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Couples See Sexual Rejection That Isn’t There, Study Says

Research shows that those in established relationships take sexual rejection way harder than they should, when their long-term partners are probably just not in the mood

It’s hard enough to shoot your shot and miss with a new love interest, but there’s something particularly painful when it’s a homecourt game. As much as men in long-term relationships might overestimate how well they’d do on the apps if they were single, guys might similarly overexaggerate the sexual rejection they experience at home, per a new study. 

While past research has established that romantic rejection is often linked to negative mental health outcomes, those studies have primarily focused on rejection from prospective partners rather than existing ones. Still, it’s reasonable to assume that rejection from established significant others would be uniquely upsetting, “given that it involves being hurt by the person whose acceptance one most desires,” authors of the current study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, wrote. 

To test this hypothesis, they recruited over 200 heterosexual couples who had been together for at least two years. For the first experiment, 98 couples kept individual diaries for 28 days about the degree of their sexual interest or disinterest they felt and experienced, as well as their overall relationship satisfaction. 

The second experiment saw an additional 130 heterosexual couples who were cohabitating maintain diaries for the same amount of time about their experiences with sexual rejection. When they felt rejected, participants were asked to described what happened, including the degree to which they communicated their interest and which partner had a higher sex drive in the past. 

After analyzing the diary entries, researchers concluded that men and women overestimated the frequency and degree of which their partners rejected them. This exaggeration was more pronounced in couples who were less satisfied in their relationships, and men were found to be better at detecting rejection, whereas women were better at recognizing when they weren’t being rejected. 

This skewed perception of rejection also negatively affected long-term relationships across the board. “For example, overestimating the likelihood of rejection from one’s partner may result in partners expressing sexual interest less frequently with one another than one or both partners desires, thereby impeding optimal sexual functioning among couples,” the study’s authors warned.

In other words, if you get shut down enough, it’s only a matter of time before you stop trying, and that’s not good for intimacy in any romantic relationship. 

Although researchers aren’t entirely sure why men and women see more sexual rejection in their relationships than is actually there, they suspect a breakdown in communication occurs when one person just isn’t in the mood. “Given the emotionally charged nature of sexual interactions in relationships and the pain that sexual rejection can inflict, it may be especially difficult for partners to convey feelings of disinterest in sex to one another, thus creating greater opportunities for misunderstandings,” they added.

The silver lining here is that in most cases, the only thing your partner is rejecting is an activity you can do by yourself. So the next time you get rebuffed, don’t take it as a slight, but rather an opportunity to love yourself instead.