I often hear from married folks who are quite distressed by the lack of affection in their marriage. Many want to understand why this pattern may exist so that they can come up with a plan to change it.

A wife might say: "for the last five years or so, my husband hasn't wanted to show me affection. At first, I ignored it. I figured he was going through something and I didn't want to add to it by demanding that he act a certain way around me. However, after a while, it was very hard to continue not to mention it. I felt very neglected and cheated. I'd see our couple friends kissing, holding hands, and hugging and I would feel like I had the only subpar marriage in the lot. So I finally mentioned it to my husband and he told me that I was overreacting and being very demanding. He said that I didn't have the right to dictate his actions to him. And he said my bugging him about this meant that he had even less desire to show me affection. So this got me curious about why he had such a low desire to be affectionate in the first place. So I asked him about that. And he had no answer for me. Why would a husband not want to show affection to his wife?"

Before I attempt to answer, I have to tell you that this is all just going to be a woman guessing. I'm not a man. My opinion is based on men who I hear from and my own observations. Below are what I think are some possibilities.

He's Gotten Into The Habit Of Keeping His Feelings Inside: For many of us women, it's second nature to reach out to those we love. Often, when we're interacting with our kids or our husbands, it's just natural to give a hug or a kiss whenever the feeling strikes us. We were socialized to be this way because most of us had mothers who were the exact same way. It's sort of understood that it's our job to be the emotional center of the family. We're the nurturers.

In contrast, our husband is more likely to have noticed the behavior of a less demonstrative or stoic father. And because his father was his family role model, he's going to be more likely to model his father's behavior instead of his mother's. So it's not going to be as natural for him to show affection.

Now, you can always help him along by noticing the few times he is affectionate and making a big deal of how happy it makes you. Positive reinforcement works so much better than negative reinforcement. Because when you get all upset about it and then make a big deal about how he's falling short, he can pull back even more because it feels like you are criticizing him. (And that's likely what he meant when he alluded to feeling less emotional toward you when you complained about his lack of affection.)

He Assumes You Already Know How He Feels: When I've dialogued with men about this topic, many of them will say things like: "I don't understand why my wife always expects me to put on a show for her. I am married to her. Obviously I am committed and obviously I love her very much. So why does she demand that I work so hard to show her? She should just know."

I am not telling you that this thinking is correct. But I can tell you that this is what some men think. The way to get around this is to be very specific when you ask for more. Instead of sounding accusatory and saying something like: "why don't you ever show me any affection?" Try something like: "sometimes, when it's been a while since you've kissed or hugged me, it makes me feel a bit unloved." This puts the focus on you and it doesn't sound like he's falling short. Therefore, he's going to be much more likely to come through for you.

There's Some Underlying Issue That Hasn't Been Addressed: Sometimes, when you have a husband who used to be very affectionate who suddenly turns cold, it's not a bad idea to take a look at your marriage. Sometimes, spouses pull away when they're disappointed about something. There may be underlying resentments or issues that you may need to work through.

I'm not saying that any of this is your fault or that there's a horrible issue on the horizon, but I am saying that if you can find the issue that changed everything and then fix it, then your husband's level of affection should return back to normal, which is what you really want.

The bottom line is that physical affection is important in a marriage. You shouldn't feel guilty or wrong for wanting it. But you have to be careful about how you ask for it. Because the way that you frame your message can have a huge impact on whether or not you get what you want and how your husband feels when he gives it to you.

After my husband and I finally reconciled after our separation, I made it my rule to show him physical and emotional affection at least three times a day.  This is such a little thing, but it has paid huge dividends.  You can read more on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com

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