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 in primitive need, 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:
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?”
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 fifteen minutes would have given his erectile medication time to begin working and allowed him to feel calm, connected, and confident.
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.