TLDR: “No, I don’t want to have sex with you. I’m not even sure I want to talk to you right now. And I know I don’t want to look at you. I’m upset! Now leave me alone.”

Mrs. Cubic Zirconia here, dear reader.

Gonna let you in on something I was mulling over recently.

Something pretty private, the kind of thing some people might put in a diary-- but aren’t likely to put in front of 100,000 strangers (thank goodness I’m pretty anonymous here on the interwebs).

Hmm…Is my husband actually trying to interest me in sex this afternoon?

  Wait, what? 

Did he already forget we had a horrible argument last night?

Maybe the movies want you to believe that “makeup sex“ is somehow more satisfying than regular sexual relations…but that’s not been my experience.

Personally, my sexual desire is pretty damn low for a few  days-- or even longer-- after a bad argument with my husband. 

Which begs the question: as a person in a marriage, do we have a responsibility to our wives and husbands to have sex with them-- even when we're not feeling it? 

  Maybe not.
        Maybe so. 

If you’re looking for a definitive answer, move along.

This is just one woman’s opinion

(hint: Ugghh, I hate obligations).

All Intimate Couples’ Relationships

You could pretty much safely say that all intimate couples’ relationships have at least these 2 things in common:
  • Sexual tension
  • Conflict

You could make an argument for other things pretty easily. But those things in common aren’t really relevant to today’s blog.

Conflict and disagreements are inevitable in any serious  relationship between two people that spend significant time together-- but especially in a romantic relationship when 2 people intertwine their lives as a couple. 

You could probably go so far as to say that if there’s no conflict, there’s no sharing or vulnerability, either-- and in our opinion it ain’t really a romantic relationship.

Does conflict increase sexual tension-- or decrease it?

It seems that at least a percentage of romantic couples thrive on the excitement of getting worked up by a fight followed by getting worked out between the sheets. 

Some men and women feel like they need physical intimacy in order to get rid of stress feelings flooding their body. I’ve never been one of those people (but I suspect my husband Mr. Cubic Zirconia would agree that he is one of those people).

Why am I the opposite?

It’s a scientific fact for human physiology that conflict increases stress. 

Yet stress can and does reduce the desire for sex in others (and often hampers our ability to perform in the bedroom, too). 

On the other hand, those same educated physiologists could tell you the well-known phenomenon whereby excitement, arousal, mood and desire can easily transmute from one activity to another. 

It’s why an anxiety therapist might tell you to just smile when you’re down and in doing so, you’re tricking your brain to think happy thoughts instead of the depressed state you were in before starting to fake smile for all you were worth (hoping that couple hundred bucks paid for those  sessions on the shrink’s couch was worth it). 

The same concept is also why the fear and desire for touch during a horror movie makes that kind of film popular for date night (cue the clever guy sliding his arm around his lady’s shoulders and pulling her closer).

Does that mean you don't want to do it...and you start doing it...and then you want to do it? Could be. It works that way sometimes. And maybe sometimes it's worth it. But sometimes it's not. I guess for me it depends a lot on what the argument was about.

So, one partner may need sex to get closure after an argument and feel the relationship is back on track, while another cannot feel good about sex until they get closure through talking something out and feeling better emotionally first.

I get it all logically why the bodies of some people-- my husband included-- might crave sex after conflict with his significant other.

However, others like me just can’t seem to accept those kinds of love/hate extremes in the same hour, same day, or even the same week-- like the desire for sex expressed through making love  is turned off for one or both partners for an indeterminate amount of time after a serious verbal disagreement between the two lovers. 

It’s like these couples keep sex and disagreement in separate rooms in their brains (and often sleep separately from each other as well, just to avoid the possible entanglement of a sexual overture from the partner who wants it when the partner who doesn’t has no intention of accepting that kind of intimacy before they’ve processed the feelings brought on by the fight).

Love. Hate. Respect. Affection. Intimacy. Expectation. Obligation. Rules and roles.

Throw all that in a pot and you’ve got a recipe for the delicious stew that is marriage.

Where sometimes it’s the best-tasting thing in the world, and sometimes you go hungry and stew in anger.

It seems to me that part of the secret of successful marriages is to recognize that marriage is neither perfect…nor easy…at least not both things on an everyday basis.

And if there's a perfect compromise for a couple to find between a need for sex after an argument for one partner versus a complete lack of interest in same by his/her partner, sorry but Mr. Cubic Zirconia and I haven't really found that.

There isn't a definitive piece of advice here, I'm afraid.

But here are some of our thoughts on why this is such an important topic to have some discussion around in your marriage.

Sex and the Silent Treatment in Marriage

Marriage is ugly sometimes.

Marriage is sometimes slammed doors and harsh words, fights and the silent treatment-- and it's wondering at least semi-regularly if you've made the right decision to join this other person for better or worse, forever.

What’s most important is for each couple to find a way of dealing with inevitable conflicts so they don’t harm the marriage in the long run.

For some couples, that’s to have make-up sex to “make it all better”

I’ve done that.
  But I don’t like it.

My husband and I both feel like there’s a way to balance the needs of physical desire and connection with conflict resolution.

But for me, I'm sure that ain’t always having sex.

Sometimes sex may be the easiest way to “make up” as a couple after an argument. 

But IMHO if you’re not feeling it, you shouldn’t feel any obligation to have sex. 

We’ve all heard that old chestnut about not going to bed angry with your significant other. Yet I wonder... is it even possible to go to bed without still feeling mad when the issues are real and not easy to resolve?

Makeup sex, grudge sex, let's-just-ignore-our-problems-and-burn-off-some-stress sex–- when you're married and in it for the long haul, there's all sorts of sex.

 And though it’s a worthy goal, sex after marriage ain’t always like the slow, romantic sex in the better movies (whose director isn’t just interested in showing random sex for the sake of showing naked flesh). 

Couples argue. Sometimes the arguments stretch on for days. 

Sometimes the anger simmers into silent treatment or explodes into verbal fireworks.

For me and lots of women-- as well as men-- the bad feelings of verbal fighting erode my sex drive...and hours to days of not talking to my husband while we share space silently pretty much destroys the libido for me entirely.

My husband could tell you all about that. 

He could also testify that some partners still feel that physical urge for sexual intimacy and can compartmentalize their anger or hurt feelings and still enjoy sex. 

Some partners like himself.

He said, she said you know?

Forget about Sex (for a Moment) and Let's Talk about the Silent Treatment

Ever had a bad day and people still want things from you-- including your spouse wanting sex? 

Regardless of the fact that you feel like crap, the world still kinda expects you to put on a smile and do what’s expected of you-- in the home, at work, and in your marriage.

And if you’re anything like me, that pressure on top of an argument with my spouse the night before…it pretty much takes everything I’ve got.

And all that’s left for my husband is the silent treatment.

In fact, my writing today’s blog is in part a way to answer for myself how to recover better after an argument than what often happens: we don't speak to each other for a few hours to a few days.

When you and your partner have a blowup, it's normal to need a bit of space to let the dust settle, to calm down, to reflect on what each of you may have done wrong or said right. That makes sense, and I believe it’s healthy.

The silent treatment is something else. 

Refusing to re-engage with your partner to discuss the argument or simply to chat about more light and breezy topics is akin to bombing communication lines. 

Remember, spouses aren’t enemy countries. 

Even when I might want to go ballistic, I try to remind myself that we mustn’t cut the lines of communication completely. After all, it's hard, and requires a lot of time and effort to rebuild them.

Though you might not feel like talking to your partner, giving them the silent treatment can be psychologically damaging; research suggests that it can impact a person's self-esteem and sense of belonging. 

Being on the receiving end of the silent treatment from someone you love can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression

It might even be construed as an evil manipulation tactic. 

Even when I’m hurt and angry, do I want my marriage to become mired in silence, damaging my husband, and feeling like we just might be manipulating each other?

My answer is nope.

Probably, we hope, yours is 'nope' too.

So what’s the answer?. 

Even when arguments involve volatile subjects like finances, debt, division of labor, kids, jealousy, under-appreciation, etc…the road to resolution, to dealing with disagreements in healthy ways, will be rocky with silence, and usually will be paved with communication.

I know, I know.

Profound right.

And she's even admitting that she can't even take her own advice many times.

And you're still reading.

Because, like us, you too want a way to settle this conflict about sex and the silent treatment in your own relationship.

Am I right?

Sex and the Silent Treatment

If you can manage to silently get into bed together and still get busy, is the physical gratification going to balance the resentment, festering anger, or emotional loneliness that such an act is likely to foster? 

My husband would say "hell yes!"

For me, it depends on the nature of the argument. 

As mentioned, some people can compartmentalize their conflicts and any disagreement can be followed with some nookie time. Indeed, these men and women might even think it SHOULD HAPPEN THAT WAY.

For other people, some types of arguments might not be powerful enough to affect what happens in your sex life. But when the conflict is serious, sex in this context could exacerbate negative emotions, causing the situation to slalom further out of control.

Grudge Sex / Angry Sex

Can you still feel attracted to your partner when you're angry at them? 


Some couples talk about grudge sex when one partner gives sexual attention to the other despite not really being into it. Personally, I suspect this is no healthier than sex during the silent treatment. And it's something I don't want to feel obligated to do (though I do admit it can smooth out a rough day).

But let's give some context because it's definitely possible to have sex when you're still fuming mad, and there are times when it's not a big deal.

For instance, "I'm so freaking mad that you invited Ben and Peggy to our Super Bowl party. Maybe you and he are bromancing but you know she talks behind my back." 

Somehow, this type of argument isn't on the same level as "how can I trust you if you're going to blow $8,000 from our savings account on a used motorcycle without discussing it with me?"

See the difference? 

So much depends on the issues we argue about because as married couples, we sometimes bicker. We sometimes argue about silly things like why he never ever unloads the dishwasher or why she always forgets to buy his favorite chips at the store. 

Consider the nature of the issue. If it's serious, having sex while still angry can worsen an already difficult situation. If it's dumb and silly, you might find that sex is just what you need to both put it behind you and make tomorrow a better day.

Makeup Sex

Makeup sex when an argument was small and dumb can be fun–- especially when coupled with the good stuff like laughter, understanding, or forgiveness. 

It's also reminder sex, because it reminds you of how much you love your spouse in spite of the inevitable arguments that come up in your relationship, in spite of life's myriad of stressors, and in spite of yours and his less-than-savory habits.

Makeup sex doesn't always resolve serious issues, but it can be a sign of your mutual willingness to work on these issues together. 

You can acknowledge that you still have disagreements, even profound ones, but you love your partner and still want to protect your intimate connection. 

Just remember, it's not makeup sex unless both partners are ready to make up.

 If it's not mutual, it's grudge sex, it's unhappy sex, or one-sided sex–and that's always going to be mediocre sex at best.

Is mediocre sex better than no sex at all?

Depends on a lot of factors, I guess.

Usually, for me, it hasn't been worth it.

I'm just wired differently than my husband.

But recently I've been wondering.

What if 1% of your week could make most of the other 99% more smooth?

Is that worth testing the next time we have a fight?

Hitting the Reset Button

After you've pushed each other's buttons, and not in a good way, try to reset your connection before getting into bed. 

No partner should feel obligated to have sex if they're not feeling it. 

Sex can be an easy reset for one spouse, but not necessarily the other.

But just consider that declining sex, even with your longtime partner, can escalate the disconnection between you-- so when saying 'no', try not to completely stonewall your spouse's desire.

For instance, instead of a curt ‘no' and rolling over to face the wall instead of your partner-- or worse, the silent treatment and a suggestion that he/she stay in the guest room-- maybe we can try something like:

  • "I'm not feeling it because I'm still upset. Give me some space for a bit."
  • "You may want sex now. I do not. I'll let you know when I do. And until then, let's keep the lines of communication open."
  • "I love you, but I'm still mad. I don't want to do it when I'm in this frame of mind."

Don't Use Sex As a Weapon

For some people, sex is a tool–- a bargaining tool-- and it's not conducive to a healthy relationship. 

Using or denying sex to get your way in an argument or as a ‘power play' in your relationship is suggestive of emotional manipulation. 

If you don't want to sleep with your partner this day or that week, you don't have to do that. However, be honest with yourself that you aren’t using the withholding of sex as a tactic or denying sex as a punishment to your spouse. 

In a healthy relationship, sex underscores both your physical and emotional connection with one another. When you use or deny sex as leverage, you can erode that all-important connection-- which can lead to alienation, frustration, and unhappiness.

Long-time couples will often say: "marriage is not easy". 

It can be challenging at times with many ups and downs.

If you and your spouse are struggling, arguing frequently–even arguing about sex–you don't have to take it lying down. 

Consider getting help resolving your issues separately, or ideally, together. 

If the down time feels extended, talk to each other. 

Make a plan to get out of the slump. 

It all comes back to communication. 

Keep those lines open. 

When you feel connected out of bed, you'll be more inclined to feel like reconnecting in bed.

One way I’ve found to do that is just keep flirting.

Come out of your time alone, having processed the hurt and anger from the argument, and do a complete 180 degrees. 

Tell him or her you don’t want sex. But that you know you will again. Then start flirting throughout your day and your week. That can create some really great anticipation.And really strong sexual tension-- in a good way.

You can have sexual tension without actual physical sex (and sometimes it’s good for couples…and sometimes it’s not).

So if you don’t want sex and your partner does…you can state where your boundary is and still make an effort to be appreciative, affectionate, positive and flirty.

If your experience is anything like mine, that could be the best kind of preparation for a session making love that you both won't soon forget.