• PAIRS Foundation, Best Practices in Marriage, Family and Fatherhood Education
  • PAIRS Foundation, Best Practices in Marriage, Family and Fatherhood Education
  • PAIRS Foundation, Best Practices in Marriage, Family and Fatherhood Education
  • PAIRS Foundation, Best Practices in Marriage, Family and Fatherhood Education
  • PAIRS Foundation, Best Practices in Marriage, Family and Fatherhood Education
  • PAIRS Foundation, Best Practices in Marriage, Family and Fatherhood Education

Overcoming Will We or Won't We Negotiations Over Sex and Intimacy


"Underneath most couples's fights, there is a biological difference that drives men and women apart. A womaan's vulnerability to fear and anxiety makes her draw closer, while a man's subtle sensitivity to shame and failure makes him pull away. ... improving a marriage cannot happen [only] through words ... one of the greatest threats to a love relationship is lack of passion -- the life energy that fuels the intense and exciting relationships we long for.

~ Pat Love


Excerpted from PAIRS Passion Playbook, a PAIRS Relationship Skills Building Curriculum for Couples.


One area that can cause a great deal of distress in a relationship is the negotiation over will we or won’t we have sex on any given day. This can be especially true for military couples reuniting after deployment. While a healthy sex life is just one aspect of the passion many couples learn to create through marriage and relationship skills training, for many, it's among the most important.

FREE ONLINE PAIRS VIDEO: Pleasuring/Healing Touch

Questions such as “Who decides? Who initiates? How to initiate? When or how to say ‘no’ gracefully?” are just some of the important issues that need to be addressed in order to keep your sex and love life running smoothly. For military couples reconnecting after months or more of separation, rebuilding emotional closeness is an important foundation to a sex life that's fulfilling and pleasurable for both partners. Exercises such as the PAIRS Daily Temperature Reading have been helpful to many military couples.

If you're experiencing roadblocks to intimacy, it's helpful to consider if any of these statements sound familiar:

"It’s a turn-off when you fondle me as a way to ask for sex."

"You don’t take time to be intimate, playful or loving. You just grab."

"I hate having this long, drawn-out negotiation about sex. It spoils the romance."

"I want us to jump in bed and go at it."

"Sometimes it seems like you get angry at me for wanting sex."

"I’m almost always the one who initiates. Once in a while, I’d like you to approach me."

"It seems like you think every hard-on has to lead to intercourse. I want you to think about whether or not I’m interested also."

"You don’t seem to understand that sex is a 24-hour process. I don’t like it when you wait until I’m ready to fall asleep before you initiate sex."

"I never know when to initiate sex because I always take the risk of being turned down."

Individually and as a couple, consider the following questions:

  • Given the busyness of your lives and each person’s individual desire level, what is a realistic expectation for the frequency of sex?
  • What is your preference concerning who initiates sex?
  • When (if ever) is it acceptable to say no to sex? How should that be done?
  • How do you personally make initiating sex difficult?
  • How well do you attend to your partner’s sexual needs?
  • How have you communicated your sexual needs to your partner?
  • What role do you play in making sex an enjoyable experience?

A study of 490 women participating in PAIRS Essentials relationship and marriage education classes found that six months after completing nine hours of training, 85 percent reported their sex lives improved.


Here are some ways happy couples have resolved the issues of initiating and deciding whether or not to have sex on any given occasion:

  • Just say “Yes!” Once the two of you come to an agreement about how often, when and how you will make love, the easiest way to solve the “Will We/Won’t We” dilemma is to always say “Yes!”

This means when one person wants sex, the other person responds affirmatively unless there is a truly legitimate reason. If one of you fears that your partner will want sex all the time, know that, in fact, the opposite usually happens. Why is this? Because deprivation increases motivation. When you are deprived of food, water, oxygen or sex, the longer you go without it-the more you become obsessed with it. You can’t think of anything else, especially if you believe it is going to be withheld. Once the scarcity and deprivation is removed, there is no emergency. Instead, there is patience, tolerance and relaxation-exactly what you need for an incredible sex life.

  • When you say “no” say “what.” This means if sex is not an option, then instead of flatly refusing your partner, offer a pleasant alternative. For example: Intercourse doesn’t work for me tonight, but how about oral sex. Or, Sex isn’t an option tonight, how about a back rub? Or, I have to be at work early this morning, but tonight you are mine!
  • One to ten. When you are interested in making love, simply rate your interest on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being very interested and 0 being no interest. Check out your partner’s level of interest and go from there.

Recommendation: If your combined score is 10 or above, then go for it!

  • Show me a sign. Sometimes it is more comfortable for couples to communicate with one another in a form other than talking. One suggestion is to have two votive candles in the bedroom, one for each partner. If one person is interested in sex s/he lights a candle. If the other partner is also interested, the other candle is lit.
  • Love code. Some couples like to talk in code. I’d like to go to bed early, translates into, I’m interested in having sex tonight. Sometimes attire or hygiene habits signal sexual desire. A flannel nightgown means, Not interested, a silk teddy means Most definitely. A shower before bedtime, instead of the regular morning shower, may signal My body is sex-ready. The key to successful code signals is to make sure they are fully understood by both individuals.

Reality Check

If you find yourself resistant to any plan regarding sex, ask yourself, "What is best for the relationship?" Sadly, many individuals have an unspoken, unworkable contract about sex that goes something like this: "I expect you to be monogamous-but don’t expect me to meet your sexual needs." When this unspoken contract is in play, the relationship is at risk.

More Information

PAIRS Relationship Pleasure Scale is a scientifically-validated six question assessment that can help you take the pulse of your relationship and identify areas that may need attention. Click here to find the pleasure measure of your relationship. Confidential results will be emailed to you.

The nonprofit PAIRS Foundation has trained hundreds of VA Chaplains and Behavioral Health Professionals to teach PAIRS skills throughout the world. In 2009, PAIRS Retreats for returning OEF/OIF were recognized by the VA as a Best Practice in Marriage Enrichment. Military and Veterans couples are encouraged to contact their local VA Medical Center for information on PAIRS programs available in your community.

For a complimentary copy of the PAIRS Passion Scale and Romantic Preferences Worksheet, email your request to info@pairs.com. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Copyright © 2014 PAIRS Foundation.