Hello Dr. Eve,
My partner gets angry when I refuse sex with him. He gets really hectic.
Like he will turn his back on me, sulk and not talk to me for days. And
then bring the kids in. He says things like: “Your mother doesn’t love
me”. I eventually give in and apologize and have sex. Then he is himself
again. He is kind and attentive and nice to me. Until the next time that I refuse sex.
Also, the sex always has to be long and drawn out. If I want it to go
faster, he gets angry. I feel stuck as I love him but am finding that it is
affecting me badly. I’m short-tempered and am getting headaches. What do you suggest I do?

Dr.Eve responds:

Hello Lebo,
My curious mind wonders why your refusal to be sexual triggers such
a dark response in your husband. He reacts like someone who feels
crushed by your rejection. And I get why you are confused by his reaction
because surely as adults we can accept a sexual rejection.

We can express “I am disappointed”, or “Let’s plan for a time when you
are more in the mood”, or “I’m going to masturbate and take care of
myself”, or “Let’s hug”, or “Tell me what you feel like doing if penetration
is not on the table for you today.”

These are examples of healthy rational and reasonable responses, right?!
So you get that your husband’s response is coming from a mind that at
that moment is not rational nor reasonable. It is coming from a brain that
is lit up, a brain that says “ Your survival is under threat. You better
fight, flight, or freeze your way out of this situation” And so he flights his
way out.

He shuts down from you as his brain tells him you are the enemy. He
does this instinctively in order to protect himself from the deep hurt he feels when you reject him. Usually, old feelings of abandonment and rejection from childhood rear their ugly heads and he feels the same fears all over again. He is really suffering in those moments.

As I am saying this, I am not minimizing your suffering. You are left,
abandoned, and feel what I call “intimacy injustice”… It’s like, all you did
was exercise your right to say “NO” to sex you do not want and you get
severely punished and shamed for this.. must feel like an injustice.

The long-drawn-out sex is another indicator of your husband’s longing for
attachment, longing to keep you close, to feel in control, and fearing
feeling abandonment. It is a burden that you now carry. Your sexual voice
may well become silenced in bed as you know that your sexual desires
are not equitably attended to nor respected.

Your body is symptomizing, letting you know that you are emotionally
taking the strain. It happens as you are living with this sexual sword hanging over your head. And of course, you will find excuses to avoid going to bed, or begin an argument at bedtime.. anything to avoid being sexual.

This is not sustainable for you or your relationship.
I highly recommend that your husband seeks out a therapist who works
from a trauma-informed lens.
Meanwhile, ensure that you prioritize practicing self-care for yourself
mostly compassion and kindness.