For couples, emotional connection and sexual intimacy are dynamically related, so difficulties in one area often destabilize the other area. And the “chicken-or-the-egg” relationship between sex and emotional connection may be different for each partner. For some people, the desire to be sexual comes as a result of feeling emotionally connected. But for others, perhaps because of their histories, physiology, and attachment styles (their particular love map), being sexual is how they find their way to emotional vulnerability.
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:
After lunch on a Sunday afternoon, Adam wiggles his eyebrows at his wife Sharon suggesting a “nap” for themselves while their children are napping. Feeling stressed after corralling young children to church and lunch, Sharon sighs and heads for the bedroom.