When One Partner Withholds Sex From the Other

Dear Neil: If I don’t have sex when I’m angry or hurt, or when I don’t feel safe opening up to my husband, am I abusing him? Am I required to have the stomach-churning, skin-crawling, leave me dead inside sex—regardless of the physical pain that goes with it, or the longer-lasting damage to my self-esteem? And let’s not leave out the trust issues and resentment all of this causes in my marriage.

Yes, my husband knows that sex affects me in this way, and he is committed to not doing anything about it. So am I abusive for withholding sex? I thought divorce might be the solution here, but he refused to go and still pressures me for sex.

Am I Guilty in California

Dear Guilty: No one—and I mean no one—should be pressured to have sex unless it’s something they want to do, and are willing to offer freely. So no, you are not being abusive by withholding or withdrawing sex from your husband.

The larger question, however, is about what you are going to do about the intolerable living conditions in your marriage. Living the way you’re describing sounds unendurable, and I do not recommend you stay in this arrangement. Either you folks need a really good marriage counselor, or you need a lawyer. But whichever way you go, never again submit yourself to having skin-crawling, stomach-churning sex. That should not be part of anyone’s marriage contract.

Dear Neil: My husband withholds sex from me. It’s the worst feeling ever, because it cuts right to the core of my being. Sad thing is, he knows how much it hurts me, but he keeps doing it. It happens after a fight or disagreement, and we don’t ever get to make-up sex. He keeps snubbing my advances, and I end up feeling rejected. The thought of getting a divorce over this is stressful, but I am tired of feeling defeated in the bedroom.

About To Give Up in Missouri

Dear About To: You need a serious discussion with your husband about how each of you are feeling about your marriage. A second conversation that establishes some fair fighting rules is essential, along with a consensus about how to protect your marriage from disagreements—and how the two of you might make up afterwords. But this may not be about withholding sex. This sounds as if your husband is withholding warmth and affection from you, either to force you to give in to him, or because he is no longer wanting a close relationship with you. It would appear that he is retreating from and/or rejecting the relationship with you. That is why I’m urging you to have a serious discussion with him about how he is feeling about you and about the marriage.

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