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My man fixes my stuff, but doesn't touch me enough
July 6, 2012 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Boyfriend is great, but how can I get him to meet my emotional needs more consistently?

My boyfriend is pretty amazing - there's just one set of actions that I'm not getting enough of, and it's starting to wear on me.

Namely, I want him to reach out to talk to me more. I want him to show me if he misses me when we aren't together. I want him to compliment me, or try to touch me more (non-sexually). I want his enjoyment of me to be written all over him. It isn't. In Love Language terms, his way of showing it is probably Acts of Service, seconded by physical touch.

But even so, my physical touch need must be much higher. (Either that, or he just has a personality that leads to him putting in more effort when he thinks he is losing me. Not sure how to deal with things in a healthy way if that's the case.)

I guess this is a pretty common issue for heterosexual couples. He works hard at being "masculine." I am sure someone will say just talk to him. I've tried that. He gets better for a day or two, then goes back to his default.

So I am looking for a BRIEF explanation I can share with him that is more likely to tap into some kind of core value, so it will stick better. Like I tried to tell him all the things I like that he does, and tried to tie it into the masculine gender role. I am not sure yet how effective it has been.

It's hard for me to not feel unappreciated if he can't bother to do what works for me for more than a day at a time.

If you have other ideas for how to bridge this divide, besides concise values-based communication on my part, please also share them.
posted by hungry hippo to Human Relations (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Unfortunately, I think part of the equation here is that you need to find ways to be more open to the ways he is comfortable expressing love, to receive them more, to feel more loved. It's as much the answer as "concise values-based communication on your part."
posted by liketitanic at 9:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


He is who he is. He's not going to change the way he interacts with people because you want him to. You can either accept that and live with it, or you can go look for another boyfriend.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [21 favorites]


There's only so much someone can change for someone else. Finding someone else is generally the less stressful option for everyone.
posted by heyjude at 9:39 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


liketitanic, I do try to do that. I think I catch many of those, and I do see the intention behind them. This is another piece. I work at trying to see what he does to show he cares. I feel like it is understandable to want a little compromise by way of a little more of what is natural for me.
posted by hungry hippo at 9:40 PM on July 6, 2012


He works hard at being "masculine."

Can you clarify what this means?
posted by scandalamity at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2012


Couple questions. How long have you been together and has he told you he loves you?
posted by timsneezed at 9:47 PM on July 6, 2012


scandalamity, being a provider, a protector, a strong person who leads his own life, that sort of thing.

I don't feel like I am trying to change him! I feel like I am just trying to get a little bit of something that everyone is capable of giving.

It's very common for women to feel neglected if we go too long without this kind of stuff. This is also a very common topic in marriage counseling, from what I've read.

I guess other women just find ways to deal with it...??
posted by hungry hippo at 9:47 PM on July 6, 2012


Either that, or he just has a personality that leads to him putting in more effort when he thinks he is losing me. Not sure how to deal with things in a healthy way if that's the case.

This seems like an important detail that you alluded to parenthetically in your post. What exactly do you mean? When you tell him this is a relationship problem, he meets your needs, but then once he feels secure that he has you in the bag, he stops? If that's the case, it makes clear that you are already communicating your needs and he already understands you.

It also probably narrows your options, and it suggests that an "explanation" is unlikely to work. My first thought is to keep reminding him, especially once he starts to slip. As far as touching goes, you could remind him physically as well as verbally. It could just be a question of habit (which is the easiest possibility, but a plausible one).

Can you explain what you mean by "values"? And how he tries to act "masculine"?
posted by J. Wilson at 9:49 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not very long but we were friends for a while before we started dating exclusively. He shows me he cares, and he's talked about marriage and children with me more than once before (he brought it up each time), but no L word.

The thing is, the good far outweighs the bad. He's a great person. I'm not ready to just end it because I have this one area that leads to some bad feelings for me.
posted by hungry hippo at 9:50 PM on July 6, 2012


So you fell in love with the version of this guy that you thought he could be? That's not a recipe for success. Trust me on this. You will seek to change this one thing, and maybe you'll be able to. And then you will find another thing that's smaller but still nags on you, and then there will be another thing and on and on.

Try reframing your issue as "My guy is perfect except for one little thing -- how do I learn how to deal with that?"
posted by Etrigan at 9:55 PM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


J. Wilson, that is sort of what I mean. Sometimes if it's clear that I'm happy with him, he seems happy about it. Other times, it is like he tries really hard because he thinks I might be mad, and those times he tends to get a bit neutral with me once he realizes I wasn't mad.

But sometimes he seems to give excuses. Like I've asked for reassurance more than once. He's capable of doing it, because he has before. But sometimes he just talks about not being very good at it. (I am trying to figure out whether that's some kind of passive aggressiveness or something.)

So I'd say he has made an effort sometimes, but hasn't been entirely consistent. And sometimes it seems like he doesn't want to try for whatever reason.

Values, as in the kinds of values that men tend to center around. Autonomy, action, protecting others, keeping loved ones safe. He doesn't try to act masculine, he's just clearly very firmly in a masculine role. A little stoic, a little distant, probably never cried in public, etc. "Strong silent type" stuff.
posted by hungry hippo at 9:57 PM on July 6, 2012


Just ask for what you need in the moment each and every time and don't expect him to initiate. F example, "bf come snuggle on the sofa before dinner" "I missed you X, tell me how much you missed me" (though this is kinda whiney), "let's hold hands while we walk to the foo". Don't be dramatic, just make simple and clear requests. He probably likes touching you but just doesn't think to do it.
posted by saradarlin at 9:57 PM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


touch me more (non-sexually)

I can't help wondering he he feels like he wishes that you would "touch him more (sexually)"

My experience (or lack of) tells me that women and men usually have different attitudes regarding this.
posted by snowjoe at 9:58 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


snowjoe, no that's not likely. I'm more sexual than he is. I do think guys tend to reserve a lot of touches for when they want to get sex, where women are more likely to enjoy making out or light stroking of the skin regardless of whether it goes anywhere. I really like kissing, even deep kissing, without sex but he seems to have a certain line he only crosses when he's in the mood.

saradarlin, that's really good advice.

Etrigan, that struck a cord with me. Thanks for helping me see something in myself.
posted by hungry hippo at 10:08 PM on July 6, 2012


I remember your last question, and honey, you gotta give your relationship some time to grow! You're both still getting to know each other, and though it is totally important and valid to get your needs met, you're not giving your partner the chance to come into the natural interactions you so crave in an organic, meaningful way. I speak from experience when I say that this can be extremely off-putting and unfair to a new relationship. This is gonna be a thing you fix in yourself first -- it's not that you gotta give it all up and just let go of your needs (your love language is important!), but this is one case where change is gonna come from you first before it comes from him. In the meantime, just be loving and encouraging and enjoy the natural progression of your relationship, because that's what will set up strong dynamic over the long term.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:09 PM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


"So I'd say he has made an effort sometimes, but hasn't been entirely consistent. And sometimes it seems like he doesn't want to try for whatever reason."

Probably because he doesn't want to have to keep trying, he just wants to be. Having to gauge your SO's mood all the time can be exhausting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:28 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


He gets better for a day or two, then goes back to his default.

...

It's hard for me to not feel unappreciated if he can't bother to do what works for me for more than a day at a time.

This book is about how to apply operant conditioning in everyday life. It's not at all focused on romantic relationships, but it makes a point that seems relevant here. Paraphrasing from memory, the idea is basically that negative reinforcement tends to make people adjust their behavior just enough to avoid an unpleasant stimulus, whereas positive reinforcement induces people to keep doing the thing that triggers the pleasant / desired stimulus over and over again.

So, if he wants to avoid your complaints (negative stimulus) he will adjust his behavior (talking, nonsexual touching) just enough to keep you from complaining, and then because the stimulus driving the behavior stops, he will lose track of just what you want from him and will tend to do less and less of it until you complain again. This can become a really ugly cycle.

But if talking and touching trigger something that HE likes (whatever that might be), he'll probably be talking and touching a lot more frequently. This is much better for everyone.
posted by jon1270 at 4:33 AM on July 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've tried that. He gets better for a day or two, then goes back to his default. It's hard for me to not feel unappreciated if he can't bother to do what works for me for more than a day at a time.

I'm really sorry but he is who he is, he conducts himself in relationships the way he conducts himself, and this is not going to change. You have exactly two choices:

1) You can live with him exactly as he is;
2) He is not, in fact, the perfect man for you.

Namely, I want him to reach out to talk to me more. I want him to show me if he misses me when we aren't together. I want him to compliment me, or try to touch me more (non-sexually).

I gotta tell you, I'm going with #2 here, because it actually sounds like you want a different boyfriend. If that's not the case, then rather than asking how you can change him, you might want to look at your last question and figure out if this is part of a pattern of just being really needy in this relationship.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:40 AM on July 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


You must continually ask for what you want.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:08 AM on July 7, 2012


I would drop this subject for a while. Give him a chance to give you a compliment or a hug. You're killing any chance for him to do what you like by talking about it all the time. Don't try to define it or analyze it too much.

I can empathize. There is an adjustment period.

I have been married for nearly 14 years and the only time my husband told me I was beautiful was on my wedding day. I know he thinks I'm beautiful. I know he is attracted to me but it is hard for him to give compliments about my appearance. His compliments consist of: "nice pants" "nice boob shirt" "your hair looks good". He compliments my cooking and housework and will say things like, "the house looks good". That's about it. I might not be painting a very nice picture of him but he is nice. Giving compliments don't come easily for him. It used to drive me crazy. I was very frustrated and would cry and complain. I eventually realized that it wasn't intentional. He was who he was. He wasn't a gushing guy who was telling me I was beautiful all of the time, that he couldn't live without me, or the stars were made for me.

Now, I ask for what I want and it works fine. I'm content. He is who he is and realizing this has helped me grow. We all want our partners to find us attractive and to desire us, but I don't need him to tell me I'm pretty to feel pretty. I feel pretty with or without him telling me so.

From your previous questions I gather that you are young and without children. You're not married. You don't have to stay with this guy if your needs aren't being met. If you do want to stay drop it for a while and let things happen as they may. When you are focused on his lack of touch or affection it makes both of you tense and causes resentment. Stay positive and expect the best. Or, maybe don't expect at all and appreciate when he does something that doesn't come easily for him.
posted by Fairchild at 6:41 AM on July 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think that sometimes you can in fact change how people express love languages. My partner and I have both made strong efforts to move towards each other's, and it's worked well.

For him, I'd suggest:

"It makes me feel so safe and protected when you touch me. It reminds me of how strong and giving you are."

"I love it when you are strong enough to talk about your feelings. It's really brave, and makes me feel so good."
posted by corb at 7:07 AM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


saradarlin and Ironmouth have it. If he is a person of 'action', you need to speak his language more. Just ask him when you need something and it will assist him in giving it to you. He is who he is, and things like reading your feelings and extrapolating what you need might not be a skill set he owns. Just try to get more comfortable asking directly, then enjoying the results. That will also, eventually, help him anticipate and read your needs.
posted by Vaike at 7:36 AM on July 7, 2012


To be clear, I mean ask him right there and then, when you need it.
posted by Vaike at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2012


In re.

being a provider, a protector, a strong person who leads his own life, that sort of thing

as "masculine" -- eh -- this sounds like what I strive for while single-parenting my young daughter. I'm female.

I also think

It's very common for women to feel neglected if we go too long without this kind of stuff

is bunk, or at least not gender-specific, and I can't help but think that both of you would be happier if you would abandon the gender constructs.

I also think you would be happier if you put down the books. This question is in parts hard to follow for people who have not immersed themselves in romantic relationship self-help babble from the bookstore or magazine stand or Oprah or wherever.

I would go with Etrigan's advice for re-framing this as how can I deal with this myself? and I would also try to bolster up ye olde self-esteem, as this all sounds uncomfortably needy and insecure, and it can't be any fun feeling needy or insecure, and it's no fun to be the partner of a needy or insecure person.

"You must continually ask for what you want" is dreadful advice, I feel. Nagging is not a route to a happy relationship.
posted by kmennie at 8:09 AM on July 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't feel like I am trying to change him!

But you are. The reason that it gets better for a day or two and then goes back to normal is because he's consciously changing the way he acts at all times for that period. This is basically impossible to keep up over the long term. Try to walk around with a different posture for a while; you can do it while you think about it. But are you going to still be doing it two weeks from now? When you first wake up? When something else is on your mind? No, because we revert to our routine pretty quickly.
posted by spaltavian at 8:32 AM on July 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


You have to decide whether you are okay with who he is or not. You are trying to change him and that is pretty much impossible. He could just as reasonably tell you to toughen up and feel good about yourself without his input, right?
posted by karlos at 8:49 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just ask for what you need in the moment each and every time and don't expect him to initiate. F example, "bf come snuggle on the sofa before dinner" "I missed you X, tell me how much you missed me" (though this is kinda whiney), "let's hold hands while we walk to the foo". Don't be dramatic, just make simple and clear requests. He probably likes touching you but just doesn't think to do it.

This. It's really hard to remember to do things more. Remembering "I need to pay the rent on tuesday" is easy because you can pin it to "tuesday" in your head. But remembering "I need to touch my girlfriend more" is hard, because there's nothing to trigger it. If you ask him for what you want in the moment, and do it consistently, then he may get into the habit.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:33 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's hard for me to not feel unappreciated if he can't bother to do what works for me for more than a day at a time.
It's probably hard for him to feel appreciated if you undervalue how he shows you his feelings and overvalue when he acts out of character.

I think you can try initiating more touching and verbal affections- although please avoid "tell me how much you missed me" - but you need to pay attention to how he responds. He may not want to change to fit your needs, especially if he is as stuck in a gendered narrative as you are. You may also not find it not as satisfactory that he is responding to your lead, rather than organically expressing what you need to hear.

I think the major problem is that you are insecure and trying to force him to behave in a way that makes you feel more secure; to him, you appear to have no reason, therefore he doesn't want to perform. But when he feels that he is losing you, he performs these acts because there is a threat. When the threat goes away, he returns to normal. That's a terrible dynamic to have, IMO.
posted by sm1tten at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


You really need to get out of the "men love like this, women love like this" paradigm. If you want to snuggle, say "Let's snuggle!" It's not less-than if you initiate it.

Fucking romance media fuck up people's relationships all the fucking time. I recommend a media fast, seriously. Skip everything that has romance memes in it, from women's magazines to movies with "love interests" to celebrity gossip magazines to whatever. Take a break from other people's ideas of "how it's supposed to be" and do your actual relationship.

Note that although I am a huge huge advocate of asking for what you want, that only goes as far as asking for specific behaviors. You want him to have a different attitude entirely about how he does relationships! That's not going to happen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:14 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lots of good advice above. Take it seriously and try not to self-justify, ok?

Mrs. Director wasn't touchy when we met but I was. Over time, she learned it was pretty nice. The key here is 'over time', as in many years. For a long time I had to initiate but somewhere along the line it clicked for her that is was enjoyable for her, too.

Of course, I never threatened to leave over this. Any anxiety I held over her seeming reluctance to initiate contact was my problem, not hers. This is how we gave space for the change to happen in due course.

I bet you could work things out in a similar fashion.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's okay to prompt a little bit. If you don't fish for compliments constantly, the occasional, "What do you think of this shirt?" or "Which dress should I wear tonight -- which do you like best" is fine to ask. And if you want more touching, but it's hard for him to remember, try leaning in, being close, putting your arm around him, and generally being close enough to get some of what you're craving. It doesn't all have to be spontaneously felt by him, you can give hugs when you want to get them.

I wouldn't ask verbally for him to change very often, but it seems like it might be a reasonable special request, as in, "I had a terrible day, can I have a super-compliment and touching evening?" So that he can make the extra effort to give you a treat, and you can bask in it and let him know how much you're enjoying it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:08 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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