Help me help my marriage
May 22, 2012 12:02 PM   Subscribe

My wife of 14 years never tells me she loves me. She never initiates sex. She never holds my hand, kisses or casually touches me. No pillow talk. No thoughtful little gifts. I do all of these things for her as often as I can.

A few years ago a marriage counselor (my idea) determined we speak two different “love languages”. My wife agrees with the counselor and says she shows/communicates her love for me by doing things around the house (laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, helping kids with homework). She and the counselor feel that should be sufficient for me and that I need to learn to understand her love language.

So we go through these cycles…4 to 6 months of focusing on working, taking care of the house and kids and having sex 2-3 times a month (very normal, always initiated by me); then resentment builds up in me and I point out (not angrily) that she hasn’t told me she loves me, initiated touch or otherwise indicated her love for me for months. I remind her this is VERY important to me and she promises to try harder. We go another 4-6 months and the cycle continues but things never improve.

She’s not a mean-spirited person and I SERIOUSLY doubt she is cheating, so I have a hard time understanding her behavior. Sometimes she almost seems borderline Asperger.

Any advice or shared experiences appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

It may be useful to remember how she acted when you first began seeing each other, when you married, and when you had kids. Has she changed? Have you changed?
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 12:10 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Schedule sex.

I know it sounds like the antithesis of romance, but it really can work wonders.

- The partner who wants more sex now knows that there is always sex on the horizon, and that it's not going to be weeks or months until the next time.
- The partner who doesn't initiate now gets safe expectations; they know that the agreed-upon time and day is coming, and this can help them to feel more in the mood.
- It actually does create a romance of its own, because both partners know that they have carved out this for each other.

It may seem weird at first, but I do recommend it. I have been in a very similar situation. Please feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to discuss it at greater length.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2012 [23 favorites]

My understanding of the love languages business is that it's only helpful when the two people try to meet in the middle. That is, you understand that she is expressing love when she helps around the house, and she makes an effort to say "I love you" more. But that's not super helpful for you now, because you asked for advice, not your wife, so I can't tell her what to do.

Here's something to think about. Do you believe that the things she does around the house are expressions of love? You sort of note this possibility without comment in your question, so it's tough to tell if you're on board with this idea or if you think it's just an excuse.

I think it's really important for you to figure this out before you can figure out what to do next. What it amounts to is this: is the real problem here that your wife doesn't tell you she loves you enough, or is it that you're worried she doesn't love you? Because those are very different problems, with very different solutions.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:14 PM on May 22, 2012 [23 favorites]

Can you (and she and the counselor) discuss how she could show her love in ways that are natural to her (in her "love language") but a little more distinct and out of the ordinary so you perceive them more clearly? Like rather than just cooking dinner, cooking something more complicated that you especially like (that seems to fit in with the theme of laundry and dishes and I can't think of a parallel way to make dishes a clear expression of love.)

The things she describes are all things necessary to keep a house going, so I can see how it's hard to see them as expressions of love. Unless, for example, she knows you hate housework and so she's decided to do it all herself because she knows you hate it.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:15 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gee, are you married to my wife?

Look, you're not alone.

It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Focus on making your resentment not build up so when you do need to communicate ("When you do X, I feel Y..."), you're not muddying your own message with lots of possible distractions ("What the hell is wrong with you, you goddamn ROBOT. Didn't your alien leaders program you right???").

Another thing that helps is an idea we hit on that we call "No Agenda Talk." We set aside deliberate time every 2 weeks or so to just talk. No agenda. No topic. No planning questions ahead of time. "Here we are. Do you like this bottle of wine? It's good, but the last one was better. Yeah, we should get that again. You know, this room needs a new lamp." And it just kind of goes from there. Try it out; it works for us, just to connect.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:15 PM on May 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think you need to find a new counsellor. There should be an effort on BOTH sides to understand the other person's "love language", and I don't see any mention of your wife attempting to meet you half way here.

If you wife won't go, go alone.

For shared experience, I dated someone who was the exact same in terms of no affection, neither verbal or physical, and it was just awful. So I have your back on that one. My solution was to end the relationship, we didn't have children together and I felt no need to keep bashing my head on that particular brick wall. The next relationship I had was with a real cuddler who just wanted to lie around and hold me. It was like the most refreshing iced glass of water after being stuck in a desert for far too long.

I don't think those who are less inclined towards affection understand how bad it is on the (non)-receiving end. You wife needs to spend some effort to comprehend where this is putting you, and that a lifetime of no affection is a very cruel thing to assign a spouse.
posted by Dynex at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2012 [24 favorites]

I remind her this is VERY important to me and she promises to try harder.

I understand that this is very frustrating for you and it is hurting you. But as someone who isn't very demonstrative in a spontaneous fashion, I can tell you it's as hard for her to be what you want her to be as it is for you to endure the reverse. (Sorry: that's not very well expressed, but I hope you know what I mean.)

Maybe you need to schedule some of the things you care about: if she finds it easier to express her love through doing things that will help her to do something and also fulfill your needs a bit better. But she's never going to do what you want spontaneously if that just isn't in her and expecting her to change that much (note: I am not saying you can't her expect her to change at all) is going to set you both up for disaster.

Maybe there are also reasons for her behaviour that she can't speak to you about for some reason. Have you talked about individual counselling? And have you looked into it for yourself to think about ways to express yourself in more productive ways for your relationship, because clearly that's not happening now?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:21 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

can you remind her more often? maybe in some signal type way? Like, I went through a phase with my husband where we each had magnets on the fridge that indicated how interested in sex we were on a given day (maybe I read about that on here, actually?). High up meant I'm ready; down near the bottom meant don't touch me. Every morning they were put back in the middle of the fridge. Middle meant no strong feelings either way. It helped because it meant I didn't have to say no to advances and it made me think about sex. Maybe some similar subtle reminder that "hey, I'm feeling neglected, I need words from you."

Also, it's entirely possible that if you cleaned up the house or did one of the things SHE says she is doing to show you she loves you, then maybe she'll see that as effort you are making? Effort might be easier for her to make if you're making it too.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

I think you both need to calibrate each other's loving gestures meters. My boyfriend is more like my wife and I'm more like you. I tend to say I love you and perform litte affectionate gestures very regularly while my boyfriend says things like that only occasionally but is very good about showing his affection in little ways that I don't always notice -- packing my work bag for me in the morning with my laptop and lunch, coming home and immediately doing all the dishes in the sink, remembering to buy things we're out of etc. I have to remember that these are his ways of showing love and he has to remember to both say I love you more often, and not be freaked out by how many times I tend to say it -- in the beginning he thought I had an unhealthy sort of love for him, but observing how much I say I love you to my parents and other relatives he's recalibrated his meter such that he realizes this is just a normal amount of affection for me though it's not for him. If she is showing you love in other ways, could you try to count each of those little gestures as though it's an I love you? If she's contributing more than you to keeping up with chores and cleaning the house she may consider that her way of showing she cares about the relationship.
posted by peacheater at 12:28 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some people are just like that. I'm not a very cuddly person by nature. But I can catch a clue. Have you tried gently teasing her?

When you say, "I love you" and she says nothing, prompt her, "Okay, now you say it back to me."

Have you approached her, let's say when watching TV or something, when she's not busy doing something, and said, "can we hold hands for a bit?"

Why become resentful, she is who she is. Are there other things about your wife that you find endearing?

It's a hard cold world out there, if you know, deep in your heart that she loves you, then work on it.

If you honestly believe that your wife doesn't love you, then you need to start thinking about what it is you want in your next relationship.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

She does not initiate but does she reciprocate? The roles you two have in the relationship just may be that you initiate and she goes along and you might be stuck with that with you both trying to acomodate the other. But if reciprocating is like pulling teeth I would strongly suggest another councilor who isn't so one-sided, a conversation with her about your feelings, and strong consideration about the life you want to have.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:34 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder if it would be worth you trying to express your love in her language sometimes? Think about the things she says she does to show her love. Do some similar things yourself, above and beyond what you normally do to keep things running. Make sure she notices and see how she reacts. It could tell you a lot about the feelings she has that you seem to be having trouble connecting with. In doing them and thinking of her, you might also be able sense how it is that she sees these actions as expressions of her love.
posted by fearnothing at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you tried having a date night?
posted by spunweb at 12:41 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like to make a running list (either in my head or, embarrassingly, on my phone's memo pad) of all the affectionate and loving things my partner does for me. It helps because I am bad at "all-or-nothing" thinking and tend to assume the worst in a relationship. I get blinded to the good when I'm in a negative mood. So, by reminding myself that he DID do XYZ nice things, quite recently in fact, I get off the ledge.

I think it's quite natural to dismiss or overlook those things when you're in this mood of feeling unappreciated, even to do it unconsciously. So by bringing to consciousness those good deeds/words/etc. you can improve your negative outlook on the situation.
posted by Pomo at 12:45 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

But... if your wife communicates her love by doing things to around the house to care for you and your family, she is indicating her love for you. It may not be the way you want or need her to show her affection, but that doesn't make it an invalid way to show love.

I’ve noticed that people generally seem to express affection in the way that feels the most genuine to them, which is also way they'd most like to have affection expressed towards themselves. So you, for example, express affection through touch and words and gifts, and you'd like to have your wife express affection towards you in a similar way. That's all well and good, and it's not unreasonable for you to want your wife to express her love in a way that feels meaningful to you—but it needs to be a compromise point.

You sure that you’re showing her affection in the way she wants and needs? What if she wants you to express your affection by taking care of her, not by giving her gifts? If so, her feelings of frustration would be just as valid as yours.

If your wife is doing things to care for you and you're unable or unwilling to recognize that these are genuine expressions of affection, and instead complain intermittently that she’s not doing enough to show her love, that’s probably really demoralizing. I tend towards expressing affection this way too, and my ex didn’t get it all. What I heard, when my ex complained that I didn’t initiate sex enough was “I don’t appreciate, and probably didn’t even notice, the fact that you’ve done all my laundry and numerous unpleasant chores so that I can continue to do fun stuff and enjoy my day”. He didn’t say “thank you”, he didn’t say “I appreciate all the (tedious) work you do to keep our lives running smoothly”, and he certainly never said “you know, sweetie, you do so much for me, why don’t you go off and take an afternoon for yourself while I clean the house for once”. End result was that we both got to feel bad, unloved, and unappreciated! This is not a great end result.

I’m all in favor of meeting halfway and think that’s the most successful way of handling this sort of issue—but you both need to acknowledge and (at least try to) appreciate each other’s expressions of affection, and make sure that you understand and are making an effort to express affection towards your partner in the way that is most meaningful for them (not just how it feels most meaningful for you).
posted by Kpele at 12:46 PM on May 22, 2012 [16 favorites]

I read the Love Languages book for a personal communications class, and if the counselor really suggested that that should be sufficient for you, I think you need to find a new counselor. The book really emphasizes that both partners need to step outside of their comfort zone and do things to make the other person feel loved. The author mentions specific exercises that he has couples do to help with that.
posted by amarynth at 12:47 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

You have not mentioned the things you do for her in her love language. Do you do any of the cleaning, laundry, trash removal, kids homework help?
posted by francesca too at 12:53 PM on May 22, 2012 [17 favorites]

Honestly, I can't see a "never" happening. I'm sure she does. It's just not on your expectations of need and your schedule. She does love you. She's just not needy. She's more of a task oriented person either by her own personality or how she was raised. Some people are into affection, some don't. I know personally, I have shit to do. I'm a project management type of person. It's built up anxiety, it's things to do (maybe you don't do them--not accusing, just speaking from experience) and the way she's wired.

The question is why do you need affection so much? I'm not saying that some would say a 4-6 month cycle isn't a long spell. But to say Aspergers? Come on. I doubt she has Aspergers.

Bottom line. She does love you. She's not cheating on you. She's wired differently. She has ALWAYS been wired differently. Either you love her for who she is or you don't.

I agree with the date nights.
I also say look into yourself as to this need and fear that something is wrong. It's called life. Marriage sometimes shifts the relationship. It's not good. It's not bad. It just is. And trust me, it's better than negative drama. Marriage/relationships can't be all love, PDA, mad lust (wish it could be but it's not). A different plane of existence happens. It's a more solid bond than lust will ever be.

And yea, I say this as someone who hears this ALL THE TIME from DH. Sorry but for some people in relationships, "nevers" actually never happen. It's your need, paranoia, and fear that is causing this. Reflect on you. Not her.

And while I don't condone violence, if she read this, this is probably what she is thinking right now.
posted by stormpooper at 12:54 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few years ago a marriage counselor (my idea) determined we speak two different “love languages”. My wife agrees with the counselor and says she shows/communicates her love for me by doing things around the house (laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, helping kids with homework). She and the counselor feel that should be sufficient for me and that I need to learn to understand her love language.

Of course we do not have "all" of the information here, but based on your short description, I am disturbed by your counselor telling you that how your wife engages with you/communicates her love "should be sufficient." Clearly, it is not sufficient for you, or you would not be feeling how you do, and going to counseling. This is a different question from whether you are asking from "too much" from someone, but it is what you want or need. I would hope that a therapist would discuss how both you and your wife need to shift/move to be closer to each other - and not that just one of you should give up some needs. Perhaps seeing someone new could open up new possibilties, language for you and your wife, or just a new way for the two of you to communicate.
posted by anya32 at 1:04 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

My spouse does not naturally communicate love in the ways that I need, either. I have given him a long list of things he can do that show me he loves me -- things like "say 'I love you,'" "hold my hand in public," etc., -- and have asked him to try to do at least 2-3 things from the list every day. Nothing on the list is particularly difficult or time consuming. Although these items may feel silly or superficial to him, the fact that he takes the time to do them also helps me feel appreciated -- and I've had to hammer home the message that when he totally ignores the list, I feel as though I am so unimportant to him that he can't take five minutes of his day to show his commitment to me and our relationship. It's not easy, and it's easy for us to both get lazy or busy and forget the list until resentment builds. But we really do love each other, and it's worth the constant effort and renewal.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:16 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

But... if your wife communicates her love by doing things to around the house to care for you and your family, she is indicating her love for you. It may not be the way you want or need her to show her affection, but that doesn't make it an invalid way to show love.

Kpele, I certainly can't speak for the OP, but he didn't seem to suggest he thought her love-statements were invalid, just insufficient for his needs.

And it feels like that's the disconnect your therapist made, too. It's nice and all to say, "See, when he wants to kiss, he means I LOVE YOU, and when she does the dishes, she means I LOVE YOU. Simple! Done."

But it isn't simple, and it isn't done. She can do all the dishes in the whole neighborhood; it won't reduce his need for cuddling and physical affirmation. There's no meet-in-the-middle here; it's just "be happy you two are talking, even if you can't hear each other."

So, OP, you've accepted that her gestures are a communication of love - good. Validate that for her. Tell her explicitly, when you see her doing these things, "Thanks, honey; it's really sweet of you to do that for me!" (But, of course, don't let that become an excuse for not helping out...)

And, later, after she's done, thank her again, and remind her that without gestures of affection, you end up feeling lonely, even if she doesn't mean for you to be. It's not blaming anyone. It's reminding her that you need to hear the ILY's in language you understand.

Good luck. The first big love of my life was like this, and it ruined us. Later, karmicly, she dated a guy who was like that too, and with no one in the relationship initiating... she discovered how much it sucked to never be the recipient.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Doing dishes and laundry is not necessarily expressing love... maybe she just likes a clean house. I think "doing" as a love language has more to do with doing things for the other person. Housecleaning counts as a love language if you're doing it because you know your spouse really appreciates a clean house, but if the spouse doesn't really care all that much about how the house looks, then cleaning is just getting a chore done.

I have a doing component to my configuration of love languages, and my house is a disaster. But I do things that are specifically loving and caretaking for my husband. I buy things at the store and cook certain things specifically because I know he likes them. I'll grab him a drink if I notice he doesn't have one. If I'm walking past him and notice he looks hot, I'll turn on the air. Or if I happen to notice his feet are cold, I'll go grab his slippers. I'm not one to buy silly-romantic gifts, but I once bought him a video game he mentioned wanting when I happened to be in the neighborhood of Best Buy, because otherwise he'd have had to go out on Saturday morning to get it and I know he hates going out on Saturday morning.

I have also heard of husband "doers" who gas up the wife's car without being asked, warm up her car in the winter, fix things around the house that are specifically bugging her, etc.

So I guess what I'm saying is, does your wife do things for you or is she just doing what needs to be done around the house? Because I think you don't get "love language" points just for doing the stuff around the house you were going to be doing anyway. But if she actually is doing these things for you, then maybe you'll feel better if you can remind yourself that there is loving intent behind her efforts. But if you honestly think she is just claiming housework = love just to get you off her back, you might want to find a new counselor who is more perceptive than the current one to help both of you learn to compromise.

The other thing I am wondering is are you making an effort to "speak" her language in showing love to her? If you insist on showing your love by buying flowers and teddy bears when what she really wants is for you to mow the lawn without being nagged or remodeled the kitchen, then you're not exactly making her feel loved either. I mean, if she doesn't understand your languages, little gifts and constant attempts to paw her may just be annoying. Doing it more in hopes that she'll eventually respond the way you want is like shouting in English at someone who only speaks Russian.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:24 PM on May 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

Besides having a date night, it might be useful to think about doing your share of the chores around the house, so she has time/energy to do sweet gifts/affectionate gestures for you.
posted by spunweb at 1:25 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you read The Second Shift? It's a quick read. I suggest it because I'm wondering if she's just exhausted. That book would give you insight into what that feels like, if you're inclined to think "there's no way that would make a difference, how hard is pillow talk," or something.
posted by salvia at 1:32 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ha. You are my sweet, sweet, sugary-sweet gaaaaaaaadblessim husband.

Incomprehensible as it is to you (or whatever the emotional counterpart to comprehend is...insensible?), your wife may very well be on the flip side wondering why the hell you keep giving her a hug-shaped bowling ball with 'Homer' engraved on it. To people who show affection in the way that you do, it must seem positively mind-boggling that the actual actions (not the motivation/sentiment behind them, which is very much valued, but the WAY YOU CHOOSE to "gift" them) that you think of as being obvious (and "normal", "noble", etc.) demonstrations of love might be of marginal value to some people. What if what your wife values most is a secure, no-drama relationship with a strong, independent man who has the confidence to be self-soothing and autonomous? What if what she values most is new ideas or paradigms sought out by both parties separately with a periodic mutual enjoyment of the fruits of those explorations? What if your constant shows of affection make her feel suffocated instead of loved? What if you say "I love you" so much (by her standards) that it starts to seem compulsive and ceases to have any meaning, thereby depersonalizing her a bit by making it more about you saying it than her hearing it? IANAfly on the wall, but do consider these things.

She could have a million reasons for not initiating sex ranging from hormonal to ADHD/depression/? to exhaustion to distraction to well frankly it's really hard to see you as f*&kable when you keep using that soft high-pitched voice and acting like some deranged G-rated adult man version of Alfalfa mooning over Darla. Hypothetically. Sometimes life with kids gets to be a drag and for some folks it takes a LOT of stimulation to get to the point of initiating sex, more than a vanilla-ish LTR can offer up. Love, affection, and sex can be pretty non-overlapping components of the Venn diagram for some people, and her lack of interest in regular non-sexual touchy-touchy may be an indicator of that. You might want to pick up Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, though it does have some freaky "hug until you're uncomfortable" stuff in there. *shudder*
posted by SinAesthetic at 1:56 PM on May 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

Like your wife, "acts of service" is my dominant love language. And I can tell you that I feel *just* as lonely as you do right now when my husband leaves dinner dishes on the table, doesn't help with the dishes, or leaves his laundry on the floor. I feel like "WTF? Am I the maid? Doesn't he know that this is how you know you are in a family instead of a SRO?" His love language is words of affirmation, and if I don't tell him how awesome it is that he {fill in some work thing here}, HE feels unloved and unappreciated. It takes work on our part, and probably feels sort of fake to each of us. (Note to self: remember to say thanks for doing vast amounts of laundry this weekend!) But it's worth it, because when he has a stressful few weeks and forgets to do at least a few token acts of service, I feel awful. Like, who is this person I married level of awful. So, yeah, you should acknowledge that she may be feeling as unloved as you, and then work from that point. (and don't assume you know what to do: my husband first gave me lots of gifts; gifts stress me out. The way to my heart is through the dishwasher.)
posted by instamatic at 2:04 PM on May 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

In my entire life, I have never seen my dad hug my mom. Nor tell her that he loves her. Or bring flowers. Or kiss her.

There is however no doubt in anybody's mind that if it comes to it, he'd be willing to die for her.

Is your wife like my dad?
If so, yes - there is a desire of yours that is not being met. But you really have nothing to complain about.

I'm not trying to diminish your experience. I understand very well what you're saying. As cliche as it sounds, look for what is there as opposed to what you wish to be there. Not to be all religious here but I remember a parable that might be apt.

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. 43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."

You indicated that you understood about love languages. Is your wife showing you love in her way at all? My dad is a typical old school, stoic, man of few words. He calls my mom every single day for a 30 second chat. Doesn't seem much to you or me but coming from him, that's his two mites.
posted by 7life at 2:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some people, myself included, don't like the... little things. Gifts and nick-knacks, fluffy and meaningless sweet-nothings, that sort of thing. It just seems superfluous and somewhat meaningless in comparison to just being with the person and living (going out and doing things) with them.

So I guess I'm really just putting the marriage counselor's words a different way. Or maybe not, as instead of a different love language its more of a different love perception or threshold.

Or something.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:48 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe you two could participate in activities that combine your love languages?

If you want some touchy-feely time, maybe you guys could give each other massages. Massages are a task, and of some practical benefit in addition to being intimate. Next time she's doing laundry or dishes, the two of you could do them together and get some face time that way. Maybe once in a while you could plan a romantic vacation or day trip for the two of you- it's an act of service because you're taking care of all the planning responsibilities and you get to give her some r&r. At the same time you get the trappings that you like- flowers, time alone, maybe a long walk on the beach- whatever.

I'm sure there are lots of other things that you two can do together that you both get some fulfillment out of. You guys could sit down and come up with a list of things together, so that you'll have a set starting point. Your 'love-languages' are different, but that doesn't make you space aliens to each other. Acts that you find fulfilling and acts that she finds fulfilling don't have to be mutually exclusive, I think.
posted by jumelle at 3:14 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's easy to not 'get' another's 'love language', I know I would find someone doing normal household chores their expression of their love for me a little weird (because I like hand holding, and spontaneous hugs), but it's possible to learn a few words of another's language: you don't have to both stand there in your marriage determinedly shouting at each other in different languages, like cantankerous tourists. Maybe you can pick up some stuff, or clean the bathroom sink after you use it; she could squeeze your hand when she passes you in the kitchen. It's kind of fun to learn a new language, and it's fun to be understood.

(On the other hand, sometimes people can be a little leery of intimacy for other reasons: for eg, I am sometimes not open to hand holding etc if I feel there's an unspoken "...and then we will HAVE THE SEX" and I'm not feeling like I want things to go there. Is her behaviour normal for her, or might it be in reaction to something? Is any more counselling on the horizon? Maybe a new person would be more helpful.)
posted by thylacinthine at 3:17 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you're focusing too much on what you're not getting. Reframe it. What are you getting out of your relationship? What is making you happy? What are the things that she does regularly that you like?
posted by mleigh at 3:28 PM on May 22, 2012

We have a similar mismatch at my house. My husband is wired for acts of service and I am wired for words of affirmation. I have come to appreciate what he does for me as evidence of love (the man brings me coffee in bed every morning, and he doesn't even like the stuff), and conveniently, he interprets my energetic approach to keeping house and driving the finances and wrangling the kids and stuff as evidence of my love--which maybe in a sense it is, but I am not doing it specifically to convey my affection to him. So far so good.

The words of affirmation part is a bigger challenge. They do not come easily to him. However, we both recognize that this *matters*; we just made it past a horrid year of separation, thank goodness, and now, no foolin', we are working hard to figure out how to do it right.

In this case, we build it in, and he works on it. By build it in, I mean, we now have a tradition (by mutual conscious decision) that every morning we say "good morning" followed by a compliment or appreciation to the other. First thing out of our mouths to start the day. It works.

Also, he works on it. He puts the effort in to notice and compliment me in ways he never did before, because it matters to me. I hear a lot more praise, appreciation, etc, during sexy times than ever before (and man, does that work me, and by extension for both of us.) These things do not flow trippingly off his tongue, but you know, every single time he says something like that I know in my gut that he is doing it because he loves me, he knows it matters, and he wants me to feel it.

I say this to let you know: man, it matters. You both need to work to meet in the middle. The love language that works for you may not be natural to her, but it will pay dividends if she puts in the effort to meet you there. The book makes that very clear--maybe its time for the two of you to read it again? It is worth it, it is worth it, it is worth it. Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you have every right to be hurt and baffled about this. You've told your wife what you need. She can still speak her primary language and slip in a few words of your language in there too every now and again, oui?

My husband and I do this for each other because it's important. He'd rather play Call of Duty sometimes than listen to me talk about a niggling concern, but he'll pause the game, look me in the face while I'm speaking, commiserate by asking a question or two, and then say something sympathetic, insightful and kind. It takes 5 minutes. I feel better, he goes back to his game, we both feel closer to the other.

Sometimes he needs to air out some chronic programming problem he's having with a new application he's working on with me, though I have ZERO knowledge or abiding interest in what he's grappling with. I listen, ask questions, help him air it out, and then we eat potstickers. He talks out his problem, I am no worse for wear, and we re-earn our hard-won intimacy as a result.

And if she is pissed off about you not doing your fair share of chores, then she needs to cop to that rather than relying on this Love Languages explanation to make her come off as a saint and a martyr in the same breath. That's not acting in good faith and it's not fair. (You didn't say that's what she was doing, I'm just reacting to reading that as an explanation for her behavior.)

If I were you, I'd tell her you understand her love language just fine; you just aren't getting what you need, ask her if she's getting what she needs, and then discuss seeing another therapist. You need to tell her this could be a dealbreaker for you if she won't go. (That is, if it is a dealbreaker. I'm afraid, after 14 years, it's either accept her as she is and scale back your own sacrifices if they're threatening to undermine your self-confidence, or put her on alert that this could torpedo your marriage if it doesn't change and seriously discuss getting some different, more balanced help.)
posted by TryTheTilapia at 3:36 PM on May 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm with you, OP. I need physical touch to feel loved. Just a quick (2 minutes?) scratch on the back or something. Yet it's not a primary way my wife communicates so I rarely get the non-sexual physical attention I desire. She also has a bad habit of feeling sexy at odd times and texting me about it ("When you get home tonight, I'll _______") but then failing to follow through when I actually get home, even when I refer to the texts. It's frustrating.

But I've come to understand that it's just who she is. It's not a huge deal. If I want to receive some attention from her, I am now in the habit of consciously doing something I know *she* will like ("Sorry it took so long in the shower, hon, I was scrubbing it down while I was in there...") and she usually reciprocates because my action made her feel appreciated.

I'm not saying it's *fair* for you to have to initiate every time, but life isn't fair.
posted by tacodave at 3:52 PM on May 22, 2012

Oh yeah - totally hear you. You're busy communicating to her in your love language. This is less effective than I'd like.

My love language is 'gifts'. Doesn't matter what you brought me, what matters is that you thought of me. Bring me a piece of wood because you know dark brown is my favorite color, and you're pretty much getting lovin'. His love language is decidedly not gifts. Oh, he likes to receive them all right. But DOES. NOT. GIVE. THEM. This officially Does Not Help Our Marriage (trademark symbol here).

So I give a crap load of gifts, aaaannnnnddddd, nothing. And then I get angry in a totally grar, 'why did I marry someone so thoughtless again?' sort of a way. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I realized that I needed to balance out giving him love in my language and give more in his. When I ask about his love language he said, "I like all of them". But it's clear to me that affection is pretty much key. Spontaneous affection, more so. And so, between you and me, I plan spontaneous affection. Not a general fan of spontaneous affection because I've probably already planned something at that time. But planned spontaneous affection - I can get behind that, because I'm a planner, and that's just how I roll.

Also, he helps when he acknowledges when I do my love language dance. Most recently he said:

Hey, you brought me home a pastry. Because this is your way of saying that you thought of me during the day and you packed that up and brought it all the home. Thank you. That's tasty!


Hey, you brought me home an extra tongue scraper from the dentist. Score! Who doesn't love a clean tongue? Thank you for thinking of me!

Also, I've cut down on showing him love, 'my way'. So there are times when I see a pastry, and note how much I want to get it for him, pat myself on the back for being so thoughtful, and pocket that two dollars. It makes me a lot less resentful.

Lastly, I try to monitor how resentful I'm getting, and I cop to it before it gets out of hand. So I do say things like, "when you don't bring me gifts I don't feel thought of or close to you. I feel taken advantage of". But mine is the type of guy who will listen to that, smile at me, run outside, bring me a leaf and say, 'Nature, baby! For you, because you're lovely'. And then we laugh. And for a while, we're okay, and then we sort of get off kilter, and the grar comes out, and we need to rebalance.

So I'm wondering if you could tackle this together. Acknowledge that you want to express love in your love language (which I'm assuming you do - doing dishes, etc.) all the while explaining that you're doing it because you know you love her. And state that you don't think that different love languages is a deal breaker, but it does make things a little tougher. It isn't enough that you recognize each other's love languages, but that each of you make a concerted effort to express love to the person in their way. And it's hard to do that - like remembering to write with your non dominant hand hard. So you do the best you can and see how it goes.

Without that repeated commitment to effort, lies resentfulness and grar. In a divorce sort of a way, I imagine.
posted by anitanita at 4:33 PM on May 22, 2012 [15 favorites]

Case in point.

I found the kitchen clean. Of course there was a note accompanying it (with my type of humor related to clean kitchen = sex). And you know, he's right.

Not sure if it's 100% related but from my perspective, now I can come home to a clean house, feel more relaxed, and actually have the time to daydream about sex. Guess who is getting some?
posted by stormpooper at 5:39 PM on May 22, 2012

7life :
Is your wife like my dad?
If so, yes - there is a desire of yours that is not being met. But you really have nothing to complain about.

... the hell?

Takes a lot of arrogance to tell someone suffering painful loneliness they "really have nothing to complain about."

Ignore this crock, OP. You have every right to your feelings, and to ask for what you need.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:15 PM on May 22, 2012 [19 favorites]

You might try taking more of a command approach and tell her, in the moment when you feel the need, what you want.

Say she's washing the dishes and you walk up to her, don't touch her, and tell her to kiss you. If she gives you a peck and you want something longer, say no no, that wasn't good enough, kiss me like you mean it. Make it a game. If she balks and asks why she should, say it's because you want it. Or because you love her. Or because the grass is green. Whatever seems funniest and most likely to get a smile.

You'll probably get much better response to some lighthearted demanding than some puppydog begging. Sure, she may not be doing it spontaneously like you'd prefer, but you have a better shot at deliberately using positive rewards to help her realize what you want more of, thus leading to more spontaneous acts later on.
posted by griselda at 6:22 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Schedule sex.

Along with this, what about "schedule 1-2 short backrubs a week" or (neck nibbles, hair scritchies, foot rubs, etc). She can put it in her datebook and not mention to you that it's coming up. Or, better than a datebook, use a physical token.

She and the counselor feel that {housework, etc.} should be sufficient for me and that I need to learn to understand her love language.

You need a new counselor. Needing physical touch is part of what makes us human (or at least, primate). Doing housework and chores is part of a relationship, but comes under the heaing of 'fairness' .
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:59 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm the OP. THANK YOU for all the well thought out responses which gave my wife and I a lot to discuss last night. I want to provide a bit more context for anyone who might still be interested.

- "It may be useful to remember how she acted..." - Prior to meeting my wife, I had been in 3 relationships with women who had trouble controlling their emotions (and fists), so I was actually drawn to my wife's low-key, rational personality

- "Schedule sex/Remind her more often" - Been there, done that. More often than not she forgets or just goes through the motions.

- "Meet her in the middle/Speak her love language/Perform acts of service" - My wife is overly critical of the way I load the dishwasher, cook, do laundry so over time I have become discouraged and just avoid trying.

- "She does not initiate but does she reciprocate?" - She does not reciprocate.

This comment really seemed to hit the target and help me better define the issue for my wife:

"I certainly can't speak for the OP, but he didn't seem to suggest he thought her love-statements were invalid, just insufficient for his needs."
posted by punkfloyd at 4:39 AM on May 23, 2012

punkfloyd, have you and your wife read the Love Languages book? If not, you may find it helpful. I was dreading reading it for class because it seemed so hokey, and it is hokey, but I thought parts of it were really valuable. I can't bring myself to ask my partner if his love tank is full with a straight face, but I ask him a semi-jokey equivalent, and luckily he knows that I really want to know and answers thoughtfully.
posted by amarynth at 6:50 AM on May 23, 2012

- "Schedule sex/Remind her more often" - Been there, done that. More often than not she forgets or just goes through the motions.

Does it have to be, like, awesome sex? Because that seems like adding conditions. I wonder if she gets discouraged when you're exasperated that she's not doing the sex good enough, in the same way that you get discouraged when she's exasperated that you're not doing the dishes good enough. Maybe try never letting yourself criticize her, even in your mind, when she's participating in the stuff you like (sex).
posted by palliser at 8:05 PM on May 23, 2012

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