My husband and I have been married for 15 years. Our sex life is great and far more exciting than I thought it would be at this stage. However, he gives me no affection at all when we’re not having sex. We don’t kiss, or hug, apart from in the bedroom.
Congratulations. Your husband may be a bit of a hedgehog outside the bedroom, but behind closed doors you have been getting everything you want, and then some, for 15 years. When married people complain about a lack of affection, they usually mean a complete lack of intimacy — no kissing, no hugging, no sex and, more often than not, no communication. When intimacy dies it is generally because one or both parties feel angry, hurt or resentful and this becomes a physical barrier between the couple.
You and your husband may have opposing ideas of what constitutes sufficient affection in your relationship, but in the greater scheme of things that is very small beans indeed.
Showing affection doesn’t always come naturally. If your husband equates emotional expression with vulnerability, then touchy-feely stuff may well feel awkward and incompatible with daily life and its challenges.
Sex is an “other” state that transcends psychological barriers and creates feelings of intense closeness. In that safe, private, emotionally charged space, men can often find it much easier to express feelings of love and affection.
Although affection is important, if achievable, healthy sexual intimacy probably matters more. No relationship is perfect, and the capacity to compromise and accommodate idiosyncratic or dissonant behaviour is fundamental in a good marriage.
In 2015 Northwestern University published ‘The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage in America is Becoming an All-Or-Nothing Institution’, which argued that modern marriages are now expected to provide not only financial and emotional security, love, sex and children, but also opportunities for personal growth, self-actualisation, validation and public displays of affection.
Such high expectations put enormous pressure on marriages, which leads to polarised outcomes — more marriages fail, but the ones that survive are enviably good.
In long-term relationships, it’s easy to focus on what’s wrong, rather than what’s right — and say what’s irritating without thinking about the effect that has.
Perhaps when you make what you think is a simple request for affection, your husband hears it as criticism. Rather than making it easier for him to be affectionate, the sense that he is disappointing makes him initially reticent, and subsequently resentful. Praise is an outstanding motivator, so the next time you have sex tell him how much you love kissing him, how skin-to-skin contact makes you feel completely at one with him, and how your fantastic sexual connection underscores his enormous worth to you.
Relationships are a mirror. If you show him affection, respect and appreciation, you will find that reflected back on you.
Send your queries firstname.lastname@example.org