Episode 77 – Rejection

Do you often reject your spouse’s advances for sex?  Do you feel rejected by them?  Rejection is a huge issue for many couples.  Find out why we feel rejected and what we can do about it when we are.

Show Summary:

I want you to picture this. You’ve had a great day; you are feeling in the mood. Your husband gets home from work, and you greet him with a smile and a kiss. After dinner, you get the kids to bed, and maybe you slip into something a little less comfortable. You approach your husband with a kiss, and he pulls away. He tells you he’s had a hard day at work, and he’s far too tired to even think about sex.

Most women I know would describe feeling a bit, if not very hurt by this scenario, when they’ve made an effort to initiate sex and connect with their spouse when they have opened up and been vulnerable. And they were turned down. Thoughts start running through their heads about all the ways you were doing what they were “supposed” to or showing up in a way that they wanted to, and they were rejected. It hurt to the very core of their being. This brings up feelings of insecurity, doubt, frustration, anger, resentment, sadness, and more.

But, we tend to think that sexual rejection doesn’t hurt men as much. This thought is based on a couple of assumptions.

  1. That men desire sex for physical and surface-level reasons rather than for emotional connection, so when their efforts are rejected, it doesn’t hurt them that much because they only missed out on the physical act.
  2. That men should initiate sex and women should be the “gatekeeper” – the one that says yes or no to those advances.  

So it stands to reason that the more men initiate sex, the more they would also experience (and understand) rejection – even expect it.

But, just because the sexual rejection scenario might not look exactly like I described above (because I can totally hear you saying, “yeah, he never woos me like that, he just turns over and starts groping me once we are in bed.”) doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to handle. In fact, it may be quite the opposite: The more often rejection happens, the more it can really hurt a person’s confidence and ego and even decrease interest in sex altogether. Which I think is one of the reasons why women continue to reject their husband’s advances because they can see that the more they reject their spouse, the less often he asks over time, so women feel like they are getting the upper hand.

So whether you are a man or a woman, when you get turned down for sex, you don’t perceive it as “My partner doesn’t want sex right now,” you perceive it as “My partner doesn’t want me.”

Now, I’m not talking about times when it’s really just not a good time for sex. Maybe your partner does, in fact, not feel well or is in a bad mood for a good reason. That totally happens in a relationship. We have to expect that we are not always going to want sex at the same time as our partner. But I’m talking about REGULAR rejection.

Rejection hurts. Your brain reacts to rejection in very similar ways to physical pain. There was a study where people who had recently experience unwanted and painful breakups were placed in a functional MRI scanner while looking at photographs of their ex-partners and thinking about the intense rejection they experienced. Sure enough, the same regions that light up during physical pain lit up during the MRI.

So why does rejection hurt so much? Back in the caveman days, when people lived in small nomadic groups, being ostracized from our tribes basically meant death. No one survived very long alone. Therefore our brains developed this early warning system (rejection) to alert us when we were at risk for being kicked out of our tribe so we wouldn’t die.

Ok, so let’s go back to rejection in our marriage and our sex life. When the person rejecting you is your spouse, the person that is supposed to love you most in the world, the damage to your self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, and emotional wellness can be devastating.

Sexual rejection is pretty common in marriage. At first, people typically deal with rejection by expressing disappointment, making off-hand comments, maybe passive-aggressive behavior hoping their partner gets the hint. But after a while, the rejection gets painful enough that people stop bringing it up altogether. There usually develops a pattern of avoidance, and the relationship satisfaction continues to drop as well as the general sense of happiness and well-being.

So, now that you maybe understand a little bit more about rejection, what can you do about it?

Because this podcast is aimed at women – I’m speaking to you here. But really, this can go either way.

But I want you to think about your excuses for not wanting sex and rejecting your spouse’s advances.

  • I’m not in the mood
  • I’m too tired
  • I’m touched out
  • The house is a mess
  • I can’t relax
  • I’ve got too much to do.
  • He’s just using me

Are those excuses worth the constant rejection of your spouse? Is it worth them pulling away from you? Is it worth the negative impact on their self-esteem? Is it worth hurting your marriage?

Now, if you are the one getting rejected, I want to offer you a little bit of help, as well.

On this podcast and in my coaching, one of the concepts I teach is that our thoughts create our feelings. Everything we feel is created by a sentence in our brain, whether we are conscious of them or not. So in this context, rejection is a FEELING, a feeling that is caused by a thought in your brain. Probably a thought like I mentioned above like “My partner doesn’t want me.” This doesn’t feel good. And it is totally normal that after your spouse tells you they don’t want sex that you think and feel this way. But, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. All of our thoughts are optional. Our brain offers us thoughts that it thinks are helpful. Remember where I talked about earlier our brain trying to keep us from being kicked out of the tribe, so we don’t die…that is why your brain offers you the thought that makes you feel rejected. It doesn’t want you to die. But it also doesn’t understand how bad that thought makes you feel. But, one of the best things about being a human is that we not only have this great lower brain that wants to keep us from dying, but we also have a higher brain. A brain that we can engage on purpose so we can think thoughts that we want to think instead.

So, when your spouse turns you down for sex, and your brain offers you the thought, “my partner doesn’t want me,” you can acknowledge that thought, thank your brain for trying to keep you safe, but choose a different thought instead. Maybe “it’s ok if they don’t want to tonight, I love them anyway, and I know they love me,“ or whatever else you want to think.

But, I am NOT telling you that you have to change your thoughts that make you feel rejected. You can absolutely keep them, and you may want to. I’m just trying to let you know that it is an option to think differently. You can choose to make their decision NOT to have sex tonight, not mean anything about you. Because really, it doesn’t. Their decision is about them and what they are thinking and feeling. It has nothing to do with you. But isn’t it funny that we always make it about us?  

Now, besides changing your thoughts, if you want to, I also think it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your spouse about how you are feeling. This conversation can be uncomfortable and hard. I totally get that. But if you want something to change, then you have to be willing to be uncomfortable to make that happen.

So here are five steps to having a conversation about this.

  1. Invite your partner to talk at a time when you won’t be interrupted, and they can give you their full attention.  
  2. Tell them how you feel in a non-judgmental way. They will most likely be on the defensive, so if you want them to hear you, you need to use “I” statements to present FACTS. For example: “We haven’t had sex in 4 months, and I feel hurt and rejected.” Notice how the conversation is about YOU and what YOU are feeling. It’s not “you’ve rejected me every single time I’ve tried to initiate sex the last few months.” Do you see the difference?
  3. Allow them to respond without interrupting. If they make excuses like “you know how hard it is to deal with the kids all day,” you can say, “I do. Have you been aware of how terrible I feel because of this?”
  4. Assert your need for change. Being assertive is a great way to build self-esteem. Clearly stating you need the situation to change, that it can not go on, gives your spouse as well as yourself the message that you deserve better and are worthy of more.  
  5. Insist on a plan for change as well as regular check-ins: Be open to making a change in yourself if your spouse asks for them, and they are reasonable. Ask for one small step you can both take right away to begin working on the issue. Decide on a regular time to meet monthly to make sure things stay on track.

One of the ways that can really help couples is to schedule sex. You have to have the conversation and come to a compromise about how often you are both willing, but doing so can help the one who is being rejected all the time know when to expect sex so they don’t get rejected and it also helps the other partner gear themselves up for it. You can decide if it’s twice a week or twice a month. Whatever works for you as a couple.  

If scheduling sex doesn’t sound “spontaneous” enough for you, another way to go about it is just to have a general guideline. Something like, “we will have sex twice a week, so if we haven’t had it by Thursday, then we will, and if we haven’t had it again by Sunday, then we will.” Something to that effect. That can be really helpful for both partners to manage their expectations and their drives.

If you have tried to talk to your partner and they are unwilling to make changes even after hearing how it is impacting your self-esteem, emotional health, and marriage, then you at least know the realty of the situation and can begin thinking about whether the situation is acceptable to you or whether you need to consider alternative decisions. Either way, you can take steps to prevent further damage.

Now, ladies, you know how I feel about this. You know I’m all about saying “yes” to the sex. I want to issue you a challenge. For the next 30 days, I want you to “say” yes to the sex whenever your partner initiates. I want you just to TRY it. See what it does for you and your marriage. If it doesn’t work for you after 30 days, then you’ll know. But I’m guessing that things will change for the better.

For those of you who have already seen changes in your sex life because of these podcast episodes, would you please go leave me a review on your favorite podcast app? Reviews help so much and help other people to find me.

And if you know someone who could benefit from this podcast, would you please share it with them. I really want to help as many women as possible love their sex lives whether I ever coach them personally or not. I think this podcast can be an invaluable resource.

But I do want to invite you to come coach with me. Coaching is where we take all of these concepts that I teach you on the podcast and really apply it. You’ll grow in ways you never thought possible. Your sex life and every other aspect of your life will improve. I promise you. 


Psychology Today

This Is Your Brain On Rejection

Love and Relationships

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