He doesn't tell me he loves me.
June 29, 2009 7:39 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend doesn't verbally communicate his love for me, help me cope.

This isn't a "Should I DTMFA" or whether or not he loves me, he does. He shows it to me in other ways everyday, just not verbally. He's physically affectionate and very attentive to my needs. He's one of the best people I know who happens to also be my best friend and boyfriend. We get along great, have awesome sex and really enjoy each other's company. I have never dated someone that doesn't express their love for me verbally so it just throws me for a loop and I don't know how to deal with it. He also never compliments me either and I'm very used to getting compliments all the time, even from strangers. He has told me he loves me before, but only a few times and only recently. We've been together almost a year and a half. He's in his late thirties and I'm a female in my late twenties, if that matters. Relevant facts:

1. Yes, I have told him that I love him.
2. No, he doesn't tell other people he loves them either, even though I know he does.
3. He doesn't really express emotions, even anger, sadness, and happiness. He's just calm and mellow all the time.
4. He's had some pretty traumatic things happen to him in the past, one of them his brother committing suicide.
5. We have talked about this before, one time I got a little upset and cried which upset him in return, and he told me to "please be patient" with him. The first time we talked about it, he just said that he has always been this way.
6. This is seriously the only thing about him that I do not like and I'm very picky and have high standards.

So are some people just wired to not be verbally affectionate? What can I tell myself to feel better about the situation since I'm in this for the long haul. I'd also like some feedback from people that are like my boyfriend. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If it's only been a year and a half, the I love yous have come recently, and he's asked you to be patient...it seems like it may change/already be changing some?

I do think some people aren't verbally affectionate - I don't think my father has ever told me he loves me (he most definitely does, shows me in every way), whereas my mom tells me every single time I talk to her. A little different, but I don't my dad tells my mom, either (again, he definitely does love her).
posted by Pax at 7:45 PM on June 29, 2009

I have a friend who told her then-boyfriend, now husband the following: "I appreciate, and in fact, require flowers. Not often, and not on a schedule-- but I do need them. Get me some, because it is important to the well-being of our relationship."

Which he did, and which he now continues to do.

Just tell him explicitly, and in an unemotional way, that verbal expressions of love are a necessity for you, and he'll probably incorporate this necessity into the parameters of the relationship.
posted by darth_tedious at 7:46 PM on June 29, 2009 [26 favorites]

I'm similar to your BF, although I haven't gone through quite as much. I have a very hard time saying I love you to anyone, even my parents. I think I've become wired to not be verbally affectionate because in the environment in which I grew up, it was treated as a sign of weakness.

The question here is whether you feel that this lack of saying 'I love you' trumps all the other good things he seems to be doing for you.

I'm not judging you by any means, but a lot of guys out there will gladly tell you they love you to get what they want.

I think that if you care about him and see a life with him, you need to deal with this issue on your end first. Speaking from experience, he's likely not going to become all that more affectionate, given his age.
posted by reenum at 7:48 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

From your description: He has a trauma history, and also has issues with emotional expression in general. The emotional expression part could be a temperament thing that's just part of who he is, or it could be related to the trauma history or other life events. I really feel like this is not rocket surgery or anything... I think following his request to "please be patient" is the best thing you can do for both your sakes. If you need to keep talking to him about it, go about it in a direct way that does not involve your hurt feelings being compounded for a really long time and then kind of spilling over, because that won't be a super productive interaction. Try REALLY HARD to hear the language that he IS speaking to you--the things he does, the way he shows you that he cares. Acknowledge those things that he does and shows you, and the more you really hone your attention in, the better you will get at translating them into the language you're looking to hear. You do have control over something in this equation, and it's choosing to look for the ways he's saying it without saying it. I think it's fair to want what you want, just do it while respecting that he may simply not be able to give that to you right this moment.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:50 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I never communicate affection with words because I can't do so to anywhere the level I can with my deeds or non-verbally.

Using words always feels false, forced, and disingenuous.

There's almost nothing worse than someone who tries to prompt me for emotional affirmation, and it often makes me do the opposite or ignore them altogether.

It has very great potential to damage a relationship more than you might expect. It's a powder keg, trust me.
posted by foooooogasm at 7:52 PM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have never dated someone that doesn't express their love for me verbally so it just throws me for a loop and I don't know how to deal with it. He also never compliments me either and I'm very used to getting compliments all the time, even from strangers.

These sentences grabbed me. I suspect if your issue were just about "love" the "compliments of strangers" bit wouldn't matter. Strangers surely don't rush up to you to tell you they love you so I don't really see the relation of one to the other.

You need to think about why you need constant affirmation from others of your self-worth, attractiveness, desirability, whatever.
posted by vincele at 8:03 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Read The Five Love Languages and get him to read it too -- it helps to "diagnose" how people love and want to receive love and, IIRC, explains how to respond to your partner's love language. (It sounds a bit silly, especially if you're not interested in self-help books, but it's kind of interesting. Try it.)
posted by pised at 8:16 PM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

There is someone who is very dear to me who cannot say those three little words. He has admitted it as such. I tell myself repeatedly that his actions say more than words, but at some point, I am going to say, "I need to hear those words because it means a great deal to have it uttered out loud." I know how hard it is, and you have my utmost sympathy.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:22 PM on June 29, 2009

Not receiving verbal affirmation of affection and worth can lead to feeling unappreciated, to answer Vincele. We want to feel that we're not being taken for granted by our partner, and/or that their feelings for us haven't altered or faded as time passes. imo of course.

My husband never said he loved me when we first started seeing each other, though he was clearly smitten from the start. On our first anniversary I called him out on it, and now (many years later), he says it more often than "hello". Sometimes they want to hold on to their independence for a while - admitting they love you in words is a big step and can be seen as a loss of control, or admission of commitment, or whatever. Let him know, in a non-dramatic way, that this is bugging you and ask him flat-out why he doesn't say it, and if he can try to say it sometimes to please you. He might just not be ready to say it out loud yet, but that doesn't mean he doesn't feel it.
posted by Billegible at 8:30 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can't really weigh in on the should he tell you/should you ask for it part of this that I see other people responding to, but I've got an idea on the "what can I do to make myself feel better about this" aspect.

Why not try paying a lot of attention to the things he does that show you that he loves you? Every time he (opens the door for you/brings you flowers/brushes the hair out of your eyes/refills your water glass without you asking), remind yourself that this is his way of saying "I love you." Maybe you'll remind yourself that he's 'saying' it with every gesture, and by hearing it in your own mind as you register that thought, you'll feel more contented?

Small mental acts of reframing situations can go a long, long way towards happiness, IMO.
posted by amelioration at 8:32 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

A guy friend of mine says it's not what guys say, it's what they do that counts. If he's good to you, don't enforce some kind of Hallmark requirement on the guy. He's good to you. Focus on that.
posted by zadcat at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

If he's good to you, don't enforce some kind of Hallmark requirement on the guy.

She has a right to want to hear "I love you." She may not get it, but it's not some kind of "Hallmark requirement"--it's an important verbal exchange for many people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:17 PM on June 29, 2009 [9 favorites]

Do you mean make yourself feel better in the meantime, while he's working on being more verbally affectionate? It sounds like he made a reasonable promise -- be patient, he'll get there when he's comfortable. You've told him a reasonable relationship need of yours and are waiting to see whether he'll put himself out to meet it.

In answer to whether there are people who aren't "wired" for verbal affection, it doesn't really matter. A loving partner will step outside their usual repertoire of loving gestures, if it makes their partner happy. I have a friend who, at the beginning of the month, stabs a pen into a calendar at random and, on that day, buys his wife flowers. Clearly this is not a ritual that means a lot to him, in the sense that he isn't just swept away once in a while by the desire to buy flowers for her, but he knows she likes random flowers, so he does it. Some of the loving gestures we make are important to us, and some are important to our partners.
posted by palliser at 9:25 PM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

I do think some people aren't verbally affectionate - I don't think my father has ever told me he loves me (he most definitely does, shows me in every way), whereas my mom tells me every single time I talk to her. A little different, but I don't my dad tells my mom, either (again, he definitely does love her).

I also wanted to note that different people respond differently to this kind of reticence. My father was never told "I love you" by his father, and this was a very painful fact in his life that he remedied by telling us often he loves us and is proud of us. Some people don't need to hear it, but some people do, and I'd hope any parent or partner would place more importance on the child's or partner's sense of being unloved than their own sense of discomfort in saying "I love you."
posted by palliser at 9:31 PM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

This could have been me a year and a half into my relationship with my now-fiance' -- "I love you" was a HUGE issue for me at that point and caused a lot of tearful unnecessary sessions on my side.

What can I tell myself to feel better about the situation since I'm in this for the long haul.

I focused on all the small little ways he said "i love you" without saying it -- cleaning my flat while i was away on a business trip so i'd have a nice house to come back to, always being available for me, etc. etc. After a few years, I learned more about myself and more about him, and really accepted that he was a "show, not tell" person. Once i re-tuned myself to see these new signals, I was happy and our relationship progressed (and he now says "i love you").

I know it's difficult but this will get better as time goes on in your relationship - try to keep communicating about it but on a more abstract "this is me and that is you" level rather than bringing emotion into it. I was ALWAYS the one out ahead of my partner in the Big Relationship Milestones, trying to drag him behind me, and if i could go back and do it again, I would tell 5-years-ago me to just relax and enjoy what a great guy he is, in his own way.
posted by ukdanae at 10:00 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it the "I love you" that he can't say, or could he manage/would you be satisfied with (for now) something like "you put the sunshine in my day" type of statement? Perhaps you could lead him to the "I love you" slowly. And, yes, tell him what you need.
posted by x46 at 10:06 PM on June 29, 2009

My husband was this way early in our relationship. His family never says "I love you" or anything like that. My family is the opposite: we always tell each other "I love you."

He told me he loved me before I told him, so I was completely thrown off when he hardly said it after that one time. When I asked him about it, he said it was very awkward for him to say and that he felt more comfortable expressing it in other ways. I couldn't even fathom this, at first. I told him that words are very important to me and it was something I needed to hear, and that I found it arousing, even, when he'd say he loved me. (Honestly, I think the arousal thing was the bigger motivating factor, and I don't mean that to cheapen anything.) He said he would try and I was patient while he adjusted to this.

The other thing was he complimented me infrequently. This was actually not something I felt comfortable asking for, I suppose because no one wants to feel like they have to ask for compliments, they just want them freely given. After we'd been together for about a year he said something complimentary to me and I was so pleased and surprised -- I think I said, "I didn't know you felt that way" -- that he said a bunch more. I could tell that he meant it but felt awkward about saying it out loud -- he made some sort of joke about how he felt stupid saying mushy things but he hadn't realized I liked it so much. I told him that yes, I really liked that sort of thing, and he became gradually better at it. I compliment him all the time, of course.

Nearly seven years later and he tells me he loves me multiple times a day, and compliments me incessantly. It is very easy for him, now. You just need to make clear how important it is to you. When you do that, make clear that you understand and appreciate the other ways he expresses his love -- it sounds like this should be easy for you to do -- but it's just something you need. Some people will get defensive and angry at you for expressing that, but your boyfriend sounds like he will be more receptive and understanding. It just takes time. Encourage him and respond positively when he does those things for you.
posted by Nattie at 10:12 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I created an account today just so that I could respond to you, as your question really moved me.

I could well have written this post, since I'm also 1.5 years into a relationship with a man I love and who loves me, and who also doesn't say it verbally. I advise you to take your own advice: remind yourself that you're in it for the long haul, and remind yourself of the myriad of other ways you _feel_ loved by him and how else he shows his love. Love isn't just for your own validation, it's a constant exchange between two people--a gift economy, not an exchange economy. You love him too, and as he is, not (I hope) as what he would be if he changed this thing (there is always something to be changed. If this changes, will you really be completely happy?)

My boyfriend doesn't have a traumatic history (actually, I am the one with it), but he is not much for verbal expressions of affection. We are very serious, and plan on getting married, and so yes, I'm signing up for a lifetime of no love letters or daily "I love yous." I'm ok with it. Part of what I've discovered with him is the true intimacy of trust: I trust him, trust that he loves me, and trust in our relationship. In fact, being insecure and needy and wheedling out the words produces the _opposite_ effect: he becomes further withdrawn and feels badgered. It's kind of like how we all have our limits and requirements: he and I need a certain amount of independence and physical space, but after respecting that for each other, nothing makes us happier and more relieved than to come together again for a hug or cuddle. But we wouldn't feel so happy in those moments of union if we didn't have some time apart to be ourselves. Don't let this turn into a reflection of how he feels about you, or the health of your relationship, if truly you are happy with him and how else he shows his affection for you.

For myself, I've learned to really enjoy figuring out and finding the ways he shows that he loves me. He really listens to me (I told him a story about my impoverished youth about not being able to afford strawberries, my favorite fruit, the next day he gives me a _flat_ of strawberries). He does thoughtful things for me. He doesn't write me love letters, but he emails me five times a day to send me some article I'd find interesting. He buys me books at used bookstores (we have different tastes in pleasure reading). Love is not just in the words, but in the actions and the expression of the feelings. As for myself, I am still the same way I would be with a more expressive partner: just as I respect him and his personality, he does for me: I say "I love you" every day, at the end of phone calls, and just randomly. Maybe three times a day at least. He doesn't say "you're saying 'I love you' too much, and it's unnerving me!" He accepts my verbally expressed love, I accept his non-verbal love, and we are really happy together.

Don't listen to that wacko Christina Nehring, who recently published "A Vindication of Love," arguing that love requires passion and drama and should produce visible scars. That's like an argument from an 18th Century Romantic, or at least a 19 year old English literature major. I should know, a decade ago I was one! A decade ago, I was with effusive, dramatic, very romantic, Byron-esque boyfriends who told me they loved me every five minutes (not exaggerating) and wrote me love letters in German and French (which I had to translate with dictionaries, since I was taking Latin and Spanish). They also broke my heart and made me so unhappy and it was an emotional rollercoaster.

You have a good thing. You just have to believe that you do. Sorry I wrote such a long thing. I hope this helps.
posted by dhn at 10:32 PM on June 29, 2009 [12 favorites]

I guess the thing is, only you know whether or not this is a deal breaker for you. For me, it would be, absolutely. I can't even imagine how to help you learn to cope with this because from my perspective, this would be impossible to cope with. I need to be with someone who shows their love for me in different ways, with words, touch, and actions. I'm not a huge "I love you" sayer to anyone but my partner. I do love my family and we are quite caring and affectionate to each other, but we'd all be just a touch awkward about verbalizing it too frequently. With my fiance, feeling comfortable enough to say and hear those words without feeling self conscious or undeserving is really a lovely, important thing.

I don't think you're wrong or needy or making extraordinary demands to want to hear that phrase said sincerely to you on a regular basis. From my perspective, as a verbal person, it's not at all extraneous or old fashioned or excessively romantic to feel that way, particularly a year and a half into a serious relationship. It's a gift to be in a position where you're able to say it to someone and hear it in return.

You're doing the right thing by clearly expressing your desire/need to hear him say he loves you and you're further doing the right thing by being patient in waiting for him to grow enough to be able to say it. Learning to communicate your needs (rather than expecting your partner to read your mind) is a super important part of having a healthy relationship. Provided he's really trying to make compromises and work to meet your needs, that's fantastic.

You shouldn't have to be the only one making the effort and compromising in order to be okay with or fix this conflict. Assuming you aren't an extremely insecure person who looks to the love of your romantic partner to supply all your self worth, you deserve to have love expressed to you in the ways that resonate with you. If he isn't wiling to do that work, you're the only one who can decide whether that's something you can live with long term. If he making progress, make sure he knows how much you appreciate his recognizing how much you need this and making the effort to make you feel loved.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:31 AM on June 30, 2009

I've been on both sides of this. Talk honestly and trust. There is a lot of good advice posted above. Also, make sure to have your friends, because he can't be all things to you all the time.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:40 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm somewhat like your boyfriend in this matter, so here's some general thoughts:

I have a very good memory and loathe having things repeated, so constantly saying I love you (and by constantly I mean several times a week) just seems odd and weird. If I or my wife said "I love you" yesterday and we've had a fantastic day together, then I really don't need to hear it, I know it, it's been proven numerous times throughout the day. To me it's like saying "It's sunny" several times. Yeah, got that, it's sunny, is there any new information here?

We live in world where people can, will and have said many nice things to me, just to get what they want, so I've learned not to put much emphasis on what people say, it's what people do that counts. That's why I'm much more physically affectionate. I absent mindly stroke my wife's hair or her arm/hand leg or play footsies because love, to me, is similar to river or electric current, it's always moving, hence the need to touch.

In past relationships I've completely resented the expectation that I must regularly say "I love you". It was a huge turn off and 'caused me to say it less because it felt like I had to perform and if I didn't feel like performing at a specific instance or as often as the other person thought I should, then something was wrong with me, as a person. My wife doesn't expect it of me, nor demand it, so I'm much more comfortable saying it. I feel free to be myself and know that I am loved for being myself and that, to me, is such an extraordinary thing, literally the very definition of love. There are some many other situations and people in the world that want or demand I be like X or Y, so it's incredibly comforting to know, in my bones, that there is someone isn't demanding. Consequently, as this became clearer to me over the years, I've become much more wiling to toss off "I love you" several times a day. Did you notice the self enforcing positive feedback loop here? By giving me what I want, I give her what she wants and yes, she does like it when I verbalize "I love you," she just understand me well enough not to push it.

She has a right to want to hear "I love you."

This statement fills me, a non-verbal person similar to the original posters SO, with pure dread and anger. To me it sounds very demanding and part of potential endless cycle of putting her "rights" first and having to change who I am to fit her view of the world. It's just another useless benchmark in a Hallmark like fake world and god help if you don't subscribe to that newsletter or worse yet, have no interest in doing so. You can be treated like an alien leper.

and I'm very used to getting compliments all the time, even from strangers.

My first reaction, upon reading that was "Jesus, she sounds like spoiled child who thinks she's entitle to the world, just for showing up. Christ, the person who delivers the mail shows up everyday and actually does something and they don't regular compliments, so why the hell does this woman think she should?" At this point, I should say that "This doesn't make you a bad person" and I suppose it's true, you're not Hitler, but that's kinda of a low bar. I would suggest, keeping in mind that I don't know you, that your seeming need for compliments may be a big factor in why your boyfriend's non-verbal ways bother you. Perhaps you should work on that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:17 AM on June 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

If I can offer a personal experience, I found it always difficult to reciprocate a "I love you" (I still did) from my last love because of simple reason: his "I love you" was about feelings at that moment, whereas my "I love you" would be about "I am devoted to you, want to build home and raise family with you." I felt love with all of my being, but every time I gave a verbal affirmation of such devotion in exchange to something that was maybe not less made me sad for a moment. It was easier to make DIY gifts and spend outrageous money for intercontinental travel to participate in his family functions than say "I love you". It's true, I am not dramatizing anything.

Else, Cary Tennis of salon.com has held a good case of discussion on this issue once.
posted by Jurate at 2:55 AM on June 30, 2009

Could it be a cultural thing perhaps? The culture I come from (Japanese) does not really believe in verbal displays of affection (traditionally anyway), so I've always felt embarassed, even - I don't know, the best term I can think of is ticklish - about being told "I love you", various terms of endearment and so on (including kissing and stuff), especially in public. (On the other hand, I know several Japanese women who specifically seek out non-Japanese boyfriends or spouses because they have this big fantasy about being told "I love youuu" all the time, but that's another subject.) I know my attitude bothered my fairly affectionate European husband when we first started going out, but he got used to being told to 'shut up' (I know, it sounds mean...) But yes there are people who are not that verbal about their feelings. I am in the camp that really believes that actions speak way louder than words.
posted by thread_makimaki at 3:11 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had an ex whose parents told her "I love you" all the time. At the end of every telephone conversation. Every meeting. It was an automatic thing they would say, and to her ears it became almost meaningless, like saying "goodbye" or "see you later". She didn't like them saying it so flippantly, so came to avoid saying it at all. She was a very loving person, like your bf, and like him showed it in non-verbal ways.

The real question is your need for him to say the words. You say it's important, but which is more important: him or the words?

And if I may make a generalization, when guys say "I love you", say it in a meaningful, sincere way, it tends to be buried under layers of armor and protection. And he sounds like the still-waters type of guy anyway, so that armor goes up a notch or two. Doesn't sound like he has the problem, sounds like you do. And I heartily second what darthtedious said at the beginning of this thread.
posted by zardoz at 5:48 AM on June 30, 2009

I'm a woman, and I don't really like to use "love" very often. That's serious business for me, and it's not easy to say. But since my very affectionate and verbal husband likes to hear it, I started using ridiculously over-the-top alternatives for everyday wear:

"You are marvelous and I adore you with every fiber of my being."
"I worship the very ground that is contiguous to or even slightly separated from the ground you walk on."
"Every hair on your back is endearing -- perhaps even sacred -- to me."

He understands the very real sentiment behind them, and I probably end up using "love" a little more often because I don't feel pressured to do so.
posted by timeo danaos at 5:58 AM on June 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

What can I tell myself to feel better about the situation since I'm in this for the long haul.

You can tell yourself that compromise is possible. If your boyfriend weren't naturally inclined to be physically affectionate, it would be ok and reasonable to ask him to show you some physical affection now and again. It would be unreasonable to demand that every interaction the two of you have begin with a kiss or a hug, or that he only express his fondness for you through physical contact, but it would be equally unreasonable for him to decline to show any physical affection whatsoever simply because it caused him to feel uncomfortable. Likewise, if it really matters to you to hear "I love you" spoken out loud once in a while--and if he does love you--there has to be a compromise the two of you can reach. Patience is good and necessary, but it's also a good idea to approach this as a problem to be solved.

I'm terrible at keeping in touch with friends by phone, because I prefer talking in-person or via e-mail (and honestly, I find talking on the phone kind of awkward), but I have a couple people in my life who have told me that what they need from me as a friend is an occasional phone call. So I mark my google calendar to prompt me every few weeks "Have you called Liz this month?" Your boyfriend can do something similar. The action of saying "I love you" doesn't have to flow naturally from his heart: as long as the genuine feelings are there, he can use something as cold and practical as an e-mail reminder to prompt himself to do what you're asking of him.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:57 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seriously, laying out the robotic checklist for dudes is always a good idea. We follow directions very well.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:09 AM on June 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

I wrote: She has a right to want to hear "I love you."

Brandon Blatcher wrote: This statement fills me, a non-verbal person similar to the original posters SO, with pure dread and anger. To me it sounds very demanding and part of potential endless cycle of putting her "rights" first and having to change who I am to fit her view of the world.

No, you're missing my point. She has a right to WANT it. She doesn't have a right to HEAR it. People were berating her for WANTING to hear it, as if there were something wrong with her wanting that, and she was a brainwashed sheeple blah blah Hallmark blah blah.

Hearing the words "I love you" is important to many people, not because they're blah blah victims of the Hallmark mentality, but because they understand it as an important emotional exchange.

Now, as for him, he has equal rights to manage his emotional expression however the hell he wants. If he's not comfortable saying "I love you" to her, he has every right to refrain from doing that.

As in any relationship, when two people have very different wants, the appropriate thing is for them to understand and respect each other's position.

You, my dear e-spouse, somehow thought that I wasn't respecting his position, because I was expressing respect for her position. I respect both people's position, and I don't think she should be berated for wanting to hear "I love you" any more than he should be berated for not wanting to say "I love you."

People have different styles of emotional communication. Hers isn't wrong, and his isn't wrong. However, they are mismatched, so that requires a little more attention, like every other mismatch in a relationship.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:48 AM on June 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

Well, for perspective I can advise that the opposite is not any more satisfying: my partner is very verbally affectionate and will randomly say "I love you" several times each day, but doesn't seem to remember our conversations, or ask about my day, come up with little surprises for me, or help out around the house.

So, what you have is very valuable! As much as it's a cliche, "actions speak louder than words."
posted by Pomo at 9:42 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regarding the question about what you can tell yourself to feel better... Well, what do you tell yourself currently? What is your gut reaction when it feels to you like your boyfriend should say, "I love you," and the moment passes without this expression?

Depending on how mild or intense your reaction is in those moments, maybe you could try some sort of neural linguistic programming-type technique to modify your internal reaction? Like, maybe you could come up with some private small gesture or phrase to re-direct your attention towards something positive in those moments? I don't know much about NLP, so maybe google some info.


FWIW - What do you imagine the long term effect of your boyfriend's lack of verbal affection toward you might be in terms of your self-esteem? What if you have children with him someday - would it be OK if he wasn't verbally affectionate towards your children? How do you think this might effect them as they grow up and become adults?

For myself, I can think of many many relationships (romantic and otherwise - including employment) where I put up with/rationalized/did without.... the end result was always that some need of mine went unmet. Sometimes I found I could be "OK" without the need fulfilled. Sometimes I felt like the "hero" for being strong and understanding. And sometimes resentment festered in a tiny corner inside, until one day I was just totally tired of the relationship & ended things.

I have no idea what your situation is, so no judging or predictions for your future, eh! Just telling you about me.

Perhaps, tho, before I went through all the trouble of modifying my reactions in a situation like the one you describe, I would give some serious thought regarding how valid my reactions are, and what they tell me about my needs and requirements. This might not be something (needing verbal affection) that you really ought to change about yourself:)
posted by jbenben at 10:08 AM on June 30, 2009

I'd like to start off by saying that it sounds like you have great respect for your SO, and I think that's great as any lasting relationship needs to have that respect.

What I'd like to put forward is that just as you respect him and his needs, he needs to respect you and yours. It is valid for you to feel the need to be told that he loves you. Different people require different things in a relationship, and one of your requirements is to be told that you're loved and valued.

It can be very difficult when people have trouble being verbal with their feelings. As a person who was abused, I know that past trauma can be difficult to navigate and can make some relationship interactions awkward. I think it's great that you have given him time and space for him to try and navigate any issues that he might have; I would recommend continuing to be supportive and understanding with this. However, I'd have to ask what steps is he taking to work on his inability to vocalize his love? If his brother's suicide and other past traumas are affecting his relationship with you, then I cannot recommend enough that he go to see a counselor or therapist immediately to start working through those issues.

Personally, I don't think you should DTMFA but I also think it is unfair for you to have to "cope" with this. If you decide that being complimented and told that you're loved isn't important to you, then this isn't a problem. If you feel it is, then it is a huge problem. You might be able to ignore the niggling little voice, that thing in you that is going unfulfilled, but eventually you will come to resent him for making you sacrifice a thing you need while he's not sacrificing anything.
posted by jaybeans at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Goodness, I think you're going out with my boyfriend.

I found I became more relaxed about never hearing the "I love yous" once I realised there were many other ways my partner shows affection. For me, the sillier he gets with me, the cheeky comments, means that he is feeling rather affectionate.

I also found that cutting back on my desire to constantly say "I love you" to him (eg at night, at the end of every phone call), means I am more conscious of noticing what he does for me. Odd, I know.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:07 AM on July 1, 2009

He's prolly trying really hard and not feeling good about this too.

Give him time, be patience. It will be THAT sweet when he finally feels comfortable saying it, TO YOU. Both you two will be very happy I think.

Don't push him too hard, or you will drive him away.

Good luck!
posted by jstarlee at 10:11 PM on July 1, 2009

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