I need love.
August 26, 2011 8:41 AM   Subscribe

How do I adjust to not needing affection and validation all the time?

Male, married, two kids. I'm a very affectionate person, but I've found that I need lots of care and feeding in return. I like to hear that I'm loved and needed. And I love getting affection and physical attention - holding hands, kisses, etc. My wife, on the other hand, not so much in giving or receiving. She loves me, but just isn't like me.

This isn't a "how do I fix my relationship" thread. We're different, I get that. But I feel like my needs are causing issues and arguments. I'm sure this must be some deep self-esteem issue, but I don't how to become more confident about myself so that I don't need this constant validation. What's the solution?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy. [/end answer]

Just kidding. Yes, therapy can be helpful for this, both for helping you find confidence and for breaking the thought cycle that makes you need constant validation. But it helps if you have a strong core of your own to draw on. Things that you do by yourself, for yourself. Hobbies you enjoy and are good at, that you do for the pleasure they give you. Little taking-care-of-yourself things. Pay attention to what you need in a given moment—start as simple as checking yourself for thirst, or grumpiness, or whatever—and take care of it on your own. All these things will help you get more in tune with yourself on the little things, which will help reduce your need for external validation on the big stuff. Sounds stupid, but "love yourself first" is good advice for a number of reasons.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:48 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I are just like you and your wife. He's from a family of huggers, kissers, and vocal "I love you!"ers. I'm pretty sure no one in my family has ever hugged me, they've certainly never expressed their love for me, and I'm just generally not the type of person who thinks to do that with others (except significant others, but even then it's probably more rare than it should be). I have a feeling this has a lot to do with the way you two were brought up. Our solution is that when the man's not feeling properly loved, he tells me. Example: I get home from work, he's already there, I start talking about my day or reading the mail or something, and he reminds me that I'm not allowed to do anything when I get home before I kiss him (this is all cutesy-jokey of course, tone of voice certainly matters). I'm getting better at being affectionate (after 5 years together!), but he still needs to remind me sometimes that I haven't hugged him in days or whatever, and this is something your wife will have to want to do on her own before she improves. Couples counseling might help, especially if you think there are deeper issues.
posted by jabes at 8:54 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good god, man, I could have written this question. Seriously, I am you.

So, some encouragement: I've been married to my best friend for 20 years, and I can tell you that this gets better. In my case, my issues come from my parents and the things they would say to me as a child, and I transferred my "need to please" from them to my wife. I went to a therapist last summer, talked all of this out, realized the things that happened to me to make me such a needy person, etc.

One of the key things I learned from that, something that had honestly never dawned on me before, was just what an incredible amount of unfair pressure my neediness was putting on my wife. My therapist helped me see it from her perspective: "So, this woman loves you unconditionally, has stayed with you through good times and bad, you have children together. And one of the things you unintentionally do to her is constantly make her feel like she's not doing enough for you, like she's letting you down? Do you think that's fair to her?"

No, of course not. It's totally unfair to her. And when I came home that day and told her about this breakthrough and apologized for my neediness, she broke down and cried, and said "You finally understand." And things are better. It's not to say that I'm not yearning for affection, of course, because that never changes. But you have to learn to make the primary source of affection - the main place where you get your validation - be yourself.

That might not be a particular breakthrough for you, but it's something I'd encourage you to keep in mind. There's a sort of self-supporting negativity at work here - you send some sort of signal (either overt or subliminal) that she's not being affectionate enough, she gets discouraged, maybe resigns herself to the fact that she'll never be able to please you, and subconsciously makes less of an effort. Because she's already feeling defeated.

Anyway, I'm rambling ... you can memail me if you want. Please make a concerted effort to stay positive and encouraged, because if you approach this thing from a position of despair, it will make things much worse. Things will get better, your family loves you, and you are a good and valuable person.
posted by jbickers at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2011 [32 favorites]

I'm sure this must be some deep self-esteem issue

Why are you so sure of that? Liking to hear that you're loved and needed, and wanting to give and receive physical attention is certainly within the realm of normal, and not "an issue." Perhaps you need that kind of validation more than average, and perhaps you even need it to an unhealthy degree. But it seems like you've taken a very all-or-nothing approach to this marital issue, and it may be that your needs are quite normal and not the (only) part needs to be "fixed."

We've all heard the saying that the only person you can change is yourself, and your question seems to be framed in the spirit of that. However, while I'd agree that trying to change your spouse's fundamental nature is a recipe for disaster, that's not the same thing as asking your spouse to change some aspect of their behavior. It's true: you're different people. You won't make her into a touchy-feely/affirmation-oriented person. But it's not at all unreasonable to expect that she bend her behavior to meet you somewhere in the middle as far as your needs and your fundamental personality go. Relationships are built on compromise, whether you're talking about a difference in cleanliness levels, libidos, or need for affection.

That said, I've recently discovered mindfulness awareness practice and am finding it to be a very helpful tool in my struggles to accept those parts of my own relationship that I shouldn't expect to change. Specifically, I've had the approach of Cheri Huber recommended two me from a few different sources. She's got a number of titles in print; I happened to start with "Suffering is Optional," but you may find some other title that focuses on different concerns to be a better starting place.

The other author that I would recommend to you is Willard Harley's "His Needs, Her Needs." Ignore the subtitle: it's not just for marriages where an affair is imminent (earlier comment of mine on this book). Also, the ever-popular-on-AskMe "Five Love Languages."
posted by drlith at 9:20 AM on August 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Here's what I think, as I'm a lot like you, and I suspect that the solution may be more along the lines of what you are hoping to avoid. Men, often, feel the need to feel respected in a relationship, even more than they want to hear expressions of love. You can argue that respect and love are connected, but my point is that many men would often like to hear, "I think you are doing a great job as a husband, and I so respect that you sacrifice your needs for the need of the family" more than they want to hear "I love you." My wife, on the other hand, likes to hear "I love you," and to see this communicated to her in very specific ways. And the answer to your question is that it is a-okay for you to feel the way that you do. way.

However, you do, as you say, need to feel loved, as well, and people tend to receive it in specific ways: words of affirmation, touch, acts of service, time spent together, or receiving gifts (see The Five Love Languages by Chapman for more on this). People need them in varying degrees, depending on what resonates with them on deep levels.

What I think needs to happen in you relationship, as does in every relationship, is a frank discussion on how each of you received love in your relationship, and how you can best feel respected for your contributions to the family. For me, I'm a words of affirmation person, while my wife is a time person. As fate would have it, neither of those comes easy for us when it comes to helping out the other person. So we've had to work very, very hard at it, not belittle the other person for what they say that they need, and to continue having ongoing discussions about it, as it's easy to default to our own personal preferences for showing love an respect based on what we need individually, rather than what the other person says that they need. For example, I find that it's way easier for me to try and compliment my wife, when that might not be what she needs, versus getting up away from personal projects to spend quality time with her.

Don't feel ashamed for what you feel that you need, or expressing this. You may want to have a conversation about how you need this, and to what extent it's hard for your wife, and how you might be able to come to a reasonable solution on how to get those things. One of the problems that we had to work with is that as a husband, saying that I need to hear words of affirmation sounds needy and somewhat self-centered. However, when my wife realized that affirming my contributions to the family sounds, to my ears, the same as hearing that I am deeply loved to her, it provided a good context for ongoing discussion. There is a place to ask whether or not requests for affirmation are too excessive, as at some threshold, it is impossible (and unreasonable) to ask the other person to meet certain kinds of needs from us. Some of this may need to come from within, or from our jobs, or other outside relationships. But our most significant points of contact for love and respect should come from our primary relationships, I think, and it usually takes a lot of intentional effort and dialogue to find a balance.

I do apologize, as your question did ask for a non-solution, and more of a "how do I get along without it" answer. My feeling is that if you try to get along without something that you legitimately need, it will cause you a lot of frustration, and won't feel like a real solution at the end of the day. If you feel that your demands are excessive, that's a different issue, and I would encourage you to get validation from other outside sources, as well, or to see if there are psychological issues that can be investigated with some trusted help. But having the need in the first place is entirely normal and an area of ongoing communication in healthy relationships. "Being different" is never a really good reason to not try and meet the needs of your significant other.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Shower your kids with affection. Get a dog.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just a note that needing external validation does not make you a piece of trash. You can continue to need things without it being pathological.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:04 AM on August 26, 2011

The best place to get love and affirmation would probably be yourself. Feeling like a hug? Then say, "self, I'm giving you a hug today", and imagine yourself giving yourself the hug you want or maybe look in the mirror in the morning and say "self, you're looking good today, now don't go breaking any hearts". I'm not saying these should replace affection from your loved ones, but the techniques might be able to carry you through until the next display of affection from a loved one. Of course, a better bet would be to talk to a trained therapist and get their ideas, as I'm just a random stranger on the internet who's projecting the things that worked for me onto you, without really knowing you at all.
posted by forforf at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2011

Not to be coy, but when you say you need affection and physical attention (hugging, kissing), might you also mean sex? I just wonder if, for you, sex has declined to an unacceptable level, and now you're looking to fix you. It may not be you. It might, in fact, be both of you and an exploration of each of your needs might be necessary. So if you can't talk about it, couples therapy would be a good option.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:12 AM on August 26, 2011

I agree with all the advice here (wow! We have accord in AskMe!).

Tell your wife what you need. Don't make it, "You never..." or "You always..." But, "I've been realizing that I'm the kind of person that needs feedback to feel good about myself. I need to hear that I'm loved and appreciated sometimes. I know we're different people, and I don't want to make you feel taken for granted either, so can we work on this together?" And then just tell her, "I'm feeling down on myself today..." or "I could really use a hug." People react to cues, they just need to know what you want from them!

Also, if you could get out just one night a week and do something with others, anything from team sports to role-playing games, you might find that the camaraderie and the competition would help with that validation, too. It's hard on your wife to be the sole source of positive validation for you, and it's hard on your when it isn't always forthcoming. Developing an interest outside the relationship you have with her would be a very good thing!

Thirdly, model the behavior with your kids that you need to be happy, too. Hug them often, don't be afraid to tell them you love them, praise their accomplishments. You'll be raising them to be comfortable giving and receiving affection, and that's a good thing.

I'm like you, and I've had to learn to be more independent because my husband travels a lot and we have to be apart more often these days. We try to make the most of the time we're together, and frequently call each other out on those days when we realize that our conflicting schedules have kept us from connecting emotionally. That bonding is really important to a relationship; don't let it slide.
posted by misha at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'll second the Five Love Languages nomination.

With my husband, I gave him a list of signs of affection that help me feel loved, and I asked him to do at least one thing on the list every day. It seems silly, and the first week or so it kind of felt fake to me, but it helps both of us a lot. He's reminded of what he needs, and he thinks maintaining our relationship is worth doing at least one thing on the list each day. And I get the affection I need in a way that works for me.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:53 AM on August 26, 2011

2nding Misha's great advice. Just because you and your wife aren't the same in this way doesn't mean the problem is (necessarily) you. Neither person should have to give up their own needs to satisfy the other. It's a relationship. There should be communication and compromise, not one person having to deal with their own unhappiness to satisfy the other.

Communicate your needs to her in a healthy and non-demanding way and see what happens.
posted by cnc at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2011

I thought I didn't need the kind of constant reinforcement that you're describing, until I started getting it, and then it became something I require, because it is really really nice. It doesn't have to be characterized as a problem; it's just the way you are, and she's the way she is, and hopefully (as with other things in a relationship) you two are close enough together that you can compromise. Which just means she needs to be a bit more affectionate, and you need to trust she loves you a little bit more. There's nothing necessarily wrong with either of you.

Still, if it is causing arguments and whatnot, then you can't say "I don't want to fix the relationship" because it is causing relationship problems, and addressing the concern from one or both sides will be fixing those problems. I also can say this: either she's not affectionate because she isn't like that, but she loves you, so she can consciously ramp it up some (the way a person might start opening the door for their partner because they've expressed their desire for it; it just needs to be conscious until it becomes a habit)...or she's not affectionate because she's like that but isn't feeling it with you and so there's something deeper afoot.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 12:35 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, may I make a very specific book recommendation? This book might be exactly the thing for you - it helped me a great deal.
posted by jbickers at 3:48 PM on August 26, 2011

I was you, except female, early in my relationship with my husband.

What issues and arguments are you having? For example, are you saying accusatory things that imply she doesn't love you or do enough to show it, and/or you engage her in a way that makes you come across as hurt/insulted? In that case, I can understand issues and arguments; from your wife's perspective, it's really irritating to love someone and have them not believe you, and characterize you as unloving or inadequate in some way. Your post doesn't sound like you'd do this since you seem to understand it's not like that, but sometimes people don't communicate in the same way when they actually talk to their spouses so I bring it up just in case.

Have you tried saying, "Hey, I know you love me and everything, but I need more physical affection or I feel anxious. Could you hug me more?" That's what I did early in my relationship with my husband and it worked out great. It was weird for him at first, but it turned out to basically be because he didn't come from a very demonstrative family, whereas I did; now he wants hugs and all that ALL THE TIME, sometimes even more than I do.

Now, if you're saying this to your wife and it's resulting in arguments, that's tougher. If she's making you feel bad by calling you needy or something, or getting irritated when you're being calm and reasonable, then that's mostly on her; it's really not cool if she's calling you weak/needy/whatever for having different needs. If she's not doing that but still won't be more physically affectionate, what are her objections? Is it a big sacrifice for her to be more physically affectionate? Does she explain why? Is it just "I'm not like that?" or is there some greater trauma? Most people just feel a bit awkward about it and so aren't inclined to do it unless prompted; they generally don't feel it's a huge unforgivable sacrifice if their SO really needs it to be happy, though, and get used to it. If your wife doesn't respond to a reasonable request and/or feels she absolutely cannot be more physically affectionate because it's just too much to ask, consider couples counseling.

If she really can't compromise enough on this, then don't stick around; you're not a weirdo and you deserve a relationship where you get physical affection. In fact, that's one of the main reasons many people have a romantic relationship. If she wasn't into the same activities as you, well, you could just get friends to enjoy those things with, but this isn't the same. It's not the sort of thing you can just easily get elsewhere; even some open relationships only allow for extramarital sex, not extramarital snuggling. She can't possibly expect you to just go your whole life without it, so what does she want you to do? By all means, if jbickers' advice can bridge the gap in what you're getting and what you want to be getting, investigate that; it's hard to know from the amount of detail in the post how much of the issue lies with your wife. But if it ends up being that your wife won't budge, you probably aren't well-suited to each other.
posted by Nattie at 10:47 PM on August 26, 2011

« Older Should I Panic Filter: Maybe I doubled up, maybe I...   |   How to get curtains for a large odd window... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.