Do you ever feel like the message you send is not the message your partner receives? It feels really unfair to us when we're looking for support, but instead we somehow end up in a fight.
If this seems familiar, you might be surprised to discover what role you unintentionally play in ensuring that your partner will respond in ways you don't understand. Its like a really bad dance: it takes two to tango.
If you're like me and could use some help with choreography, here are three ways you can seek affection without demanding it.
1. Stay in the moment.
Partners have this funny way of making emotional memory more accessible than it should be. Let's say your husband has had a bad day at work and would really enjoy some down time before he spends a few minutes hearing about your day. I only use this example because it is so common.
You don't know how his day went, but his tone hurts your feelings and immediately, you are drawn into the fight the two of you had last week where he yelled at you to leave him alone. That fight is not this fight, but it could turn into that fight if you're not careful.
Choose to stay in the moment by remaining curious about your partner's experience. It could be that she or he is mad at you, but it could also be that she or he was ridiculed all day at work, or had a tough day at home with the kids.
2. Make it verbal.
Hints are NOT enough. She or he is not going to know that you want to have sex unless you ask for it. Your husband may not know that you want to be held unless you make it plain. It sounds simple, but remember that the message you send is not always the one your spouse hears. Be vulnerable enough to speak your request without saying things like the following:
"Well I guess you don't want to have sex, do you?"
"You never want to just talk to me. It always has to lead somewhere."
We use things like defensive humor to halfway admit that we want to be close without really saying it. This leaves our partners in the uncomfortable position of not knowing what we really want. Meanwhile, we feel dissatisfied and hurt, building up a resentment our spouse does not deserve.
3. Be multilingual.
Some people create intimacy through sex. Other people need intimacy to have sex. This can lead to people who are different in this way through one hell of a merry go round trying to get intimacy without providing intimacy to her or his partner.
You may have to be open to the idea that you will need to seek to provide intimacy first before seeking intimacy in ways that are meaningful to you. Ask what is important to your spouse. How does she or he like to be touched? How does she or he like to be held? To be talked to?
One of the most valuable questions you can ask your spouse is, "Do I understand you?" Make it a discipline.
There's no quick fix to any situation. Most healthy couples are that way because they make a discipline out of simple choices like seeking affection vulnerably, without demanding it, like providing affection without being requested.