Showing Affection in Marriage

February 23, 2012

3 min read


If one spouse is more emotionally effusive than the other, have no fear.

Do you (or your “friends”) have marriages where one partner is more emotionally effusive than the other? Where one spouse’s need to openly and demonstrably give and receive affection is much greater than the other’s?

Have no fear. You are not alone. This is actually a very common situation (and worthy of a whole article entitled “Show Me the Love…Or Not” in a recent Wall Street Journal, 02/21/12). And it does not have to be a recipe for disaster.

Like all ways in which we may marry our opposites, this can be a tremendous opportunity for growth as long we so choose.

Most likely, even if we weren’t conscious of it, we were searching for someone different from us, someone to lend balance to our personality, someone to provide another perspective. Most likely we want and need that.

However, sometimes those very issues that were a source of attraction can also lead to frustration. We may forget about the “learning opportunity” and focus only on our other unmet needs. We need to teach our spouse what we require and work on meeting in the middle.

This is a lesson that will benefit every aspect of our marriages. In the Wall Street Journal piece, the author, Elizabeth Bernstein, introduces us to the Fords. Mr. Ford is both emotionally and physically very demonstrative. “He likes to hold hands when they walk, cuddle when they watch TV and hug – a lot.” His wife has a different attitude. Although she “has learned to like it,” it is still not her style. “I don’t like to sit on the couch and cuddle for two hours,” says Judy Ford…Her way of showing her love is through the home she creates for him, the trips they plan and take together.

I have some friends who are very similar to this couple. In their marriage, the husband is also the emotional one (Yes, she knows she’s lucky and most women wish their husbands would be a little more effusive). He frequently tells her that he loves her – and then reminds her to respond in kind. She’s not cold or unfeeling. It’s just not her instinctive way of being. She has made warm and open home for him, a secure and stable environment where he feels comforted and nurtured. But perhaps not hugged as often as he would like!

The more common problem is, of course, the other way around. Usually the wife is very openly affectionate with her husband being more reserved and even withdrawn. They too will probably meet halfway. But since you can’t change human nature, they also have to learn to accept each other’s different styles. Is he expressing his love through working to support the family? Through changing the light bulb or unclogging the sink? (I know it sounds unromantic but sometimes those actions are actually more important!)

As with all differences, the secret is not to judge. No one style or way of being is superior to the other. And there is a time and place for both.

The author ends the piece with Mr. Ford’s reflection that they have indeed moved to the center. “It comes from communication,” he says. I couldn’t agree more.

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