By Cathy O’Neill
Imagine, if you will, an entire week or even a month going by without having a conversation with your husband. Imagine a day spent together without as much as a “hello, how you doing?” from him? Or going out for a meal together and having him read a book/read his phone with scarcely a glance in your direction, as you chew your food in silence. Can you imagine how hurt and rejected you would feel?
If it has been a while (let’s say weeks) since you and your husband have had sex, it’s possible that he might be feeling as ignored and rejected as you would feel if he had not spoken to you for weeks. I know that sounds pretty incredible, but you don’t need to take my word for it. Hundreds of men have told us that when their wives routinely say no to sex – as many of us exhausted women do during these early parenting years – or only do it grudgingly after many desperate requests; that they, the men, feel profoundly, lonely, frustrated and angry.
This is just a sample of what men have to say about the impact of no sex and rejection, and why “no” means so much more than no:
“Nothing says you don’t matter like the back of your wife’s head night after night. That same head will jump up when our toddler cries in the early hours of the morning. I’d need to set the bed on fire to get the same kind of attention.” – Barry, married 4 years, 1 kid.
“I feel like the Bottom Head on the Family Totem Pole. I’m standing there, supporting the weight of everyone else in this family, but my needs always come last. Everyone and everything else gets attended to before I do, assuming I get any attention at all.” – Gordon, married 12 years, 2 kids.
Does this guy sound familiar?
“Sex is tied to a guy’s sense of self-worth. When you’re not having sex, your sense of self-esteem suffers. I feel resentful toward my wife when weeks go by without sex. I start to feel angry with her. I also start to think she doesn’t find me attractive and doesn’t like me.”
—Peter, married 8 years, 3 kids
“ We go months without sex and I am miserable. It is humiliating and painful when you are rejected at your most vulnerable, when you’re naked. And when that happens three times in a row, it’s soul destroying.” - Thomas, married 5 years, 1 kid
Men told us that the cumulative effect of repeated rejection is “crushing.” One of the ways men make sense of the world is by keeping score. It’s why they like sports so much, because sports are quantifiable, because who won and who lost is black and white. They like to measure things. Sex is the yardstick by which they measure their wives’ appreciation and need for them. When a woman says no to sex, in that “no,” guys told us they hear that she does not want him, that she does not need him, and—if the no continues for months and months—that she does not love him. We didn’t want to believe this, but men do count up the number of times they’ve been rejected by their wives.
Ask your husband if you don’t think it’s true.
Most men are not great communicators when it comes to relationships. And our own husbands are no exception. When we heard the men in our focus groups talking about the “wheels coming off” and “the sky falling down” when their wives rejected them, we were amazed. And we rushed back to our own husbands to ask if this was all true. Turns out it was/it is. The thing is our husbands never articulated their need for sex in these heart-wrenching terms, and I like to think that if mine had I would have put out a lot more often. Instead our husbands like most men, would say something like “hey, it’s been a while …” and/or give us the Ten O’Clock Shoulder Tap.
Just when you thought it was safe to go to bed …
But now we get it. Sex matters. It really, really matters. And understanding how much the “not tonights” and the “OK, if you really, really, really want tos” hurt makes it a lot easier for us to say yes.
Cathy O’Neill is a co-author of the bestselling book Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows (Collins, 2007). Published in ten countries, Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows details how parenting young children impacts marriage and explores how to laugh more, argue less and communicate better as your family grows. Cathy has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, the BBC, SkyNews and over 50 radio shows across the country and in the UK. You can learn how to babyproof your marriage and find ideas on how to make marriage – and life – during the early parenting years more enjoyable and fulfilling at www.babyproofingyourmarriage.com.