To those who get sexually rejected by your husband: Hearing no hurts.
I get it. Some of you hear a no now and again, and some of you hear it a lot. But either way, you experience a strong desire to be physically and emotionally connected to your beloved, you approach your spouse with high hopes, and you get brushed off — your longings left unfulfilled.
But something often happens next. You ask yourself why.
Why does your hubby not respond to your sexual advances? Why do other husbands seem to want their wives but your husband doesn’t? Why isn’t your beauty the kind that stops traffic, or at least makes your husband look up from his TV show? Why does he say he’s too tired or too busy or too fill-in-the-blank? Is that really the reason, or could it be something else?
Given how quickly our female minds jump from one thing to another, it could be mere moments before you settle in on what you’re sure must be the truth: He just doesn’t want you.
Not only this time, but generally speaking. You believe there’s something wrong with you or your relationship or your beauty or your worthiness or … And the list goes on. We personalize the rejection.
I’ve talked before about the many reasons why a lower-drive husband might not be as interested in sex as you (and sometimes he) would like him to be. They include such issues as low testosterone, depression, sexual baggage, porn habits — even from his past — that make it hard to respond properly to in-person arousal, and the heavy burden of stress. Just getting older can also decrease a man’s sense of urgency for sexual interaction; believe it or not, some older men might choose sleep over sex from time to time.
But when we personalize that rejection, we don’t see those factors. A wife ends up feeling like her husband isn’t saying no merely to sex, but to her. And not because of some issue within him, but because he’s rejecting her personally. When that’s probably not what’s going on.
Why do we do this? Maybe for one of the following reasons.
Women are relationship problem-solvers. Men are often seen as the problem-solvers — the ones who, when you explain a problem, skip right over sympathy or commiseration to “how can this be fixed?” That stereotype holds some truth, especially when the problem is well-defined.
However, when it comes to relationships, I think women are more likely to be problem-solvers. When we see something amiss, we jump in to assuage hurt feelings, correct misunderstandings, resolve differences, and mend the cracks. We don’t like cracks in our relational bonds, and we try to putty over those as fast as possible.
Being rejected sexually feels like a relationship crack. And if we can’t fix our husband, the immediate place we go to is fixing ourselves. Clearly — a wife thinks — I must be the problem, and if only I can fix that… Fixing ourselves is within our sphere of control.
So we try to do better, look better, be better. And, while I believe in becoming your best self, this can veer off into becoming someone who isn’t you. That is, you minimize your value, your desires, your beauty — trying to become someone you think your husband wants.
When most of the time, his lack of drive isn’t about that. And he already has who he wants — you.
Women are constant comparers. If I had a nickel for every time a woman in my midst compared herself to another woman’s homemaking, mothering, or appearance, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now — I’d be sipping a paper-umbrella-decorated drink on the beach of my private island. Wives are constantly measuring how we’re doing by checking in on how other women are doing, and then drawing (often erroneous) conclusions.
So what happens when you hear how often other wives are getting “hit on” by their husbands? When the messages you’re getting are that “all husbands want is sex,” but that’s not your experience? When it feels like all other husbands are raring to go at the snap of a bra opening, and that’s not happening in your marital bedroom?
You look at those wives … you look at yourself … and you decide there’s something wrong with you. What else could be happening? Well, a lot of things actually. But it’s easy to ignore all the other reasons for a difference in sex drives and personalize that rejection. You can end up thinking if all those husbands are chasing after their wives, then your husband must simply be unhappy with the wife he chose.
But that’s rarely the issue. More often, it’s something going on inside him. And playing the comparison game isn’t helping your situation.
Men are bad communicators. Okay, not all of you guys. I promise I’m not trying to be mean here. But from the female perspective, you guys can be hard to figure out because you often don’t tell us what’s going on inside you!
Now I live a house of three men. Typical answers to “how are you feeling?” include hungry, tired, stressed. To me, those aren’t feelings. Feelings are discouraged, grieving, depressed, sullen, heartsick — and those all just describe sad. If you listen long enough, I can also give you full description of where I feel this sadness in my body, why I think it’s there, and metaphors or similes to describe what I’m feeling (“It’s like I’m tethered to the ground”). Look, I know some of that is because I’m a writer, but some of it is because I’m a woman. We express our thoughts and feelings!
Sure, plenty of marriages contradict this pattern, but it’s not uncommon for a guy to keep his feelings close to his chest, or even be unable to define or describe what’s happening inside him. So when he doesn’t have a high sex drive, what’s he supposed to say? He likely says as little as possible, because most guys don’t like to talk about their bad emotions.
So wives fill in the gaps, imagining what he’s really thinking. Even figuring the only reason he isn’t saying something is because it’s bad and about us. So yeah, it’s not just poor communication of some husbands, but also the overactive imagination of some wives.
But what if the explanation “I’m tired” or “I need to finish this job for work” really is the reason? What if you’ve complicated the whole thing because, as a woman, you wouldn’t have communicated it that way?
Honestly, ladies, men are fairly simple. If he says, “I think you’re sexy, but I’m not up for it tonight,” what he probably means is, “I think you’re sexy, but I’m not up for it tonight.” No, really. I didn’t believe it at first either, but further investigation has led me to conclude that men are not lying. They really can say in 15 words or less everything they’re actually thinking. And if they’re feeling more than that, they need time to process and figure out how to express it.
So if the rejection isn’t personal, how can you stop believing that a no to sex indicates some flaw in you?
Ask yourself some questions and really think about your answers. It’s easy to react with your default settings, but consider an alternative perspective.
- What if the reason he gives me really is the reason? To fix a problem, you have to diagnose it correctly. If you expend a lot of effort thinking the problem is you, you’re expending effort in the wrong area. Instead, you could be helping to resolve the actual issue.
- Would he behave this way if he was married to someone else? I’m not trying to get you to imagine him married to someone else, but this one helped me with other issues in my marriage that I once thought were personal. Instead, I realized he’d be doing what he was doing no matter who he lived with, so it clearly wasn’t personal.
- What if he’s frustrated too? One reason you don’t hear more from low-drive husbands is that they’re often frustrated that they aren’t like those other husbands they hear about too. They wonder what’s wrong with them, and might even feel bad for not being able to sexually satisfy their wives. A little compassion for a husband in this situation can help you both deal with the real issues at hand.
- How would I feel if he took personally those times when I did something he didn’t like that wasn’t about him? You can personalize almost anything in marriage, like believing that him leaving the toilet seat up is an intentional disregard for your health and safety. (It’s not.) Most of us can remember a time when we were just in a bad mood that had to do with work, kids, hormones, whatever … and he thought it was a slight against him. But it wasn’t. Remember how that irritated you more? Don’t do that to your man regarding his sex drive.
- What could I do to be more positive and encouraging of sexual intimacy in our marriage? Hint: Personalizing rejection isn’t positive or encouraging. Being a safe place to talk, addressing real issues in your marriage, and seeking help when you need it is positive and encouraging. Remind yourself that yes, he is tired, stressed, and/or dealing with physical issues. Choose to believe him when he says that he still finds you attractive and loves you. Look for more conducive times and ways to approach him with sexual advances.
This is one instance when “it’s not you, it’s me” is usually true. But in marriage, me becomes we. So instead of spending your time personalizing the rejection, try to identify the real issue and tackle it together. Many couples with mismatched sex drives have figured it out, but only by being one another’s support.