Understanding and Handling a “No” – Sexual Rejection

Those of us bold enough to initiate sex will eventually hear the dreaded word “no” from our spouse. How we react to that “no” will either move us toward disconnection or create greater intimacy in marriage. Though hearing a “no” is never easy and can literally throw us into a tail spin, we have the power to choose how we react. We can refuse to make the “no” personal and instead lean into connection regardless of whether we have sex.

I have experienced both sides of that “no”. Years ago, I said it more than I should have. Until I experienced a “no” myself, I had no idea how well my husband had been handling hearing “no” all those years. It has caused me to think about why I did say “no” and what I actually should have communicated.

Many times, the reason women say “no” to sex has nothing to do with whether they love their husband.  In fact, their saying “no” might be an indication that they need their husband more than ever. A “no” might actually be a cry for help.

Reasons for “No”

Women might feel totally exhausted and just need sleep. We might feel insecure about our body and embarrassed to share it during sex. Our mind might be filled with worry or stress over trying to manage life. Or maybe we feel insecure about whether our husband really love us. Maybe we feel like every time our husband pursues us, all they really want is sex.

When a “no” causes a husband to retreat in rejection, start pouting or become harsh, they move towards disconnection. They communicate without words that all they really wanted was sex. Once sex is off the table, they loose interest in us.

When a husband leans into connection, even when we say “no”, they prove with their actions that they care more about their wife then an orgasm. They declare they did not just initiate because their body yearned for a release, but because they yearned for connection. Sex was not driven by selfish desire, but as another way to say, “I love you.” When they don’t turn away after a “no” but continue to pursue us in other ways they build trust.

Sometimes a woman saying “no” to sex, is really a plea for help. A cry for our partner to come along side of us and pull us up. To insist on taking care of our needs by sending us to bed early or helping with the night feeding. To affirm our beauty by looking into our eyes, touching our curves and saying, “You are so beautiful”.  When we feel stressed, a husband asking about our day will help us process and stop worrying. A back rub might ease our tension a husband’s strong arms comfort us. Our “no” means something and we need you to move toward us and not away.

A woman in class, said, “When I say ‘no’ I don’t really mean no.” She was not trying to insinuate that she wanted her husband to force himself on her. What she was saying was that she’d like to say “yes”, but she needed some help. Her husband’s pursuit, even when she didn’t want sex, would help her move towards trusting him in the future, or maybe even that night.

So much of sex comes down to communication. Interpreting the meaning of a “no” is like asking a husband your mind.

Understanding Our “no”

Ladies, we need to understand the meaning of our own “no” and communicate what we really need. Share your fears, your insecurities or your frustrations. Help your husband be your hero and give him a chance to succeed. Seek connection by honestly sharing why you can’t say “yes” right now.

Final Thoughts

Even when we don’t communicate well, we still communicate. Our “no” means something. How you handle a “no” also says something. You have the power to change the dynamics in your marriage by not taking things personally and leaning into connection in ways that feel scary and hard. Ground yourself in God and continue to pursue each other. Even during a “no”.


Comments 7

  1. “No’s” have a context. Explaining the context (reason, situation, feelings, etc.) could be a real help and an occasion for communication. It could, also, enable the other to help us to a” yes.” A “no” with a sincere rain-check could, likewise, defuse a potentially tense situation.

  2. Ronald D Stauffer

    I always read every one of your articles and enjoy them so much. My wife and I have been married 36 years and have had a very good intimacy life together. Something we resolved to do since the beginning was to never say no to a sexual request. She would report that it’s not as difficult as it sounds or as many (most?) women might imagine it to be. This has worked for us because of three things
    (a) we never ask when it’s obviously bad timing, and
    (b) if it’s bad timing we say “could I ask for a rain-check till ____?” Or “Instead of ABC sex act that you requested, could we instead do XYZ sex act this time?” and
    (c) the initiating spouse is always gracious in response to the counter-proposal.

    This has worked well for us. We try to keep the counter-proposals to an absolute minimum, maybe a few times a year or less. Rain checks are quickly made good by the initiation of the one who asked for it, always by the end of the next day, at latest.

    The result is that we have sex almost every time one of us wants it, but the few times we don’t it’s never a “No.” Instead it’s a good-natured sexual negotiation.

    I feel so blessed to be a husband of 36 years who can honestly say “Neither of us has ever heard the word ‘no’ in the bedroom.” And yet this has not been a chore or cause for resentment for either of us because of the good will and give-and-take in the process.

    Keep up the excellent work that you do Ruth. Thank you.

    “Smiling Ron”

  3. I’m afraid I’m someone who didn’t handle “no” very well at all. I’m the wife. My husband went through a period of stress and depression that lasted over seven years. He is not one to talk about his feelings. I had no concrete idea what the problem was. I allowed myself to be nearly destroyed in the process. When he finally came around, he was shocked to realize how far down I had gotten. It was almost as if he were clueless as to what was happening to me.

    I’m an average size, average looking woman. I was told every day of my childhood that I was fat and ugly, so I had low self esteem to begin with. But I was always pretty upbeat and outgoing. For the first half of our marriage almost all sex was initiated by me. My husband claims he wanted me, he was just too nervous to initiate so he just waited on me. I guess I believe him.
    But when he started saying no, then flat out rejecting me, I turned to blogs to try to find out why. Bad move. As I read, I learned that most men do most or all of the initiating. Most husbands love their wives and show that through sex. Because my husband didn’t want sex, I figured he didn’t love me. Or I disgusted him. Most wives are beautiful and get to choose if sex will happen, not the other way around. I began to feel just awful about myself. I stopped initiating because I couldn’t take the rejection. I felt unloved, unwanted, repulsive. Worthless. I figured he was just disgusted by me. I believed all the lies I was told as a child. I felt like a complete waste of space. I even felt bad for feeling bad because I know God doesn’t make mistakes, but I felt like such a waste.

    Things are a little better now. He’s no loner depressed, although he still has the same crazy stressful job. I initiate a little, maybe 15% of what I used to, because it’s really hard to even feel like I’m worth his sexual energy. It’s hard to go back to being so open and vulnerable. He initiats now more than he ever did, so that helps.

    But no, I didn’t handle the no’s very well. After years of rejection with no reasons given, it just got too hard for me. I’m disappointed in myself, because I always thought I was stronger than that, but I ended up really, really down.

    • mm

      Thanks for sharing your experience. And I can totally relate to not handling the “No” well. My negative lens of not thinking my husband was attracted to me made his “no’s” feel like total rejection. When all honesty he was just tired.
      Glad you are doing better. Keep talking to your husband and support him as he goes through this tough time at work, and don’t stop initiating.

  4. Thank you, Ruth, for this post, and thank you, B, for baring your soul with such eloquent and raw authenticity. I’m likewise a spouse—the husband—who’s had to navigate “No”s over the years and, like B, I’ve not weathered them particularly well or with fortitude. Like B, I have low self-esteem and self-image, so a decline cuts to my core. Through focus and prayer having done the Yerkovichs’ HOW WE LOVE book and study, I’m better able to express why “No”s so wound me, and my bride is better atuned and no longer says No-period, but No-comma-not-right-now-but-how-about-in-a-bit.

    Thank you for shining a light on this for couples to see and explore and understand.

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