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How to Let Your Partner Know You're Not in the Mood

How to refuse sex while staying connected

 iStock/Milkos; used with permission
Source: iStock/Milkos; used with permission

For couples, emotional connection and sexual intimacy are dynamically related, so difficulties in one area often destabilize the other area.

The "chicken-or-the-egg" relationship between sex and emotional connection may be different for each partner. For some people, the desire to be sexual comes as a result of feeling emotionally connected. But for others, perhaps because of their histories, physiology, and attachment styles (their particular love map), being sexual is how they find their way to emotional vulnerability.

Often in a relationship, one person seems to be designated as the sexual initiator, whether because of tradition, culture, gender, or perhaps because that partner's preferred way of seeking attention is through touch, affection, and sex. When a partner takes the lead in the couple’s lovemaking, they bear the brunt of intimate rejection more often. Initiating sex requires such risking and revealing of oneself that having a sexual bid disregarded or rejected can be especially painful. Research shows that a positive response strongly contributes to a happy marriage and that a critical or absent response can cause serious damage to the relationship.

Every partner who initiates sex hopes for a receptive, excited reaction from their lover. But sometimes the bid doesn’t come at the right time or isn’t welcome given a person’s state of mind or the state of the relationship. Fortunately, as long as we are honest, vulnerable, and direct, we can reject the bid without damaging our emotional attachment.

Here are three scenarios illustrating a partner rejecting or ignoring a sexual bid, along with some suggestions for handling the situation in a more attachment-preserving way:

After lunch on a Sunday afternoon, Adam wiggles his eyebrows at his wife Sharon suggesting a "nap" for themselves while their children are napping. Feeling stressed after corralling young children to church and lunch, Sharon sighs and heads for the bedroom.

Better: Sharon could have honestly leveled with Adam about her true needs while still honoring the spirit of the advance: “Sweetheart, I’m afraid I’m frazzled and need my own quiet time to recover from the morning before I can mix it up with you. Can we take a real nap and then I’ll be refreshed before this evening together?”

Lavonne comes up behind Trevor after his evening shower while he’s brushing his teeth and puts her arms around his waist, saying, “My man is one hot man!” While he feels desire for her, Trevor has become increasingly anxious about his occasional erectile dysfunction. His anxiety comes out as an angry retort “Lavonne, you expect too much!” and breaks out of her embrace.

Better: Trevor could have contained his anxiety, stayed vulnerable, and turned towards his wife’s overture with, “Well, why don’t you run the bath, baby, while this hot man turns on some music.” Sitting in a sensuous, slippery tub together for 15 minutes would have given his erectile medication time to begin working and allowed him to feel calm, connected, and confident.

Daniel cuddles up close to his husband Jean-Paul early in the morning and kisses his neck. Without a word, Jean-Paul leaves the bed to use the bathroom and then starts the shower for his morning routine.

Better: Jean-Paul, still angry over their late-night fight, wasn’t ready to make up even though he recognized Daniel’s overture as a bid to reconnect. Instead of ignoring Daniel’s bid altogether (and leaving him feeling completely rejected), Jean-Paul might have directly said, “I’m still upset about last night; I don’t want sex until we’re through with that conversation.”

A sexual bid at the wrong time may make us feel uncomfortable. But, with a clear explanation about our needs and reassurance about their desirability and our commitment to their sexual needs, we can turn towards our partner.

More from Laurie J Watson PhD, LMFT, LPC
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More from Laurie J Watson PhD, LMFT, LPC
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