Wednesday, 28 January 2015

How to refuse having sex with your spouse

Nobody gets through life without experiencing the pain of rejection.  You may have been turned down by the school you wanted to attend, you may not have won the job or promotion you sought after, your ideas may be ridiculed and dismissed, or perhaps nobody will publish that great novel you wrote.

The most painful rejections however happen in the realm of human relationships.  A guy who has asked a girl for a dance only to have her scoff at his request can remember the painful sting of it long afterwards.  Likewise a girl who hopes for romantic attention from some boy, only to see him fall in love with somebody else can experience a deep heartache that crushes the joy out of life for a time.

Over time we tend to build up what I call 'The Wall'.  An emotional buffer zone or barrier we put between ourselves and others so they can't hurt our feelings as easily.  Some are lucky to have The Wall in place early in life, others don't experience a number of wounds first.

Emotional intimacy in marriage requires that we let our spouse in past The Wall but doing this leaves us vulnerable.  We are giving our spouse power to inflict the deepest of hurts when we let them in like that.  We may trust that they will be careful, but sooner or later they will do something we find hurtful.  Usually sooner.  Nobody can read the mind of their spouse and know where all the sore spots are.  Sometimes we find them the hard way and cause unintentional pain in the ones we love.  This has a lot to do with why some people resist emotional intimacy.  They don't want to be vulnerable, they don't want the lack of control that comes with giving another person so much power over their inner life so they keep them outside The Wall as much as they can. 

For many (and not just men) being refused sexual intimacy by their spouse can be the most painful rejection of all.  A marriage where that pain is frequently felt is at risk.  Over time that pain can turn to resentment and anger, or lead a person to resort to destructive coping strategies that eventually breakup of the marriage, or transform it into sexless sham of matrimony.  Even if everything outside the bedroom is perfect and both spouses feel genuine love for each other, it will be hard for them to sustain it in an environment where they frequently feel rejected.

Does that mean that somebody should always accept an invitation to be intimate with their spouse, no matter what?  Of course not.  While I feel that a married couple should make every reasonable effort to make love as frequently as either spouse desires, the reality is that there are times when that is not possible, or when doing so would be harmful to a relationship rather than helpful.

If somebody is ill or exhausted or otherwise unavailable it is not rejection, it is bad timing and poor circumstances.  If the trust and respect that should exist between a couple has been harmed, or there are serious unresolved conflicts, those should be addressed first so that neither spouse comes away from having sex feeling coerced, used, or dominated rather than loved and cherished.  The objective of every intimate encounter should be mutual happiness.

There is a world of difference between can't be intimate and won't be intimate.  A spouse feels rejected when they feel that their partner is either expressing a dislike for them, uncaring of their needs and feelings, ranking them as less important compared to other things in their life, or just plain old being selfish.   It doesn't matter if that is or isn't accurate, if they think that is why they were turned down, they will feel the intense pain of rejection.  So here are some ways you can avoid causing hurt feelings at those times when you need to turn down being intimate with your spouse.

Explain why you can't.
Don't assume they know how you are feeling.  Don't think that subtle hints get through.  Clearly inform them of what it is that leads you to turn them down.  If you don't, they will try and figure it out themselves and likely get it wrong.

Show them you are making a point of removing the obstacle
If you are just too tired, don't stay up late watching TV, get some sleep so you won't be too tired tomorrow as well.  If you are sick, focus on what you need to do to get better.  If there is tension and distrust in the relationship, take action to find healing. Make sure your spouse knows you are doing something to get past the obstacles and that you are serious about changing things for the better.  Ask them to help with that if they can.

Make sure they know you wish things were different too.
Even if they don't feel rejected, they can still feel disappointed or even frustrated when things don't turn out the way they wished.  Those feelings are a reflection of their love for you and should be taken as a compliment. But don't leave them feeling like they are the only one feeling a touch of heartache.  A little sympathy and empathy can go a long way, so tell them you are not thrilled about it either.  It softens the blow and affirms the relationship.

Promise to make it worth the wait
Sacrifice is sometimes defined as giving up something good in the present in order to gain something better in the future.  If you are going to ask them to sacrifice their desires for your benefit, let them know how it will lead to them gaining something better in the future.  You can make a vague promise that you will make waiting worth it, but it will be more powerful if you promise some specific intimate treat.  It could be something you wear for them, a special date, a certain position or intimate act or anything else above and beyond the usual.  If you do this be sure to keep that promise without delay so they don't feel they were toyed with.

Give what you can.
Physical intimacy isn't limited to just having sex.  If you can still give them a passionate kiss, a long embrace, a sexual touch, a cuddle, or fall asleep in each others arms, the contact and closeness will leave them feeling loved and accepted in spite of not being able to make love.  A little loving is better than nothing, but you do need to make it clear at the start where the limits are of what you are able to give, and you need to know that your spouse will respect those limits.  If you don't do that you could wind up doing more harm than good.

If being refused is not a common event, it will be hard for a spouse to take being turned down as a personal rejection if even just one of those suggestions are put into practice.  If several are used together it becomes even harder.

If a spouse has frequently felt rejected there can be emotional scars to deal with.  They might emotionally withdraw, putting their spouse back outside The Wall to protect themselves.  In that case the most important of those suggestions is showing their spouse that they are working on changing what they need to change and that they are committed to removing as much rejection from their relationship as possible. Without that, the other suggestions will likely be seen as insincere and manipulative.

Things will never be perfect in mortality.  Your spouse will still cause the occasional unintended hurt and so will you, but when there is a sincere effort to avoid doing that, and a heartfelt effort to heal any hurts, those events will become vehicles to a deeper understanding and connection with our eternal companions and the closer a couple can get to a rejection-free marriage, the stronger their emotional bond can become.


  1. It's much easier to keep the wall up - if that's what you want to call it. You could also think about keeping boundaries in place. You could see it as an opportunity to learn how to better practice respect. If other things are more important to your spouse than sex, then you have the chance to be mature about that, accept it, move on, and continue to treat your spouse with respect and kindness. Maybe there should be other things more important than sex in your own life as well, and instead of moping about feeling rejected, you can look for other worthwhile pursuits to occupy your spare time. And this may give the two of you more of a long-lasting respect and appreciation for each other. I think of what Thoreau wrote in Chapter 5 of _Walden_:
    "We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. . . . we live thick and are in each other's way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another. Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty communications."

  2. Certainly there are times when a spouse has to make their desire for intimacy take a back seat to something that is a higher priority, or because of unfavorable circumstances, and at those times when a spouse has to say no for those reasons it would be right for them to show consideration for the feelings of their mate. That is what I've suggested here.

    Over the long term however I think it would very hard for a spouse to maintain respect and kindness for a partner who shows little consideration for their feelings or needs, or judges and condemns them as immature because they desire intimacy more often than they do and experience heartache over being rejected.

    President Kimball has said that the main cause for divorce is problems in the sexual relationship, so it is important to work towards a point where the sexual relationship is harmonious. The scriptural advice given by Paul in 1Cor 7 is for husbands and wives to not defraud each other except for mutually agreed to short periods of time. By defraud he means they should not withhold from each other the physical intimacy they promised to provide each other by getting married. The direction given by latter-day prophets and apostles is that each spouse should make seeking the happiness of their partner more important than seeking after their own happiness, and that the desire to become sexually intimate with one's spouse is good and from God. It is a righteous desire and as long as somebody doesn't let it get in the way of their other responsibilities or lead them into sin there is nothing wrong with them feeling sexual desire for their spouse and seeking to have a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship with them.