How to Meet the Need for Affection

Letter #1

Dear Dr. Harley,

My husband and I have recently decided to give our troubled marriage (14 years) another chance after a two-year separation. My biggest problem is that he does not know how to be affectionate to me. He tells me, "you don't accept the love I have for you." He thinks that because he feels love for me, that should be enough. He doesn't understand how much I need him to show me his love with physical attention.

I had an affair prior to our separation. He asked me if I was having an affair, but I lied. I did it because the other person showed me that he cared very much for me by being affectionate. Now that relationship is over and I will never be with this person again.

But I know now, more than ever, what I need from my husband. I don't fear his anger anymore. What I do fear is that my husband will never be affectionate to me. His parents rarely showed physical attention to anyone in their family, whereas, my parents always caressed and verbally showed us love. He says he knew he was loved without their affection. Does his upbringing have anything to do with his inability to show me love? I look forward to your response.


Dear K.R.,

Affection is something that's learned. Some men (and women) who were raised in families that did not show affection are taught how to show affection by their girlfriends or wives. But other men have never been taught.

You apparently received the affection you needed from your lover. It was your friend's affection that met your need. Your husband can learn to say and do many of the same things, and mean it.

Whenever I counsel a man who is not very affectionate, I give him a list of things to do every day. (I usually make up the list with his wife who tells me what to include.) He must do each of them and check them off the list as he does it. Here is a general example.

  1. Hug and kiss your wife and tell her you love her every morning while you're still in bed. Rub her back for a few minutes before you get up.
  2. Tell her that you love her while you are having breakfast together.
  3. Kiss her and tell her you love her before you leave for work.
  4. Call her during the day to ask how she is doing and that you love her.
  5. After work, call her before you leave to tell her when you will be home, and tell her you love her.
  6. Buy her flowers on the way home at least once a week, with a card that tells her you love her.
  7. When you arrive home from work, give her a big hug and kiss and spend a few minutes talking to her about how her day went. Don't do anything else before you have given her your undivided attention.
  8. Tell her that you love her as you are having dinner together.
  9. Help her clear off the table and wash and dry the dishes with her, giving her a hug and kiss at least once, and tell her that you love her.
  10. Hug and kiss her and tell her you love her in bed before you both go to sleep.
As the weeks go by, I have the wives review the list to be certain there isn't anything in it that they object to, or that should be added.

Wives will often complain that it's not real affection because it doesn't come from the heart. If their husbands have to be told what to do, they're not really being affectionate. But this exercise in affection is not fake. It is real. Their husbands really do love them and whenever they express that love, it is real. The problem is that they have not learned to express how they really feel. This exercise simply teaches them how to show their wives the care that they've felt all along.

When your husband says that you do not accept the things he does for you, you should explain that you don't need the things he does nearly as much as you need things he isn't doing. You cannot appreciate things you don't need, it's only what you need that you appreciate.

He really does want to meet your needs, but hasn't learned how to do it. It probably makes him frustrated to think how much he cares about you, but has not been able to show it.

His Needs, Her Needs explains all of this in much greater detail, especially the chapter on affection (chapter 3). The bottom line is that you have an emotional need for affection and your husband can learn to meet it. As soon as he becomes an expert at meeting this need, your temptation to find someone else to meet that need will disappear and your marriage will be just what you wanted.

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