Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Tell My Husband I Need Romance?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m turning 30 soon, and my husband and I have been happily married for four years. We have no children by choice, but we do have some pets. We both work to pay the bills, though he makes a bit more than I do.

My husband and I are best friends. We play games together, go to the movies and out to eat, joke and laugh, tease each other, etc. We’ve even had people think we are friends but not realize we are actually married. Basically, despite being good in every other way, our relationship has no ounce of romance.

My husband’s normal routine is to come home from work, make himself some dinner (we follow separate diets so it’s easier for each of us to make our own food), play video games for a few hours, and then go to bed. Sometimes I will play games with him or get him to watch a movie with me, but that’s the only variation. Same thing on the weekends, just without going to work. We are intimate a couple of times a month when he feels “in the mood” (which isn’t very often because he has a rather low libido. I have a higher one, but I’ve learned to ignore it because it’s embarrassing to be turned down by him if he’s not in the mood).

Generally, I’m happy. But sometimes I go on social media or have a conversation with a friend, and she tells me how her husband brought her flowers for no reason, or how he planned a nice weekend getaway for just the two of them. And I find myself wishing I had a husband who did things like that (I know, I’ve probably just seen one too many rom-coms). And I get a little sad. My husband and I truly are best friends. But sometimes I want us to be more than friends. Does that make sense?

I have brought this up with my husband, but he just doesn’t get it. I told him I wanted to feel his love a bit more. He said he shows his love by paying the rent. I told him I felt less like his wife and more like his roommate. He asked me if that was a bad thing. He also frequently says he is happy and he doesn’t understand what I have a problem with.

I don’t get it. I have something that most women would covet. My husband is a kind, good man, and I never have to worry about him mistreating me or cheating on me. We have a great time together. And yet, sometimes I can’t stop crying. I guess I feel like I could be best friends with anyone, but I can’t be married to anyone. I want our relationship to feel more special, more like a marriage.

I’m not sure what I’m asking for here. God knows I’ve failed to make my husband understand thus far, so maybe I’m just talking nonsense. Am I crazy? Am I asking too much?

Too Needy For My Own Good

DEAR TOO NEEDY FOR MY OWN GOOD: Let me TL;DR this right up front: no, TNFMOG, you’re not crazy. You’re not talking nonsense, and you’re not asking for too much. What you’re asking for is for your husband to show you that he loves you, cares for you and respects you. Those are all things that should come standard in a relationship, and any model that doesn’t should be returned to the lot immediately.

You have two basic issues here that need to be resolved.

The first is one of miscommunication. You may have heard the phrase “love languages” tossed around here and other spaces. Without getting deep into the details, the idea of “love languages” are different ways people express and receive love or affection from the people in their lives. Some people, for example, express love and affection through physical touch — wanting to hug and be hugged, to cuddle and so forth. Others will express love through “acts of service” — doing things for the people they care about is part of how they show that they care. Other examples include “quality time”, “gifts” and a multitude of others.

The problem that often arises is that sometimes we don’t necessarily recognize the language our partner speaks, and they don’t recognize the language that we speak. So for someone who expresses love through touch and physical contact, somebody who is physically stand-offish may seem cold and distant. But the way they express love is by providing for their loved-ones — whether that’s through paying for their essentials, making sure their physical and emotional needs are met or simply doing things for them… and they may feel that someone who expresses love through touch to be clingy. Hence the dilemma; everyone’s saying the same thing, but they’re saying it in languages the other person doesn’t understand. As a result: everyone is upset and tense because they feel like they’re not being heard and that their partner doesn’t love them.

To bridge this particular gap, you and your husband need to have an Awkward Conversation, where you lay out exactly what it is you need from him and why. The “why” part is important, because he may not realize that his way of expressing affection for you is leaving you cold and upset. I realize that in an ideal world, he’d just do these things and asking him to do them makes it feel artificial. However, if he doesn’t know that this is something that you need, then he can’t provide it for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling someone “hey, here’re the things that I need from you”, and their having to consciously decide to provide them. Over time, it’ll become muscle memory and he’ll be better able give you what you need in an organic fashion.

And when you have this conversation, don’t forget to let him share his side of things — what are the ways he gives affection and the ways he receives them. That’s important too; your way may be more “traditional”,  but that doesn’t necessarily equate as being something he needs or satisfies him.

Now, in an ideal world, this would solve everything. But this isn’t an ideal world, and we need to talk about the other issue… in your relationship. One that’s more foundational and more complicated.

This relationship sounds like it’s very one-sided, with everything tilted towards your husband. It sounds like he sets the tone, pace and agenda for the entire relationship and  you follow it. In fact, you’ve been following it to the point that you seem to feel like you’re not allowed to advocate for your own needs and desires. Every relationship is going to be a balance of give and take… and it seems like you’re doing all the giving and your husband is doing all the taking.

Take the imbalance between your respective sex-drives. You — like a lot of couples with differing libidos — default to the pace of the person of the lower sex drive. While this is fairly common, it’s not actually fair; in a lot of ways, it ends up pathologizing the person with the higher sex drive. It sets them up as the one who’s just too demanding and if they could just get over this whole “needing sex” thing, everyone would be happier. And honestly, that ain’t cool. While nobody is saying that people should have sex they don’t want to have, making a point to please your partner and do things even if you’re not necessarily in the mood because you love them and want them to be happy is important. That doesn’t necessarily mean penetration, but providing an assist for your partner (without complaint or begrudging it) is important for everyone feeling like they’re a part of the relationship. Feeling like your needs are understood and respected is an important part of satisfaction in a relationship.

But this is just one example in a series of behaviors that make it seem as though your husband gets his way by default. The fact that your time together is always on his terms and the activities he wants… well, that ain’t good. I don’t think he’s being malicious, but it does sound to me like he’s being self-involved to the point that it doesn’t occur to him that you’re not happy. It sounds like it simply hasn’t occurred to him that maybe you’d like to do things together — and more than just the things that he wants to do. I suspect it may come from a similar place as the miscommunication in love languages. He may see this as “hey, we both do the things we want instead of forcing the other to take part, everyone’s happy!”, not realizing that for you, this represents a lack of intimacy and togetherness.

And while folding this into the Awkward Conversation may be a start, I think that it’s the sort of issue that needs to be discussed with a sex-positive relationship counselor. The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists have a referral directory on their site that can help you find a relationship counselor in your area. If you want to make this relationship work,  then I think you should make visiting a counselor together a priority. And if he doesn’t want to go, then go by yourself, at least at first. Sometimes these issues are best handled by having a trained third party who can help both facilitate communicating  your needs with your partner and finding a solution.

Good luck.

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