone you trust, assessing the risks of you asking provocative questions, and jotting down what might happen if you ask (and what would happen if you don't).
"There are everyday negotiations in our lives for all of us," she says. "We negotiate with ourselves, in our relationships, with our toddlers, with our kids’ schools, in our workplaces. We even negotiate the status quo of societal norms — and should be! Asking questions is a key everyday negotiation skill. It can be daunting but it's usually going to benefit you to ask the hard questions and be open to negotiating and talking about the things you want and need. It's okay to want things."
After her talk with her husband, Kanter St. Amour says she felt mostly relieved. As for where the question led: "We're just excited to play and talk in new ways. Right now, we talk for hours in ways we never did before. We'll see what's next."
Jazmine was interested in finding a sugar daddy or sugar mummy outside her relationship but had no idea how to tell her partner of two years.
"Where we are, you might be judged really badly for wanting that," she says. "People will say all you care about is the money if you want to pursue this line of thought… But it's not about money, just the aspect of dating someone older and more sure. I want to explore everything, and I feel like I should just get out of my system."
Beyond societal stigma in her community, Jazmine was very worried about how her partner would react if she expressed she was curious about exploring the possibility of a sugar daddy or mummy arrangement. "I found myself gripped by a sense of fear and apprehension," she reflects. "It was a delicate and potentially controversial topic to broach, especially within the context of our relationship… I was concerned that they might perceive my desire for such an arrangement as a reflection of financial need or dependency, rather than as a desire to explore alternative relationship dynamics.”
Along with nervousness about the implications of discussing her question openly, a part of Jazmine also felt excited about what could happen. Finally, despite her reservations, she mustered the courage and asked. "I also worried about the potential strain it could place on our relationship if my partner didn't share my curiosity," she says of what helped her finally bring up the question.
"It was a moment of vulnerability for me, as I shared my thoughts and desires, hoping for understanding and acceptance," Jazmine remembers. "However, the response I received was unexpected. Instead of engaging in a meaningful dialogue, my partner responded with silence. The silence became deafening and strained our connection. It became evident that this was a subject they were unwilling or unable to discuss. Over time, the unspoken tension grew, eventually leading to the deterioration of our relationship and ultimately resulting in a breakup."
Although it didn't work out the way she'd hoped, Jazmine did learn about herself in the process, and isn't sorry she asked (at least not now that she's had some distance from the situation).
"This experience taught me the importance of open communication and the potential consequences of unaddressed taboos in relationships," she says. "It highlighted how societal norms and ingrained shame can hinder our ability to explore our desires and have honest conversations with our partners… it served as a valuable lesson in understanding the importance of shared values and the willingness to engage in difficult discussions as a means of maintaining healthy and open relationships."
Jazmine says, after this experience, she'll examine her relationships more closely if she feels there are questions she's afraid to ask. "I think one reason I was afraid to ask was because we weren’t totally comfortable with each other," she says now. "You shouldn’t be afraid to ask your partner anything. Looking back, it’s a red flag."
One day seven years ago, Beatrice found herself alone in her boyfriend's home. Feeling bored after he went off to work, she decided to rearrange the house to pass the time. "As I organised the closet, I made a shocking discovery: a collection of women's clothes and shoes that didn't belong to me," Beatrice remembers. "Confusion and anger overwhelmed me, but instead of confronting him immediately, I kept silent." She says she did burn the clothes though.
"I was so angry that I could not think straight," she says of the rash decision. "I went outside to a place where we used to burn garbage and lit them."
He didn't notice they were gone, though, and soon days turned into years. The couple got married, she moved into the home, and the mystery of the clothes still remained unsolved, haunting her. "I often wondered if he had been unfaithful and questioned why those items were hidden," she says.
For years, she thought about finding the courage to address the matter, but "faltered as fear and uncertainty held me back."
"I second-guessed my instincts, unsure if I had blown the situation out of proportion," she adds. Yet, deep down, the lingering doubt persisted within Beatrice. "Something was amiss," she says. "The clothes became a symbol of the unspoken doubts and the fractures in our relationship."
After living with this question on the tip of her tongue for all these years, Beatrice now reflects that living with unspoken doubts and worries can "erode trust." "The burden of carrying these unanswered questions remains heavy," she says. "While I have not found the courage to confront my husband, I understand that true resolution lies in open and honest communication. Only through dialogue can the shadows of the past be lifted, allowing our relationship to flourish with authenticity and transparency."
So, will she ask soon? "One day, the courage to have that conversation will emerge, and we can heal the wounds beneath the surface," she says now. "Until then, I navigate the complexities of our relationship, yearning for a future where openness and trust prevail."