NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Coping With a Sexual Rejection From Your Partner

Conflicts are normal and inevitable in a committed relationship. After all, when two people are in a serious relationship, it's common for them to disagree about how they feel.

What's most important is how the couple communicates and how these conflicts get resolved (see my article: Improving Communication in Your Relationship by Eliminating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).

Coping With Sexual Rejection

Turning Down Your Partner's Sexual Initiation
Sexual disagreements are common in relationships especially when one person is initiating and the other person doesn't feel like having sex at that point (see my article: What is Your Sexual Initiation Style?).

For instance, a common problem in relationships is discrepant desire where one person wants sex more often than the other.  The conflict might be about sexual frequency, what the couple does in bed and other important aspects of sexuality (see my article: Sexual Desire Discrepancy: What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Sex Drives).

You should never engage in sex that you don't want.  It's important that sex be consensual, and by consensual I mean enthusiastically consensual (see my article: What is Enthusiastic Sexual Consent?).

Coping With a Sexual Rejection

So, this means that there will be times in a long term relationship when one partner might not want to have sex that is initiated by the other partner.  This is a normal part of any relationship.  

Although rejection can be hard to take, how the rejection is given and how the other partner responds is important in terms of this issue not becoming a much bigger problem.

For instance, one person might want to have sex a few times a week and the other person might only want to have sex once a week at the most.  Or, one person might want to engage in a particular sexual activity and the other partner might not be turned on by that.  These are common problems in relationships.

A sexual rejection can be especially hurtful because it can bring up emotional insecurities about being unattractive or being sexually inept.  So, how the partner, who doesn't want to engage in sex, communicates is important.

Also, be aware that if you're rejecting your partner's sexual initiation often, this could point to other problems in the relationship.  According to Sex Therapist Vanessa Marin, who wrote, Sex Talks, if you're turning down your partner a lot, you might have unspoken resentment towards your partner that's making you want to distance yourself sexually and, possibly, emotionally.  So, this is an important factor to consider and communicate to your partner.

In addition, you might not enjoy certain things your partner does in bed. This also needs to be communicated in a tactful and empathetic way by emphasizing what you would enjoy instead of criticizing your partner.

What Are the Different Types of Rejection?
  • Reassuring Rejection: A reassuring rejection, where you reassure your partner that you love them, you're still attracted to them and you have enjoyed sex with them (assuming all of this is true), helps your partner to avoid personalizing your rejection.  You might also be willing to do other things like cuddle or do something else that helps to reassure your partner and maintain the emotional connection between the two of you.  Instead of just saying "No," if you're not feeling well, for instance, tell your partner that and suggest when the two of you can be sexually intimate again another time.  Be specific and plan a time to have sex (see my article: The Benefits of Scheduling Sex).
Coping With a Sexual Rejection

  • Hostile Rejection: A hostile rejection often includes anger, frustration, impatience,  criticism or contempt. It can also include the "silent treatment" which is also known as stonewalling (see my article: Are You a Stonewaller?)
  • Assertive Rejection: An assertive rejection makes your point, but it often comes across as too direct and devoid of feeling for your partner.  Although you're being honest about how you feel, you're also disregarding their feelings.
  • Deflecting Rejection: A deflecting rejection is when you pretend you don't know your partner is interested in sex. You might pretend to be asleep to avoid dealing with the issue. You might also deflect verbally by changing the subject and avoiding your partner's sexual initiation. Your partner will probably recognize that you're deflecting and feel hurt about it.
It's obvious from the descriptions above that the best way to handle rejecting your partner is to give your partner reassurance. Your partner might still feel hurt, but this is part of being in a relationship and a reassuring rejection is much more tactful and empathetic than any of the others.

Coping With a Sexual Rejection From Your Partner
Assuming your partner has given you a reassuring rejection where they tell you that they love you, they're still attracted to you and they usually enjoy sex with you, how you respond to the rejection can either help maintain the overall well-being of your relationship or, if you respond by getting angry and frustrated, it can hurt your relationship.

Sexual rejection can trigger old unresolved emotional wounds that make you feel inadequate--like you're "not good enough" or "not lovable."  In the moment, it can be hard to distinguish your old emotional wounds from the current situation.  So, you might need to take time to calm yourself and get some perspective (see my article: Healing Old Emotional Wounds That Are Affecting Your Relationship).

Coping With a Sexual Rejection

For the overall health of the relationship, it can be destructive to respond to a reassuring sexual rejection with hostility, anger, frustration or by stonewalling.

If you give your partner a negative or hostile response, you're communicating to your partner that you're unable to tolerate their feelings when they don't want sex when you do.  

You probably wouldn't do this in other areas of your life together. For instance, if you want to go out for Italian food and your partner prefers Japanese food, you probably would try to compromise--you'll have Japanese food today and they'll agree to have Italian food next week.  

The problem is that when it comes to sex, people often experience rejection as a wound to their sexual self esteem because sex is the most intimate experience you and your partner can have and you're emotionally vulnerable, so a rejection can feel especially wounding.  

But if sex is normally good between you and everything else in the relationship is basically going well, you need to learn to tolerate an occasional rejection without retaliating against your partner or trying to even the score if you want your relationship to work.

Improving Sexual Communication
When you're feeling calm, you can communicate to your partner that, while you respect your partner's right to turn down sex when they don't want it, you feel badly about the rejection and you want to talk about it when you're both feeling up to it.

Coping With a Sexual Rejection

This talk shouldn't be used as a ploy to make your partner feel ashamed or guilty.  It's a discussion where each of you can talk openly and find out how you each feel about sex between you.

If your partner is tired or not feeling well, for instance, don't try to pressure them to have sex at that time. Be kind and considerate.  After all, if you're in a committed relationship, there will be other opportunities to have sex.

How you respond to their sexual rejection can make all the difference to the emotional and sexual connection between the two of you.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
If the problem isn't just a passing thing, that's a different matter.  

For instance, if your partner has either lost interest in sex or there's another significant problem, you could benefit from seeking help in sex therapy.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy

Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

There is no physical exam, touching or sex during sex therapy session (see my article: What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

Sex therapy is for individual adults and couples who seek help for a variety of reasons (see my article: What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

Many couples wait until their sexual problems get worse before they seek help.  So, it's important to know that the sooner you seek help in sex therapy, the better the chances are for working through these problems.

If you're having sexual problems, seek help so you can improve your sex life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.