My “Great” Relationship

Evidently I have a great relationship.

I don’t recognize it as such because I’ve never been in any other relationship, so I don’t realize how good I’ve got it.

This is what my therapist hypothesized yesterday, at the conclusion of our hour-long session.

I am willing to entertain this hypothesis because she’s right, I’ve never been in another relationship and it’s entirely possible that I DON’T realize how good I have it, because I don’t know what a truly “bad” relationship looks like. I don’t even know what a decent relationship that eventually won’t work out looks like.

Not having been in another seriously, long-term relationship is one of the great regrets of my life. I worry it will cause me lasting unhappiness.

Here’s the thing. I know, on an intellectual level, that Mi.Vida love me. He is clearly committed to our family and marriage. He has grown immensely over the past six years, and has finally arrived a place where he participates willingly (and with minimal complaining), in all the many aspects of our family life. The truth is, he has a better attitude about all his responsibilities as a father now that we have two kids (and he has more to do both with the kids and around the house and less free time to enjoy) than he did before when he had significantly fewer responsibilities. I didn’t really believe he’d ever get to a place where he handles the mornings with Osita without dumping the resulting stress on to me, or that he’d take ownership of dishes duty and general kitchen clean up (every night, always) without me ever asking or even suggesting it. And while he does sometimes get stressed, and walks around emitting his toxic stress waves all over the house, he never lets his “woe-is-me” sigh pass his lips when he feels put upon, he just gets up and gets it done.

These are all huge, MASSIVE improvements and they help me to feel more confident in our relationship than I have in a long, long time. I have other reasons to feel confident in our relationship. My therapist (who has met Mi.Vida in the ten or so sessions we’ve had with her over the past five years) enumerated the evidence I have that Mi.Vida loves me and is committed to our marriage:

1. He has gotten a better paying job to provide for his family.

2. He helps around the house and has a good attitude while doing it.

3. He is a great dad and is loving and affectionate toward his kids.

4. He enjoys sex and has no trouble “preforming.”

5. He talks to me.

6. He exudes love for me.

She says numbers 3-5 are especially important because men who are unhappy in their relationships have a hard time being involved fathers, performing consistently during sex and talking to their spouses. She mentioned that whenever she saw us, before and after our sessions with her, we were always talking to each other. She says that most couples who come to see her just sit in the waiting room silently and rarely utter a word to each other. It’s true that we rarely have that problem…

So there are all the reasons I should KNOW that my husband loves me and that our relationship is strong. So why do I doubt it? Why do I worry that we won’t make it in the long run? Why don’t I feel as loved as that list demonstrates I should be?

I honestly think it comes down to the fact that Mi.Vida just doesn’t touch me. He so rarely shows me love or affection with his touch. He almost never initiates hugs or kisses, let alone snuggles me. And when he does cuddle me, it quickly becomes clear that he’d like it to evolve into something else. Most of the time I’m waiting for it to become something else, so I can’t even enjoy it. I just want to lie in bed next to him without having to have sex three minutes later. Is that so much to ask?

Physical touch is my love language. Mi.Vida grew up in a family that does not hug much, if at all. It’s just not something that he does. I’ve mentioned it SO MANY TIMES, told him that I NEED him to hug me, but he just doesn’t do it. He may try for a few days, but it never lasts, and eventually I’m left feeling like he doesn’t love me.

It might seem crazy, that I could doubt that my husband loves me when there is all that evidence enumerated in the list up there, but truly, without physical touch it’s like I can’t register any of it. As far as I’m concerned we’re partners or co-parents, but not husband and wife. And honestly, I worry that if this keeps up some day I’ll meet a man who does show me physical affection and I’ll be so drawn to it that I’ll do something I’ll regret. I can’t believe I’m writing that, but it’s true.

I honestly don’t know what to do. I feel like I’ve had this conversation with Mi.Vida so many times and nothing changes. I don’t know how many different ways I can say it. I don’t know how I can make him understand. I’m sure he thinks that he is doing PLENTY to show me how much he loves me, and while I can rationally see where he’s coming from, emotionally it just doesn’t register at all. I can’t help that I don’t FEEL like he loves me, even if I KNOW that he does.

It’s funny because my therapist said that it’s clear Mi.Vida “exudes” love for me. Another friend has used that exact same phrase, “exudes love,” when describing how he acts toward me. I’m assuming it’s true, because they are both intelligent women who know me well and have witnessed Mi.Vida during important moments in our relationship and yet, both times I was shocked that they said that because honestly? I don’t feel that love being exuded at all.

I don’t know. I feel like something is wrong with me. I feel like this is all my fault. I worry that I don’t realize what I have because I’ve never been in a relationship before. I want to retrain myself to register all the things Mi.Vida does to show me how much he loves me, but I just don’t know how. It’s like rewiring my brain… I’m not sure it can be done.

And I’m not sure his can be rewired to take a moment every day to really stop and hug me.

If neither of us can change, what will become of us? He doesn’t seem to be able to show me love in the way I understand it, and I can’t seem to register love in the way he shows it. Are we doomed to a mediocre marriage? Will we eventually get divorced? Why is intimacy so hard?

How do you know that your partner loves you? Do you feel your past relationships are important in helping you recognize what is good about your marriage/relationship now?

17 responses

  1. I don’t know if this will work for you, but here’s what works for me: rather than explain how I need to be touched in general and expect my husband to remember and initiate over time, I request specific moments of physical affection. For instance, if we’re watching tv, I’ll lie with my head in his lap and tell him I need him to “fill me up” (as in my love tank) and he will gladly rub my back or play with my hair. (This may have an added benefit for you since it’s hard for you to sit still/not multi-task… it would give your husband some of the quality time he wants with you while your need for physical touch is also being met. Plus, if he’s concentrating on tv he might not be so eager to take things to the next level). Likewise, I’ve “trained” my husband to give extended hugs/sweet kisses before one of us leaves/when the other gets home. Those times especially aren’t likely to lead anywhere else and the consistency of the interactions keep my love tank from getting too low.

    • Thanks for this advice. Sometimes I feel like, for me, if I have to ask for it, it doesn’t count. One of my love languages used to be gift giving, but living with Mi.Vida has broken me of that because he honestly NEVER gives gifts (another by product of his family life, they also didn’t give gifts much). At first it really hurt me, and when I would ask for presents from him they didn’t make me feel loved because the whole point of a present is that someone thinks about you when you’re not there. It’s not the think they get you, but the thought behind it. So if I had to ask, it just doesn’t feel like it meant much. So I worry that if I have to ask, it won’t “fill me up,” but maybe it will. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to ask. And maybe if I ask for a while, he’ll start doing it all on his own.

  2. Mi Vida and I share this characteristic. For me, not only am I not very physically affectionate, but there are times where I, quite honestly, cannot stand being touched, where a hug makes me feel trapped and smothered and I feel like I have no space. Charlie is like you – very physical, huggy, touchy. So is Lucky. Both of them seem to have a bottomless need for physical touch that can be incredibly draining. It’s really hard – I know he doesn’t get enough physical affection from me. And I also know that it’s the way he feels connected with me.

    So yeah, if you would ask Charlie, I suspect he’d say something like you – sometimes he doesn’t know I love him. And I don’t know if Mi Vida feels like me, but I can tell you it’s frustrating, because then I’m in a situation where I have to PROVE it to him. And I married him, and committed to him by having children, and on top of it the only way I can prove to him I love him is to do something that, on GOOD days, isn’t natural to me… and on bad days, drains my energy so I have nothing left.

    Clearly I’m generalizing here: I don’t know that Mi Vida is me. Nor am I saying you have to accept having a marriage where you don’t get enough physical touch. What Charlie and I have done is this: baby steps. We fall asleep every night touching – always have. And right now, I have committed to spending time giving him a REAL hug every day – not one where I’m breaking free within a few seconds of being touched. I know it sounds ridiculous and probably not enough for you, but that hug is one of the hardest things for me, especially at the end of a long day when I’m stressed about getting dinner on the table or cleaning up or preparing for the next day.

    Maybe you can do something like that – set a few minutes aside every day where the rule is that you have to touch, but not in a sexual way, where he holds your hand or gives you a hug or you cuddle on the couch and talk. Once you get to a place where that’s habit, then you can add more of it – holding hands when you’re out walking somewhere, etc. I don’t know. But I do think there’s a middle ground, if you’re both willing to compromise.


    • Thank you for sharing that Serenity. It is invaluable to hear the other side’s perspective on this. I don’t know if Mi.Vida feels touched out by the end of the day. He has never mentioned it before when I bring this up so I’ve always assumed he just doesn’t think about it, but maybe it is really hard for him. I will definitely think about what you said here moving forward. I appreciate your candor on this.

  3. It’s definitely hard when you and your husband aren’t on the same love language page. I used to be a touch person, and honestly that has evolved into more ‘acts of service’ now that we’re so busy with work & kids. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing or good thing, b/c at least it means I get more help around the house b/c Charlie makes a good effort to do things like empty the dishwasher/trash/etc. I do miss cuddling/touching without sex though. It’s a constant thing to work on. I’m glad you’re taking the time to work on this and really think about ways to feel loved when intellectually it sure seems like MaVida is trying to show his love for you.

    • It is hard not being on the same page. I didn’t write about it here, but have before, that his love language is one of my bigger weakness (quality time) so I have a lot of work to do too. I think the difference is that I’m aware of my deficit there and am trying to specifically be better about it, while he doesn’t seem all that interested in being better about showing me affection (whenever I bring it up he seems annoyed or, frankly, bored–I don’t know, maybe I’m reading him wrong).

      • Ya, Charlie has never been great at doing physical touch (without it being a precursor to sex) either. It used to frustrate me to no end, and I’m thinking once I’m done nursing Harv and less touched out, it’s going to bother me again. :\

  4. I’d be a little concerned about your therapist trying to tell you things that aren’t your reality. Doesn’t seem like they are doing their job. Maybe try a new one? You need something you are not getting in your relationship. Hopefully a therapist would work with you both on this rather then tell you to just be happy with what you have.

    • To be clear, my therapist wasn’t trying to tell me that I have a great relationship, she was listing all the reasons I could have faith that my husband loves me. We put together a plan for me to ask for “one squeeze a day” from him, and I’m going to do it, but honestly, I don’t have a lot of faith that it will work. My therapist absolutely respects that I need this from my husband and thinks he should be able to provide it, she was just trying to help me feel confident that he does, in fact, love me, because that is something I truly doubt sometimes.

  5. I totally understand the feeling of “if I have to ask for it, it doesn’t count”. I grew up in a household where my mom truly believed (and still does, to this day), that if someone loves you, they will automatically know what you need and will provide it to you without you ever having to ask for it, and that if they don’t, it means they don’t love you, or at least not as much as they “should”. She very much had that “if I have to ask for it, it doesn’t count” feeling about it, and as a result, that’s the feeling that was engrained in me as I grew up too.

    It took me a long time (in my 20s and married for a couple of years) to understand that is not a realistic definition of love, at least not for me in my marriage. And not for most other married people I know. I would get frustrated with my husband because he wasn’t giving me what I needed (mostly in the area of communication), and he would get frustrated with me because he wasn’t a mind reader and didn’t always automatically know what I needed. I decided my options were either 1) continue to be frustrated with him and have it gnaw at our marriage, or 2) tell him what I needed so that I got what I needed, even if it felt like it didn’t count at that point.

    And what I found over time was that I was getting what I needed, because I was asking for it. And the whole “it doesn’t count because I’m having to ask for it” thing didn’t matter so much, because I was getting what I needed! And then, as more time passed, our communication just kind of continued to get better in general, and then I wasn’t even having to ask much anymore, it was just happening.

    He knew what I needed, but it didn’t come naturally or automatically to him – it required effort not just on my part but on his part. There were a lot of times at first where I felt like “this isn’t fair, I shouldn’t have to keep explaining what I need”, but since my choices seemed to be “fair and unhappy” or “not fair and try to see if I can do some things (even though I think he should be doing them automatically) to make it better”, I went with the latter one, and thankfully it worked out for us.

    It’s a challenge when both people involved have different love languages and different definitions of what love is engrained in them, but it is possible to work on it and get to a point where both people’s needs are being met. I hope you and Mi.Vida are able to get to that point soon.

    And as for the “if I have to ask for it, it doesn’t count” thing – my mom had that attitude not only in her marriage (which ended in divorce) but also still has it in her relationship with me (her only child, and ours is NOT a great relationship, even though she lives with us). I disappoint her daily in my “failings to meet her needs”. I’m working really hard on not having that kind of an attitude with my daughter, because I don’t want her to feel like she has to be able to read my mind to make me happy…

    • Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom here. You’re absolutely right that it’s unfair of me to assume Mi.Vida can just KNOW what I need, because even if I say, I NEED YOU TO TOUCH ME MORE! that doesn’t necessarily help him understand when and how I need to be touched. That is such an abstract thing, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to a person. I will definitely start asking him for what I need and hopefully, over time, it will become engrained in our relationship. Baby steps. We can do this, together!

    • LOVE THIS COMMENT. I find that I have to ask Charlie specifically for things, because otherwise he guesses, often guessing wrong, and he feels shitty for guessing wrong and then I feel crappy because after 10 years of marriage, shouldn’t he KNOW me better than that? It’s awful for both of us. So I let go of the idea that if I’m asking it doesn’t count, and somehow… it doesn’t matter that I’m asking for what I need, I get what I need.

      Do I wish he instinctively knew what I need? Yes. But he’s his own person, and that means he’s different from me. Asking for what I want (in my case, conversations where I feel like we’re really collaborating on an issue, instead of him defaulting to me or coming up with the “perfect” solution) clarifies and helps our marriage. Love this.

  6. I kind of feel the same way you do about my relationship- “on paper” it’s great- I know R is crazy about me, he tells me how much he loves me all the time, is affectionate, a great daddy, etc. BUT we have completely different love languages and this leaves me feeling empty a lot of the time. He treats me like he thinks mine are gifts and physical touch (which they are NOT)- I’m definitely acts of service. I feel guilty a lot of the time, because I am not affectionate towards him naturally- cuddling just is not my thing. And it’s cliché, but at the end of the day, I am SO touched out from the kids that sitting by myself not touching anyone is much more pleasant to me. I’m also with you a lot of the time on the “if I have to ask it doesn’t count” mentality, but I guess it just has to count. Because it’s not going to happen any other way!

  7. We are just getting to reading about love languages so I couldn’t pinpoint exactly which is mine but I can tell you it probably isn’t touch. I still jump if someone puts a hand on my shoulder and I can’t see them moving toward me so I have a lot of negative associations with touch coupled with very specific touch needs and limits (rub my arm for 2 minutes, fine and maybe nice, longer and I now hate you). It took me a long time to recognize that these associations existed at all and that I could change how I perceived touch, and I would bet that my spouse’s love language is touch, so there was a lot of early attempts at hand-holding that didn’t go so well. Luckily we have figured out how to bridge the gap (kind of). I personally make an effort to initiate at least one hug a day and also to point out things that are bugging me so they can be stopped before I am touched out. This is so much easier while I’m away for the week because I arrive home for the weekend having nobody touch me all week so I am much happier to give up my bubble of no touching with that reserve of personal space. Likewise my spouse now gets that I’m not mad at not wanting to be touched or less in love because I just need some space but I’m not totally sure we are beyond my spouse feeling less loved because I don’t demonstrate my love through touch. I think it’s a balance and it matters to me that it’s something we are both working on so I totally get that it’s hard that you are trying and don’t perceive the same effort from Mi Vida.

  8. I want to write a novel (will probably come back later), but wanted to add that I am also like Mi Vida, and my husband always asks for more touching and I can never remember to do it. Watching TV is actually a great time for me to put my head on his shoulder or hold his hand. I also try really hard to have one of our hugs/kisses throughout the day be a “real”, longer one, instead of just a peck goodbye or goodnight. It seems like its so forced in the beginning, but it starts to become a habit, and seem natural.
    I wish my husband would just TELL ME that he would like a hug or something, but he is also in the “I shouldn’t have to TELL YOU” camp, which I’m starting to realize is a bunch of bs. I know I’ve done my share of “well if you really loved me, you’d know why I was mad” in the past, but honestly, when you are dealing with two different people from different families and backgrounds trying to meet so many of each others’ needs…you need to be open about what those needs are, and yes, you may have to ask for a hug or time to talk or, heck, even a gift. I don’t think its a failure or mark or incompatibility that you have to ask…the failure/incompatibility is when you ask and the person doesn’t even try or care to try.

  9. Finally getting a chance to comment! It’s taken me awhile to get out of the “if I have to tell you, it doesn’t count” mindset. You know what? If you tell him, he doesn’t have to listen to you unless he wants to and cares about you. I always have to remind K to ask me how my day was (“Hi how are you?” “good” …long pause… “do you want to know how my day was?” “yeah, how was it?”) But he does it once I remind him, and he doesn’t complain about being reminded. And I’ve finally (most of the time) come to the conclusion that even if I had to ask, the fact that he honored my request means something.

    We’re lucky in that I think we have similar needs in terms of physical affection (and sex). But my love language is quality time, and K is not into that. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could NOT value quality time, but we struggle with that one. (I struggle with that with my mom, too, who will do any number of favors for me but won’t spend time with me).

    In response to your questions about previous relationships, K was my first serious boyfriend, too. Sometimes I think people who had more relationships are more concrete about the things they need, instead of marrying someone based on some kind of vague feeling. But I don’t know. We have our problems. but mostly I think that considering how different we are and how many stressful situations we’ve been in, it’s remarkable that we still love each other like we do. So I don’ t know.

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