You are currently viewing Episode 5: Saying No without Wounding

Episode 5: Saying No without Wounding

Having your desire synced with your partner’s may sound ideal, but rare in practice. Find out how to get back in the game when you are not in the mood.

Episode 5: Saying No without Wounding


Laurie Watson: Hi, it’s time for Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy. This is Laurie Watson sex therapist and author, with my cohost, Tony Delmedico, psychotherapist. And we are here to talk about all things intimate and sexual. And help you get the most out of your sex life.

Tony Delmedico: You can check us out on the web at Tell us what you want to hear about and let us know what you think of the program. Laurie, sex talk today, where is Foreplay going to lead us?

Laurie Watson: Tony, today we’re going to talk about how to be turned down without being wounded.

Tony Delmedico: Ouch. My poor ego was already bruised. Just thinking about this topic. Saying no without wounding your partner.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. Sounds like it’s a difficult one. What we do when our partner asks us for sex and we’re not in the mood.

Tony Delmedico: I’m thinking about how it was when we were dating versus now that we’re married. Or now that we’ve been together for five or ten years, somehow something shifts. It seems like the rejections when we’re dating don’t cut as deeply. I don’t think somehow.

Laurie Watson: Are there any rejections when we are dating?

Tony Delmedico: Are there? When did they occur?

Laurie Watson: I mean, usually not as much. It does seem when we’re dating, I think that we’re in perfect sync with each other in terms of our desire matches our partner’s desire. And boom, you know, they ask, we want. We want, they want. It’s very great.

Tony Delmedico: Well, yeah, and I think the whole dance is a look toward the sunny side. So, even if there is, you know, I’m tired, let’s go on to bed. It doesn’t sink in as deeply. And I think, in previous episodes we’ve talked about some of the harder parts of our partners that we start to, come face to face with. And so, when we’re rejected, I think, it may be part of that shadow stuff again, creeping into the relationship.

Laurie Watson: Sure. I mean, the ways that our families maybe didn’t meet our needs suddenly crops up as more monstrous in our head. We kind of see through our partners face back to the ghosts of the past. And we think, “Oh, here it comes again. Somebody who doesn’t care about my needs, who isn’t going to meet my needs.” I think the other thing about a sexual rejection is there is a fantasy that our partner will be sexual when we are sexual feel that. And it’s kind of the fantasy that we have as children. You know, our mother will meet our needs without being asked, you know, that she just knows what they are. And so, when we’re feeling horny or feeling desire and our partner feels suddenly different. It’s the shock to our system. Like, what? What’s going on? And you know, it feels really bad. And if they don’t say no tactfully, it can hurt our feelings. And it can remind us of our needs not met. And sort of start that whole downward cycle.


Tony Delmedico: No, I would agree. And I think you’re touching on, not just in with respect to intimacy, but I think in general, the more time you spend with your partner, the more you think you can read the other person’s mind or the more you’re thinking they should be able to read yours. And so —

Laurie Watson: The wish. I think the reality is that we learn how different they are. You know, my husband likes to say, “You know, one day I was — I went to bed and I woke up with the alien.” You know, I mean just who I was so different than he had imagined. I mean, we really are not the same people. And I think when we’re dating, we like to pretend we’re the same people. That were just so alike and we’re so alike in our tastes and our values. And then suddenly we realize, no, this person has a whole separate world. They feel differently. And especially in sex, it can be so different.

Tony Delmedico: No, I would agree. And I think we’re touching on something here just with the topic. How to Say No Without Wounding. And we’ve talked in the past about the walls or the defenses that couples put up between themselves. And it’s my opinion in working with the men and the couples that come into my consulting room, that the base of the wall oftentimes is built in repeated refusals.

Laurie Watson: The repeated rejection.

Tony Delmedico: Yeah, the rejection.

Laurie Watson: That their partner is rejecting them.

Tony Delmedico: Yeah. And I think when you receive that rejection, I mean you have to do a whole lot of self-talk just to get through the wounding part of it. And put it past you to put yourself out there for another ask. So, with each rejection I think is another layer of bedrock in that wall. So, I think a lot of times when couples come in or individuals are in pain in their relationships, it’s typically around a lack of intimacy. And typically, at the base of that, are these rejections that sometimes have gone on for a decade or more.

Laurie Watson: And I do think that men bear the brunt of rejection. Because they’re the ones more willing, often to initiate sex. And I think it’s something so important to take note of. If you’re a female and you don’t initiate very much, that initiation is an act of vulnerability, right? I mean, asking for sex and getting the whole ball rolling is really a tough act in terms of giving ourselves and exposing ourselves to our partner. And I think women often think, “Oh, you know, he just wants it all the time.” And so, they don’t realize what it costs him to ask. And so, they don’t count their rejections as potentially wounding him.

Tony Delmedico: Right. I would agree. And stereotypically I think that’s true. But giving a voice to the men that I work with who come in who have a lower libido than their partners, for example. At one hand, a number of men that come in and say, “My partner wants to have sex almost every day. And I’m a once or twice a week kind of guy.” And so, the amount of wounding that goes on that she’s receiving day in, day out is also devastating. And he knows he’s turning her down. And he knows what that feels like as well. So, it can be fairly devastating both ways. But you know, historically and stereotypically, I think men are portrayed as being the aggressor. But for those of you listening, regardless, somebody receiving a rejection. And it’s going to be causing a big wound if you’re both not able to talk about it and work through it.

Laurie Watson: And I do think a woman who gets turned down, oftentimes I say, you know, the world population would end if it were up to women to initiate. Because even if she has solid desire, if she gets turned down once, I mean oftentimes she will never ask again. Even if she feels desire. And I think, you know, men get turned down all the time. And they keep asking and asking and asking. And I would say for the low desire male partner who turns down the female, I think the one additional difficulty for a female is culturally and probably hormonally, truthfully, men are more, are initiating more often. And so. she’s listening to all her girlfriends say, “My husband can’t keep his hands off me. He’s always pieing at me.” Everybody at the cocktail party is saying that. No one is saying, “My husband didn’t want it.” And so, what does she do with that? Usually what she does with that is, she thinks, I’m not attractive. I mean, often I see couples as you do. And these women are attractive. They’re in good shape. I mean they can be beautiful women. But for whatever reason he has lower desire. And so, he’s the turner downer. But it really hits her psyche I think differently than a man being turned down sexually.

Tony Delmedico: So, we’re talking about a rejection being very different from the feminine side versus the masculine.

Laurie Watson: I think there is a difference. Yeah. And I think there is a difference in terms of just the way we, our bodies run, right? Men have so much more testosterone, you know, like a thousand times, often. Literally a thousand times more than a woman. A thousand to 300 is kind of the range for a guy, that’s nanograms per deciliter for anybody who cares out there. And that’s an amount in your blood. And so, think about a thousand as an 18 year old guy who is just horny all the time. And at 300, these men have very low desire. So, they come in and they say, “you know, my erections don’t work. I think about sex about once a week. But if my wife doesn’t, you know, if she hurts my feelings, or you know, we have a fight, I don’t want to do it. Viagra doesn’t work very well on my erections.” That’s at a level of 300. And most women’s, their testosterone is 70 to 2. And 70 starts when she’s 18. You know, we all think women peak for their desire when they’re 35. And actually, women come into their own in terms of their self-image and their ability to ask. But their hormonal peak is when they’re 18. And 70 is, you know, a tiny amount of testosterone down to about half that when she’s 40. And infinitesimal when she is menopausal. So, her physiological hunger is much less. And I think this turndown problem in part a is often caused by these differences in physiological hunger. He is hungry so much more. Gets turned down so much more. She isn’t as hungry, doesn’t understand perhaps mentally how wounding that is to him and how they need to negotiate this. So, I mean, I see one of the biggest problems in terms of the wounding is, you know, what do we do with these frequency differences? And how do we help people through them to negotiate them. So, one person doesn’t feel drowned by requests. And the other person doesn’t feel starved by not enough sex.

Tony Delmedico: Right. I’m thinking about, you know, with premarital counseling for example. It would be a wonderful conversation point for couples who are thinking about getting together. How are we going to negotiate these times when there’s going to be moments where you’re interested in and I’m not. And I think that’s true at any stage in your relationship.

Laurie Watson: I think so too. And I’ve taught premarital classes for many, many years. I will say oftentimes when you’re getting married, you know, it just doesn’t touch your radar in terms of how this might work.

Tony Delmedico: Yeah. It’s never going to happen. Yeah, that’s somebody else’s problem.

Laurie Watson: Everybody has sexual problems. Everybody does at some point. Yeah, so.

Tony Delmedico: So, how do you negotiation through those.

Laurie Watson: So, let’s come back to this Tony. And this is Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with Laurie Watson and Tony Delmedico.

Tony Delmedico: We’ll be right back.

Commercial: Wanting Sex Again, how to rediscover desire and heal a sexless marriage by certified sex therapist, Laurie Watson. Each chapter is designed to fix one of the problems that caused low libido from early marriage through the childbearing years, even all the way through menopause. I’ve also had men read it and tell me that for them it was the most helpful thing they read about resolving sexual problems. Look for Wanting Sex Again on You can also talk to Laurie Watson for therapy in person or via Skype. I offer couples counseling and sex therapy and I think about both aspects of the relationship, emotional intimacy, and sexual technique. And that combination together helps marriages be happy. Improve your sex. And improve your relationship with awakening center for couples and intimacy. Find out more at and sign up for their next couples retreat weekend hosted by Laurie Watson., awaken what’s possible.

Tony Delmedico: Welcome back to Foreplay. I’m psychotherapist, Tony Delmedico. And here with my cohost, Laurie Watson. Today we’re talking about how to say no to your partner without wounding. And Laurie, in the first half of the show, we spent a considerable amount of time, eventually get in the place where saying no is a very normal and natural part of the relationship over time. And I think for couples learning how to say no without wounding is very important. You spent some time given some biological underpinning to the fact that just very naturally, there’s oftentimes a big difference sometimes in the desire that each couple will have individually. So, if you haven’t gotten to this bump in the road yet as a couple, sooner or later you’re going to. And being able to talk about negotiating that water in a very, very, empathic insensitive way is really important.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. What I like to call it a rain check. So, if your partner asks you, you know, for sex, and you’re not in the mood. Basically, you know, just a light, playful way of saying, you know, “Hey, how about Saturday?” And the thing is if you are offering the rain check, that means you have to remember on Saturday to bring it back up. If you offer the rain check, it is your job. It is your responsibility to remember that you offered that. And bring it back up on the day that you said that you would and have sex. Or you know, if you’re deathly ill or something, then you renegotiate. But by and large, the person who offers the rain check is the responsible party to then reinitiate sex again. And I think this is, you know, this would really help a lot of couples who are frustrated because sometimes maybe somebody says, and it’s genuine, you know, they’re not in the mood, they’re too tired, they’re too whatever. And they say, you know, “No, I really can’t tonight.” And then they say, “How about the weekend?” And then they forget. And the partner begins to feel like, “This is just a brush off. This is just something that you’re saying to me, you know, to put me off. Because you don’t want to and you don’t want sex anytime.” And so, you know, it just adds to this frustration. And I think that is when, oftentimes, the person who has been rejected starts to pout. And do some of the activities that don’t add to a good cycle anyway. Although, I think we can have pouters out there any day of the week, you know, just because they want their needs met. And you know, they feel entitled. And it’s on some level for those needs to be met. And they’re having trouble seeing that their partner is in a different energy space. And so, the no might feel wounding anyway. Even if you give the best brain check in the world.

Tony Delmedico: Right. I would agree. And oftentimes that is the first sign between a couple where space immediately gets created. The one the person is rejected sometimes will get up and go in the other room. They may go downstairs and watch TV for the rest of the night. They may just sleep on the couch. And then the couple has to negotiate the intimacy gap that’s come between them. So, as you were talking Laurie, I was thinking about this idea of saying no and the partners saying, “You know, well here’s a rain check, let’s get together over the weekend.” And I don’t know if this is going to sound stereotypical or not, but at least from a lot of the men that I visit with, after about three days with no intimacy, it is almost as if you’ve never had sex before ever. And there’s never a chance that it’s ever going to happen again. So, something gets really kind of crazy in our — I don’t know how it is for a female. But in the male psyche you really wind up in the desert very quickly. And the idea of, “Well, how about this weekend?” You might as well say, “How about 2017?”

Laurie Watson: And it’s Monday.

Tony Delmedico: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: If it’s Thursday, that’s okay because it’s tomorrow. But if it’s Monday, it’s forever.

Tony Delmedico: Or how about Friday night at 9:30 after the kids are asleep. Just give me something, put a pot of gold under the rainbow instead of saying, “Well, you know, maybe a rainbow will come and maybe there’ll be some gold there. Maybe not. But trust me, I’m good for it.”

Laurie Watson: And Tony, I think what you’re saying is so important. There is something about this window of three days. That seems to be like a male window in terms of, you know, they’re starving. And if a meal isn’t coming in three days, they get a little frantic and a little crazy. I mean, I do think that in busy couples, you know, sometimes it’s not quite enough. But even twice a week would be so much better. And that’s like one quickie. And you know, one longie. You know, that’s like Tuesday and Saturday.

Tony Delmedico: Just something to keep us in the game.

Laurie Watson: Exactly.

Tony Delmedico: And I think most couples that I talked to in most men individually, I mean they all laugh and say, “I want sex every day.”

Laurie Watson: Sure.

Tony Delmedico: Some of them, male and female. But at the end, after the laughing dies down, they say, well, you know, two or three times a week. You know, three or four on a great week. And one or two on a down week. But on average, I think that two to three a week is I think by and large where most people have a thermostat set for mental health.

Laurie Watson: Right. And I think though that if you’re dealing with a partner, usually a female partner who has lower desire and you say two or three times a week. I mean she’s going to feel a little swamped by that. Like, “Oh my gosh, I do not have time for this.” That feels like. “I’m going to have to work up too much energy.” You know, because frequently a sexual pursuer is — becomes very sensitized to rejection. And often has a very high sort of level of what their expectation is going to happen. So, if you’re a sexual pursuer, I mean in part and you need sex more frequently. I mean, maybe you got to settle for less intense times in between. I mean, I think quickies are wonderful. Especially if the woman uses a vibrator. That way she can kind of electronically catch up with his natural hormonal, you know, ability to have, you know, quick arousal and quick orgasm. Or maybe she doesn’t want that. And I think if you are a sexual pursuer and your wife perhaps says, “You know, I’m glad to make love to you tonight, honey. It’s great. But I’m not hungry.” I mean, you have to believe that. You have to accept the gift of love. Love a great motivator for sex. I mean, many times men are particularly tell me, “But I want her to want it.” It’s like, “Okay, but she’s not a male. I mean, she doesn’t have as much testosterone. She probably does want it. She just doesn’t want it as frequently.” And so, can you accept her gift of love that says, really it’s not my night, but you know, I’m glad to wrap my arms and legs around you and you know, feel good with you. Because she often feels that as intimacy and closeness. But it’s not her night to necessarily do the focus that she needs to do to reach orgasm.

Tony Delmedico: I see what you’re saying. And we’ve talked in other shows about this pursuer distancer model. And I was wondering, in thinking about the men I’ve worked with over time, I’m not sure any man who’s come in who’s been having sex three times a week has demanded more.

Laurie Watson: I don’t ever have men that have had sex three times a week.

Tony Delmedico: But the ones that aren’t having any sex begin this really hot pursuit. So, I’m really curious to know, what comes first? The chicken or the egg here?

Laurie Watson: If she withdraws or if he starts too much.

Tony Delmedico: And then he starts to get into a frantic pace and starts pursuing, all of a sudden. I want more sex. I want more sex. And in reality, that maybe he — in reality, if he’s getting it three times a week, he’s a happy camper by and large. And then there are weeks, there are one or two times he knows there’s a nice pattern here of trust and gift.

Laurie Watson: And I think when it is a good pattern, there is a relaxation. I mean maybe he says, “You know, I want it every day.” But when he realizes that, you know, they have found their way through and there’s a frequency that is decent. He starts to relax. And I would say couples often come in saying that same thing. You know, she’s the chicken or he’s the egg. And they want to figure out who started it.

Tony Delmedico: And Laurie, we are paying you to tell us. Is it him or is it me?

Laurie Watson: And it’s like ching, ching. You go ahead and spend three sessions on that one. You know, but it’s like, to me, I would say the issue is how do we resolve this? How do we accept that we are different creatures sexually? And it’s disappointing. I mean, the two big things in marriage that we deal with are disappointments about often, our disagreements and our differences. You know, we are disappointed that our partner feels differently, wants things differently than we do. And is different than we imagine them.

Tony Delmedico: And how that changes.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. And the chicken and the egg thing, in terms of sexual frequency. First of all, I mean if somebody asked me once, “Well it doesn’t, it come down to that I’m going to have to have a sex a lot more often than I really want to and he’s going to get sex a lot less than he does?” And I said, “Technically, yes, it comes down to that. But the heart of the matter that really resolves it is a deeper empathic understanding.” There’s a metal layer between couples, that if we can get them to that place, they can resolve that problem for eternity. Because you know, if you really understand how deeply your partner feels sexuality as love, you know that they need that frantic thing that you talked about in men. It’s not just — I don’t believe it’s just about scratching the itch. I also believe it’s about belonging. Feeling connected to their partner. It’s like it bathes them, if you will, in a way that allows them to be more vulnerable and open in the relationship. And for women oftentimes, and not all the time. And we work with the other case as well. But oftentimes she needs to be bathed essentially first in emotional connection before she wants to open up sexually. And there’s always this, you go first. You go. You give me what I need so that I can give you what you need. You know, give me heat, I’ll give you wood. That doesn’t work. Do the thing that your partner needs first. And I promise you in reasonable couples, in six months, it will resolve completely.

Tony Delmedico: Wonderful.

Laurie Watson: So, if you understand that metal level, like, why do they need this? What does it say to them when they get sex from me?

Tony Delmedico: Laurie, I think we’ve spent the bulk of our segment today talking about how couples can say no without wounding the other and having those conversations after the fact. The idea about a rain check is fabulous. I think it reframes it. So, it’s not even, no, not tonight. But you’re giving them an option, how about Friday night at 8:30 and making good on that is what you’re saying. I think I want to spend a few minutes talking about what you do in the moment? So, in the heat of the moment, when either partner is really aroused and really vulnerable and putting themselves out there and they’re shut down. What do you do as a couple with that aroused partner?

Laurie Watson: Right.

Tony Delmedico: So, do you have some thoughts around that for couples?

Laurie Watson: You know, I think that it depends on the receiving person, who’s receiving the initiation. And how far they can go. I mean, sometimes, maybe it’s not a no. Maybe it’s a partial no. It’s like I say this to couples and they just grown when I say this. But it’s like, you know, “I’m not up for it. Can I hold you while you masturbate?” You know, I’m still connected and they’re lying there. And you know a lot of people just, that is such a private activity. They don’t ever offer that.

Tony Delmedico: It’s funny, we call it a partial no. But to me as a guy, if I’m the one that’s excited in the moment, that’s almost a partial yes. I think that’s the way of turning it into a positive in a way of couple being really close while the male pleasures himself or the female.

Laurie Watson: Sure, sure.

Tony Delmedico: Oftentimes the partner can learn and watch. And oftentimes that can be a jump starter for the partners. Well, who is saying, “Well, I’m not really interested in.” And he or she all of a sudden finds themselves, really excited by that.

Laurie Watson: Right. I mean, I think sometimes the quickie is, you know, a no and a yes. It’s like, yes, as long as the person who’s providing quickie. Obviously, the woman who says, you know, yes and her heart means I can be with you. Then it’s a true yes. If it’s like, “Okay, I’m just going to be the starfish and lay here.” Don’t ever offer that. I mean that is just so soul robbing and soul killing. I think that that is not a yes. So, if you’re going to say no, say no. And mean it. And then and then deal with the hurt feelings about it.

Tony Delmedico: Or offer up the opportunity of, you know, if you’d like to touch yourself, I’ll be right here with you and be close. And we can hold some space together under that situation. I think that can be actually very healing.

Laurie Watson:  You are a psychotherapist. What do you mean by that? Hold some space together?

Tony Delmedico: Well, you’re not leaving. You’re not rolling over and saying you deal with your erection or you deal with your aroused pelvis. You’re saying, “I get that you’re attracted or turned on for whatever reason. Whether it’s just you haven’t had it in a few days, or you’re really attracted to me right now. I’m going to honor that. I’m going to stay right here in the game with you and go ahead and masturbate.” And the couples that have the courage to try that typically find that really redemptive and really healing in their relationship. They actually wind up not feeling rejected nine times out of ten. And the couples will check in the next morning and say, “What was that like for you? I’m sorry I couldn’t get myself in the mood. I appreciate you working through this.” And the man’s got his relief or she’s got her relief. And you know, the couple stays to it. And there is no wounding in that. I don’t think. The no is okay. It’s tolerable. It’s a partial yes for the couple. So, I like it.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

Tony Delmedico: It’s a wonderful solution.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. Or maybe I would say, you know, offer oral sex or something that maybe isn’t as involving or you know, maybe you touching your partner. But it’s not necessarily your night, but you can still give them pleasure. I mean, oftentimes it’s actually harder for me to get the men who have low desire to go ahead and give to the female partner who has higher desire, you know, pleasure that night he’s not into it. And it’s like, “Okay, that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, she is, you can still give her an orgasm. Why don’t you try that?” You know, I think it is often harder for him because it’s going to take him longer. But he doesn’t necessarily have to feel sexual to give her sexual pleasure.

Tony Delmedico: Right.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

Tony Delmedico: Wonderful. Well, today we’ve been talking about saying no without wounding your partner. We’ve got some great ideas from Laurie Watson, sex therapist and author. I’m Tony Delmedico, psychotherapist. Laurie, before we end, let’s give our listeners a couple of tips on how to say no.

Laurie Watson: Okay. Just the tip.

Tony Delmedico: Just the tip, Laurie.

Laurie Watson: Offer a rain check and then write it down. Put it in your calendar. Make a note. But make sure you bring it back up on the date and the time that you suggested the rain check.

Tony Delmedico: Great, and my tip, and I’m a huge fan of this, is go ahead and masturbate. If you’re in the moment and the heat and the energy is there as a couple, make that happen. Arm-in-arm. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time for some more Foreplay.

Laurie Watson: Hey, help us on top here at Foreplay. We’d love it if you would subscribe and share it with your friends. And please take one sec and rate and review us. Thanks.