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The emotional hurt we experience when we are repeatedly rejected by our partner(s) or spouse does not lead to enjoyable sex or a healthy emotional relationship. Instead, it can lead to the primary sexual pursuer in the relationship to become distant, often they stop initiating attempts for sex and intimacy. When this pattern happens time after time, often intimacy, sex, and desire fizzles out in the relationship. I witness this dynamic occur quite often in Sex Therapy while working with couples or partners.

Essentially, the sexual pursuer-distancer dynamic plays out like this:

Typically one person in a relationship, the pursuer, tries to initiate sex or intimacy numerous times over a long period of time. The pursuer may use verbal attempts (“Let’s get it on!” “I want you.” “How about tonight?”), physical attempts (grabbing their partner’s butt, buying new lingerie/sex toys, making sexual gestures, offering a back rub or foot rub), or emotional attempts (planning a date night to emotionally reconnect).

Often, the other person or persons(s), the distancer, will reject the bids for sexual interaction or physical intimacy verbally (“Not tonight”, “No”, “I’m not in the mood”) or physically (pushing away a hug or not wanting to cuddle on the couch). The reasons the bids for intimacy, or sex, are rejected are often complicated and it varies person to person. Maybe the distancer is tired, exhausted, or overwhelmed with work, parenting, or financial stress. Maybe they feel smothered by the pursuer constantly asking for sex. Maybe they are frustrated with other issues within the relationship that are not being corrected. Perhaps they have concerns about trust, communication, or the vulnerability of intimacy or sex. There could even be a trauma history that is impacting intimacy and sex.

The sexual pursuer-distancer dynamic leaves the pursuer feeling rejected, hurt, lonely, and, sometimes, inadequate as a lover. Over time, the pursuer stops initiating intimacy all together. The pursuer often becomes angry, resentful, frustrated, or apathetic about sex and intimacy with their parnter(s). This is when couples end up in my office because the distancer doesn’t know how to pursue and, at this point, so much hurt has happened within the relationship that the damage feels irreparable.

Often, the intention of the distancer was not to hurt their partner(s) by rejecting intimacy, but unfortunately emotional hurt is a common byproduct of consistent rejection. Partners and couples tend to struggle talking about how to initiate sex, what they desire in the bedroom, and what intimacy they require in their day to day life. When couples struggle communicating, expressing their feelings, or listening to their partner, they create more emotional hurt and sexual distance within the relationship.

For couples or partnerships to experience happy, healthy sex, we must focus on increasing communication, listening, supporting the pursuer, and supporting the distancer. Couples or partners struggling with this issues can benefit from Sex Therapy. The sexual pursuer dynamic can change! The emotional hurt can be healed if the pattern changes.

For more information on Sex Therapy, check out www.BloomBehavioralHealth.com

Megan Neitling, LMHC (she/they)