Big Guy would approach me for sex. My response was usually some variation of no—rolling my eyes, listing all the things I need to get done first, or just saying the word “no.”
Quite often, after my negative response I would start to think about the possibility of sex. I wonder why I don’t think about sex like he does? I like sex well enough once we’re doing it. Hmm. I suppose that if I could just wrap up this stuff I’m working on, I might be able to do it. I just need some transition time. If he would come ask me again right this minute, I might be able to manage a yes. Where is he, anyway? For a guy who seems to want sex so much, shouldn’t he be here with me, spending time with me and helping me?
My “no” often reflected the fact that I hadn’t been thinking of sex when I’d been asked about it. It didn’t always mean I wouldn’t be willing. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be wooed.
But . . . while I was just starting to warm up to the idea, Big Guy would have begun to pull away from me. He would get grouchy with the kids or me. He would turn on a show he knew I wouldn’t like. He would disconnect, thereby proving to me that he was interested in me only for sex. If he truly loved me, he would be nice to me even without sex.
So there I would be, right in the middle of warming up to the idea of sex, starting to feel vulnerable, and . . . WHAM. I would be reminded that Big Guy didn’t love me; he only loved sex. Since he is nice to me only when he is trying to get sex, he must not love me after all.
Being hurt when I was starting to feel vulnerable made it harder for me to muster up a “yes” the next time I was asked. Why would I want to have sex with someone who cared about me only for one reason?
At other times, I would be exhausted. Even before I worked on saying “yes,” I’d tried to become more engaged and participatory during sex. This required a certain level of mental focus and physical energy for me. Saying “no” sometimes was a way to be sure that when we did have sex, I would be able to show up 100%. At these times, my “no” was part of my effort to improve my attitude about sex.
Understandably, my husband had no reason to see this as the positive thing that I did. Instead of thanking me for trying to improve the quality of our sex life (which I kind of thought he should do), he got grumpy.
It was a vicious merry-go-round of responses. My “no” would trigger his grumpiness; his grumpiness would make me feel less interested in being with him for a while. My disinterest would make it harder for him to take the risk and approach me in a loving way. His less-than-loving sexual approach would make it harder for me to say “yes.”
Why such a negative reaction to “no”?
When I began to work on changing sexual intimacy in our marriage, it took a while before my usual response was “yes” rather than “no.”
I was making both hidden and visible progress with my attitude, my feelings, and my participation level when we did have sex. I began to show my body more. My rolled eyes at his sexual innuendo and groping had largely faded away.
I’d made so much progress. I was thrilled to see how far I’d come, and if I still said “no” from time to time, well, that was small in the grand scheme of things, right?
Big Guy didn’t see it that way. For him, it was the same thing he’d dealt with for years. He began to see some changes, but he thought they were just a fluke, like maybe I wasn’t even aware that I was more cooperative with sex. He didn’t know my new actions were the result of effort. He didn’t know what had caused the changes, and he was pretty sure they were temporary.
Where I saw progress in leaps and bounds, he saw evidence that nothing would ever really change. He had no reason to hope that this was anything other than a temporary blip.
Gradually he started to recognize that things were improving. He began to feel hope. Hope made him more vulnerable—and my occasional “no” when he was so vulnerable hurt him more deeply.Where I saw progress in leaps and bounds, he saw evidence that nothing would ever really change. Click To Tweet
He began to recognize my changes, and my “no” came less often—but when it came, it hurt him more. And for Big Guy, hurt manifests in pulling away and grouchiness.
For me, the grouchiness made it harder for me to continue pushing myself to grow in the area of sexual intimacy.
I recognize now that the increase in his unpleasant demeanor was because his hurt was bigger. At the time, though, I was puzzled. Shouldn’t he be happier now that he is getting what he used to beg me for? After all those years when he said he is miserable, why isn’t he overjoyed that he so rarely hears “no”?
How can you deal with a negative reaction?
As a wife who is working on sexual intimacy, what do you do when your husband reacts negatively when you say “no”? How can you help yourself maintain your growth momentum when your husband’s response to “no” is the opposite of what you need?
I’d like to offer three suggestions for you in responding to a negative reaction.
1. Attempt to lessen the hurt your husband may be feeling.
Be sure your “no” is actually “no” and not “ask me again in a few minutes.”
If you are like me in needing time to make a transition to sex, let your husband know that while you aren’t ready right this minute, you could be in a little bit. Ask him to approach you again in, say, 15 minutes. It would be even better if you would go approach him to initiate in about five or ten minutes so he doesn’t have to feel like he’s risking rejection again. “Ask me again in a few minutes” turns a “no” into a “yes, soon.”
If you say “no,” do so gently—and with a promise that you will initiate.
Many men feel especially vulnerable when they approach their wives about sex—especially if they have received a frequent “no.” A “no” may be difficult for him to hear, and you can make it even harder for him if your response is anything along the lines of, “Seriously, dude?” Be gentle in your words, and promise that you will initiate within the next 24 hours. A “not right now, but soon” is easier for him to hear than a flat-out “no.”
If you promise that you will initiate within a certain timeframe, be absolutely sure you follow through.
This is vital to rebuilding your husband’s ability to trust you with his sexuality. Your previous resistance to sex has taught your husband that you cannot be trusted with a basic and essential part of who he is. It will take him time to believe that your yes means yes and that your no means “not right now” and not “you are not a desirable man.”
2. Let your husband have his feelings.
When your husband has a negative reaction to your “no,” try to see him from a place of compassion rather than frustration. I know this isn’t easy to do when you are facing a man who is grouchy or making unhelpful comments about your attitude toward sex—but it can make such a difference.
Choose to see him as a child of God, just as you are, who is hurting.
No matter how much he understands and respects your “no,” your husband has approached you because he wanted to feel close to you—and even the most understandable “no” means that won’t happen.
Allow him to be disappointed. After all, aren’t you disappointed when you don’t get to do something you had hoped to do?From a place of compassion, remind yourself that your husband's attitude and behavior may well be a result of hurt. Click To Tweet
Beyond his disappointment at this particular “no,” remember that he is also carrying some wounds from the history of “no”:
- If he has ever felt he had to earn sex rather than have it be a natural and frequent part of your marriage, your “no” is a reminder that he often hasn’t felt good enough.
- Your history of “no” has taught him that your attitude toward sex is unlikely to improve. Why should he think this “no” is any different, just because you say it is?
- Sex is the primary means of emotional connection for many men. If all your husband wanted was an orgasm, he would take care of it himself and wouldn’t bother with pestering you. After all, why would anyone choose to risk a no if there were another option? However, a vital part of why he craves sex with you is that he needs the feelings of closeness that only sex provides him. He needs you more than he needs sex. Sex just happens to be the way he feels connected with you—plus, it comes with an orgasm.
- Many men say that their sexuality is a core part of their identity as a man. When you say no, you are saying no to an activity. Your husband is hearing a rejection of the very core of his being as a man.
From a place of compassion, remind yourself that your husband’s attitude and behavior may well be a result of hurt.
He has a right to feel hurt. While that doesn’t grant him the right to act rudely toward you, being mindful of the reason for his actions may make it easier for you to extend him some grace.
3. Don’t let your feelings drive your actions
Just as your husband has a right to his feelings about your “no,” you have a right to your feelings about his actions.
Remember you are trying to improve your marriage. Part of your growth in this area may mean that you learn not to let your feelings drive your actions.
Don’t let his negative reaction affect how you act. When your husband is acting unlovable, loving him anyway can go so far in aiding his healing from the past hurt.
Even if he is very grouchy, pouty, and whiny after you say no, if you asked him to approach you again in 15 minutes, say yes. If you said you would initiate within 24 hours, do so. (Obviously, if his reaction was abusive in any way, this advice does not apply to you.)
A negative reaction from your husband may not help you grow in the area of sexual intimacy, but approaching his reaction with a heart of compassion and understanding can take away some of the sting.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12
Big Guy’s negative reactions to my “no” lasted about a year after I began to work on sex. As he began to believe that my changes were real, his hurt began to heal. I began to see love in his reactions, rather than hurt.
I persevered—and I am glad of it. The marriage I have now is so much better than I thought was possible.
Even in the face of your husband’s negative reaction, persevere with compassion, with God at your side.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9