I don’t feel loved or sexy in my relationship.
November 3, 2017 9:14 AM   Subscribe

For all intents and purposes our relationship is good, but I just don’t feel... cherished.

There are a lot of good things about us as a couple. We get along great, share a sense of humor, love doing things together, have similar interests. We talk about everything. He gives me advice and vice versa. Our friends and family say were cute together and ask us constantly when we’re going to get married. He moved across the country for my career and is settling in well.

But he’s not affectionate. He doesn’t spontaneously hug me or kiss me or sit next to me and cuddle me. He doesn’t ask me to come sit or lie down with him. He never initiates sex, despite being very responsive and willing when I do. The last time he really initiated this kind of thing was when we were dating, definitely before living together, when it was obvious that after a date we both wanted to be physical. Now living together I think it’s harder for him to know when.

My personality can be a bit caustic sometimes (I’m kind of opinionated about art/movies/politics) and maybe I come off as too tough or independent? I don’t buy into pretending to be weak to win a man’s affection, but I can see how I possibly seem too autonomous, like I don’t appreciate his help. He’s a bit of a romantic (as am I) so it kind of hurts that I don’t get much of the “right kind” of affection from him. He often tells me I’m very funny or that my outfits are nice but that’s not the same as “I’m so in love with you,” or “you’re so sexy I can’t keep my hands off you.” I am quite verbally and physically affectionate.

I’m almost 30 so I feel like a goof for wanting this kind of thing— I’ve always been focused on having a stable, realistic partnership despite my romantic fantasies. But it does make me feel a bit... barren. Like part of my soul is not being touched. I want to be loved! I want to be desired by my partner, not just funny & smart.

We’ve talked about this before but I’m not sure he knows what I’m getting at. When I say I feel odd always initiating sex he seems to not want to bother me too much. Often he’ll react physically (!) when we are cuddling (initiated by me) so I know he’s attracted to me. I think part of his avoiding spontaneously touching me is that he has a strong physical reaction which becomes heady attraction rather quickly. (He’s pretty shy and still blushes with me after dating for 5 years.) So it might be that he avoids touch to avoid feeling like he needs to constantly exercise restraint. As for not saying he loves me often (besides the quick “Love you” when we say goodbye), that actually does worry me, like maybe I’m more invested in the relationship than he is.

Is there anything I can do to rehabilitate our relationship? Some way you’ve been successful expressing this kind of thing to your unaffectionate partner?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Well, one thing you can do, that I think a lot of folks here will suggest, is to show him this thread. Sometimes just putting everything in writing can help it sink in. Another option is counseling.

What I would recommend is that you don't get married until you feel MUCH better about this, because stuff like this will often not get better, but just get worse over time.
posted by Slinga at 9:19 AM on November 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

(He’s pretty shy and still blushes with me after dating for 5 years.)

Five years! Woah! Reading your question, I assumed you all had been dating for a few months or maybe a year but you have been dating for 5 years and you don't feel "sexy or loved" in your relationship? Either one of those things would be deal breakers for me after just a few months. Seriously. I don't understand how you can say

For all intents and purposes our relationship is good

and in the same breath

but I just don’t feel... cherished.

Did you ever feel cherished, loved or sexy in these five years you've been together? Is this something that was there early on but waned?

I guess if you were my friend, I would want you to know that by definition, a good relationship is one in which you feel loved and cherished -- and if you aren't feeling those things, then it isn't a good relationship.

Have you two tried couple's counseling? You say you've tried to talk about this but he doesn't seem to get it. Counseling might help.

Otherwise, have you read "The Five Love Languages"? Taking a look at that book together might help you understand how both of you communicate and receive love.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:39 AM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

You can say "I need to hear you tell me how you feel about me", "I need you to initiate, like, every third time?", and "I need you to tell me I'm sexy"

The thing in common there is asking for what you need him to do. Telling him you don't feel cherished isn't ... directly actionable, he can't reach in and make you feel cherished. But telling him what you need him to do or say for you to feel cherished is quite actionable.

Most partners actually do want to give you what you want, so the reaction to direct requests is a pretty good tell about how cherished you actually are.
posted by Dashy at 9:49 AM on November 3, 2017 [22 favorites]

I've been told (by a man) that men (not all men, of course) aren't great at getting hints. If you want something, you just have to be direct and ask for it. It sounds like you've talked about this in the past, but maybe he feels that it was a one-time thing?

If I were in your position, I would work on being more direct and mirroring what you want from him. You want him to ask you to cuddle, then you need to ask him to cuddle with you. You ask him; he comes over and snuggles with you; you tell him (verbally) how much you enjoy it and how happy it makes you feel. Rinse and repeat until he starts initiating as well. Then you're both asking for cuddles.

If, for example, you want him to get you flowers randomly, you need to ask him to surprise you with flowers occasionally. Not by dropping hints, but a blatant ask. It seems unromantic, but it's still wonderful when he gets them. Let him know that it's important to you. If he loves you, he will want to show you his love in ways that make you happy.

As for the "I love you's", that could be that he prefers to show his love in other ways. It's possible that his family growing up wasn't very affectionate, so he hasn't seen it in action. Tell him you love him when you want to. If you start being overly verbal, hopefully he will respond in kind.

Upon preview though, I also have to agree with the others - I didn't quite realize this was a 5-year relationship. Don't get married until you know that you are loved, and are fulfilled in the relationship. In the grand scheme of things, don't stay in a relationship just because of sunken costs.
posted by hydra77 at 9:57 AM on November 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Like Gray Skies said I can't imagine this going on for 5 years. I too was surprised this wasn't months.

I’m almost 30 so I feel like a goof for wanting this kind of thing

No way, you're fine. As a person who's 15 years, 2 kids and a house into a partnership/marriage let me say they can be as lively and affectionate and cherished and sexy as you want. Don't settle for feeling unwanted.

Show him what you've written. You have to have this talk with him with the stakes being appropriately high. He needs to know that something has to change or end. Your wants and needs are totally reasonable and this is not a sustainable status quo.
posted by French Fry at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just to echo Gray Skies, the first thing I thought about when I read your post was that you and your partner give and receive love differently. Take this Love Langues quiz with him and discover how you may differ. This is a two-way street, so you can rehabilitate your relationship together. Hopefully you can learn something about one another and grow as a couple!
posted by nathaole at 10:22 AM on November 3, 2017 [9 favorites]

While you're certainly dealing with a big issue in your relationship I think there's a lot of good I see just based on a few things you've written here. There's plenty of evidence that suggests he is attracted to you. So if that's a question in your head I think you shouldn't worry too much about that. Now you say you're pretty tough and independent. You also say that he is on the shyer side. On the one hand your relationship probably functions fluidly because there's a dominant person and a submissive person. But from what I can see it looks like you're the dominant person and he's the submissive person. And I think rarely do relationships exist without that dynamic but it's possible what you're feeling is a biological reaction to the fact that traditionally the male is usually the dominant one and the female is the submissive one. Given how long you've been together this may not be a situation where you can reverse the dynamic. But one thing I might suggest...work on being less caustic, less independent, and less opinionated. I'm not saying don't be yourself but if you want him to take on the role of the dominant male you need to assume the role of the submissive female. He's a romantic. But how romantic can he be if his girlfriend doesn't seem like the type to respond to romantic gestures. If he feels you won't appreciate that sort of thing he's not gonna do it. I don't think this is a case where he doesn't love you. Maybe he doesn't say it...a lot of guys suck at saying it. Myself included. I think he does love you and is committed to you. The dynamic here just needs to be adjusted. Start by adjusting it on your end and see how he reacts. Hopefully you'll see a change in his behavior. Good luck.
posted by ljs30 at 10:28 AM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

This kind of thing isn't mind-reading territory for a lot of people. It requires talking, sometimes quite frankly, without being afraid of the intensity of the topic but while being mindful that people are delicate when they are vulnerable.

The bad news is that a lot of people can't, or won't, do that work. Women are strongly socialized that they can't ask for it, it has to be spontaneously given or it doesn't count, and men are socialized to never ever do this sort of thing. A lot of people are shamed or punished for it, or have tried and been met with such resistance or embarrassment from a partner they never try again.

After five years, starting and having these conversations are going to be a lot harder than after 5 months would have been. If you're really looking at a long-haul situation with this person and this is a dealbreaker, communication coaching from a therapist might be helpful - among other things, it gives people a "pass" from the judgement narratives in their heads, since the coaching is something sought out and paid for.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:28 AM on November 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also a note on the mind-reading/spontaneity issue: chances are really good one of the first things a communication coach is going to tell you is to schedule "intimate time". Like, note on the calendar/gcal invite schedule it, time and place, so that there is no question of when and where.

That way everyone arrives anticipating, prepared, not in the middle of something else, phone put away, entirely focused. This is basically why affairs are so compelling to some people, because everyone Shows The Hell Up in a way that can be much harder to do when you're always together and always in the middle of life stuff. I'm not saying you can never have intimacy outside of scheduled time, but if you start with scheduled time then everyone gets to rehearse how to bring their A-game, which not everybody knows how to do organically. Then that becomes a safe space to talk about these things in an open, creative, teamwork way rather than as a conflict.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on November 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

This could have been me about four years ago. I'm very affectionate and touchy-feely, and my partner of five years is... not. We've had significant arguments in the past that stemmed from his lack of affection (initiation of sex wasn't really an issue - more on that in a second.) Every 'normal' thing I'd been used to with other partners where physical affection was concerned - cuddling on the couch, holding hands when on a walk, spontaneous hugs in the kitchen - weren't his normal.

We did some preemptive counseling before we lived together that really opened our eyes to certain things. The lack of affection turned out to have more to do with his emotional availability, something that traced back to being raised by a single mom who to this day loves her children immensely but very, very, very rarely demonstrates that love in any physical or verbal ways. It's almost as if he didn't know what to do outside of being physical for the express purpose of initiating sex.

Now, five years later, he's still not very affectionate but much better than he used to be, given some of the emotional maturity gained through his own counseling, and understanding that reciprocal physical gestures are necessary (he loves when I'm affectionate with him.) More importantly, I've come to realize that he does cherish me and shows it in ways (here's where the Love Languages thing comes in) other than cuddling, holding hands, or random kisses, and that's helped a lot in avoiding conflict and reframing that part of our relationship for me. Yes, I still have to remind him occasionally that he needs to be more physically affectionate, but overall, just approaching the whole situation in a "what can we do to make this better?" as opposed to a "you're not giving me what I need!" mindset really helped find a middle ground where he didn't feel inadequate and I felt cherished.
posted by Everydayville at 11:35 AM on November 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

Your partner may just have responsive desire. Less common in men than women, but still very normal. You can ask him to modify his behavior, but if this is the case, initiating may always be hard for him. Whether or not that's a dealbreaker is your call! Nthing that you deserve to feel cherished. I recommend "Come As You Are" to learn more about the push-pull dynamic you're in when it comes to initiating affection... Dr. Emily Nagoski is a fantastic sex researcher, and her insights may be useful to you.
posted by fritillary at 3:17 PM on November 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

My personality can be a bit caustic sometimes (I’m kind of opinionated about art/movies/politics) and maybe I come off as too tough or independent?

These are the only things that make right-minded men want to put their hands on someone and declare love. assuming everyone's equally gorgeous, which let's do and I'm sure you are. you know he likes these things about you if he says so! Please do not listen to anyone who suggests that your personality is a boner-killer or a confidence-killer. they are why he loves you. He moved across the country for you. If you are genuinely physically incompatible that will be very sad, but even if that turned out to be true it would not be because you have opinions or are not submissive enough.

He sounds like he is very afraid of imposing, which is very sweet up until you've told him a few times that it's not imposing, you like it, please do it, and he still won't. It doesn't sound like you have, though -- telling him you don't like to initiate sex all the time isn't the same thing as saying you want him to do it more. it could even come off as the opposite from what you mean -- like you want to propose it less because you want to sleep with him less.

there is a very irritating thing that some men do sometimes, of assuming you know that they are always willing, so they'll just wait for you to be the aggressor and then it's guaranteed to be mutual. they forget that they are the only ones who know how they feel, and that women can't assume pre-set enthusiasm without asking any more than men can. at least it comes from a well-meaning place. I guess.

so unless you've exhausted this vein already, tell him very forcefully that you love it when he (whatever) and you would like for him to do it even more because you love it so much. do not for a second concern yourself with whether he has ever, in fact, done the thing.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2017

I think he is trying to show you love in his love language, but it is not your love language, so it might as well be Greek. Does he respond well when you are verbally affectionate and complementary?

As for the sexual initiative, have a out of the bedroom, sit down talk about it. He might not be very... Sex positive, or sexually bold, I guess is sorta the phrase I'm looking for, if he's a bit of the shy/awkward/retiring type. Being decently explicit and blunt about when it's ok to initiate (always, usually, not 5 min before work, etc) could be helpful for him. Emphasise how much you do enjoy it when he does initiate and that it is a good thing. And that if you happen to say no once or twice that is normal, not a rejection of him and he should continue to initiate in the future.

Maybe ask if there are things that he would like in bed but has been too shy to ask for, as well.

None of this is silly. It sounds fixable with communication. Good luck!
posted by Jacen at 4:49 PM on November 3, 2017

Being too shy and/or modest to display affection and initiate sexuality is not cute and boyish. It's a big red flag that he has some hang-up that prevents him from being proactive in your relationship.

Here's a question for you, if you're willing to follow up via the mods. What happens when you two disagree?
posted by Sublimity at 6:14 PM on November 3, 2017

Its ok if this is a dealbreaker for you. it was for me but i married him anyway and 20 years in couldn't take it anymore facing this lack of affection till death so i left (well and also bc he was abusive). It would have been better to never have married bc divorce is painful. Can you really go without this indefinitely knowing that under the traditional understood pledges of fidelity its not ok to have this need met by another? I am remarried now and my husband is constantly touching me in little affectionate ways i was starved of for YEARS and i cannot get over how wonderful it is. Unless you have extreme moral fortitude i don't see you stuffing these needs down forever and depriving yourself...marry this guy and one day in a moment of weakness or frustration you will crack and seek the affection you need and your whole life will come crashing down.

Ps as the years went on and i tried and tried to discuss this with ex hubby he always threw in my face "you knew i was like this when you married me. You signed up for this. You don't get to try to change me now".
posted by TestamentToGrace at 6:55 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I came here to mention open relationships or relationship anarchy. Dependinng on your shared goals with your partner this may/not be a solution to meeting one's needs.

(There’s a lot I’d love to add to round out my answer but I’ll just leave this thought here and you can memail me if you want my cautionary words or life philosophy LOL.)
posted by shocks connery at 4:06 AM on November 4, 2017

I don't know. Some are saying this is all part of navigating your differences to make a coherent relationship. But I was in a relationship like this once and it never got better long-term. I remember about a month before we split up he said: 'we don't always have to be holding hands.' But the problem comes when you feel like you are reaching for the person more often than not.

My boyfriend now is VERY cuddly and affectionate and I am so grateful for him. On the very rare occasion I don't feel I'm getting as much affection (usually when he is tired and stressed) we talk about it and it's a blip. Being affectionate is part of who he is and to me, at least, it's important. Don't settle.
posted by Willow251 at 12:29 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I see a classic case of not knowing and taking into account each other's love languages.

From what you've written, you absolutely need intimacy, touch. cuddling, sex and affection, and the relationship isn't going to be satisfactory for you if you don't get them. This is important! This is not something you should be compromising on. Romantic relationships exist to fulfill romantic needs, period. In a world where being single is no longer a financial and social suicide, that's their only justification.

On the plus side, when you know you love languages and their significance, it only takes a small to moderate amount of effort to make each other feel really special. And willingness, of course. The real test is whether he wants to do it or not, and that's what you should base your own decisions on.
posted by Orchestra at 7:50 AM on November 8, 2017

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