There you are, having a nice, relaxing evening sitting with your significant other watching a movie. You feel like the mood is right and you lean in for that kiss….only to have your partner quickly move the other direction or make a sarcastic comment back to you. Perhaps this particular scenario has never happened to you but almost anyone who has been in a relationship has experienced some form of rejection when they’ve attempted to initiate intimacy. Whether it’s a rejected kiss or a feeling that your spouse never wants to engage in sex anymore, sometimes it may feel like continuing to make these attempts is fruitless and frustrating. However, new research by the RELATE team of scholars has found that these attempts, even if unsuccessful, may actually help your relationship. Here are three important findings from a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships by Dr. Brian Willoughby and colleagues that may encourage you to continue your intimacy attempts:
Attempting intimacy, even without it actually being successful, is linked to improved relationship satisfaction for the partner attempting to be intimate.
If you try to be intimate but your partner says no, you may feel rejected in the moment when your partner doesn’t return your desire for intimacy. However, in the long run, research suggests you may actually feel better about your relationship. How can that be true? This is probably because as you continue to attempt intimacy, not all such advances are rejected and those that lead to intimacy create moments of bonding and connection. While it may be frustrating when you get rejected, remember that next time the feeling may be more mutual. When partners get discouraged and stop trying to be intimate, relationships begin to develop deeper and more long-term problems.
Attempting intimacy is also linked to higher relationship satisfaction for the partner who may reject the attempt.
Again, this may seem counterintuitive since your partner might have rejected your advance, but even if your partner isn’t in the mood for a make-out session or sex, the fact that you are showing interest in them likely bolsters their self-esteem and makes them feel better and more secure in your relationship. Even if no intimacy occurs, research has suggested that attempting to be intimate may still make your partner feel better about both you and the relationship. And that will likely lead to long-term benefits for both of you.
Attempting intimacy is linked to lower conflict and better communication for both partners.
Not only can attempts to be intimate help with both partners’ perceptions of the relationship, it can actually help with the dynamics of the relationship as well. This is likely a two-way street. On the one hand, you will probably attempt intimacy in a relationship that already has positive communication and low conflict. But also, because the attempt to be intimate may help boost both partners’ satisfaction in the relationship, you may actually find yourself having better communication after such an attempt. This of course assumes that you don’t get pushy with your partner or let the rejection of intimacy lead to frustration or resentment.
Of course you should always keep in mind that none of this research is suggesting that you should push your partner into unwanted sexual or other intimate behaviors. In fact, Dr. Willoughby and his co-authors specifically discuss how sexual coercion was not a part of their study and should be avoided at all costs. However, these results do suggest that attempting intimacy with our romantic partner (even if we get rejected sometimes) may be an important part of normal and healthy relationship growth. So next time you feel frustrated by the rejection of intimacy, take some solace in the fact that you might be improving your relationship health anyway! Remember, you can always learn more about your total relationship health by taking RELATE today.