What We Need

I came into my relationship with my husband (almost ten years ago!) a pretty needy person. I wanted to be with my him all the time and got frustrated when his many obligations kept him away. I remember sitting on his bed, in his messy room, watching Netflix on his computer and pouting that he had to spend half of Saturday at a function. Ugh. How obnoxious!

I am a much less needy person these days. In fact, in my attempts to fill my own cup–so I can offer more and request less–I am finding I need my husband very little these days. One of my biggest worries is that I’ll wake up in five years and realize I don’t need my husband at all, because I’m meeting my needs in the other areas of my life. I think it will be hard to fight for a marriage that isn’t providing me much.

I struggle a lot with feeling unsatisfied in my marriage. I appreciate what a great partnership we have when it comes to raising our kids and managing our household. Things aren’t exactly equal but they feel equitable. I try hard not to take for granted all my husband does for our family and how far he’s come in participating around the house and with the kids. He is also incredibly supportive of my needs to get out of the house and see my friends. He does so much more now than he did even two years ago, and that progress does give me hope that maybe other aspects of our marriage can change.

It is only in one specific area of our marriage leaves me unsatisfied–the showing of love and appreciation. I almost wrote the “giving” of love and appreciation but I changed it because I am willing to concede that my husband may be giving me love and appreciation in ways that I don’t register. Just because I don’t always feel loved and appreciated doesn’t mean he’s withholding them.

Sometimes it feels like we have so much working against us in our marriage. I am a powerfully extroverted while he is painfully extroverted (I say painfully because I really do think he suffers for it, especially at work where he has to meet with people a lot). Our love languages don’t line up at all. We manage conflict in very different ways. Every kind of meaningful connection needs to be carefully planned and executed. Nothing comes naturally between us.

I think this was okay before, when our time and energy weren’t so limited, when we didn’t have two tiny people siphoning our resources and leaving us depleted. It’s so much harder to fill our cups these days and when my partner fails to do so I have to look elsewhere. I am beginning to believe my needs will never be met in my marriage.

I’m working hard at identifying exactly what my needs are so I can communicated them without confusion. Of course it’s not that simple. I have told my husband that I need more physical affection from him a million times and now when I mention it he says that he does hug me, but I don’t notice. He doesn’t seem to realize that a quick, half second hug and a peck on the cheek right when he gets home–when I’m mired in the chaos of feeding or bathing our children–isn’t going to fill me up. In fact, it’s not going to leave a drop.

I’ve tried to make my needs more clear. I told him last week that I need him to initiate a 1-2 minute embrace on the couch at the end of a long day for me to feel seen. I need him to ask me how my day went and really listen to the response. I need him to thank me for everything I do.

He hasn’t done it yet, but it’s only been a week.

{A note: The appreciation and validation part is hard for me. I really struggle with this feeling that my husband does not appreciate what I do. “Thank you for all you do,” and “You do so much,” are common utterances in our house, but they don’t do anything to make me feel appreciated because I don’t believe he actually recognizes even half of what I do for our family. How can he appreciate what I do if he doesn’t even realize it’s getting done, let alone understand what is required to do it? The fact that so much of what I do is “invisible” makes this area of our marriage hard to navigate. I haven’t yet figured out what I need to to feel seen and appreciated.}

I absolutely recognize that I am responsible for my own happiness. I am doing a lot to fill my own cup and I’m succeeding, so much so that I worry that eventually I won’t need my husband at all. In the meantime I have less and less faith that he will ever be able to express his love for me in a way that I actually feel. I know he loves me, in my mind, but I don’t feel it in my heart, because he seems unable to express love in the ways I recognize. I thought identifying what I needed would help our marriage, but so far it’s just made me feel more resentful that my husband isn’t giving it to me.

{Should be mentioned: I’m definitely exploring if this is some defect on my part–that I just can’t feel love no matter how he shows it.}

{Also should be mentioned: I want to make clear that I have repeatedly asked him how I can best show my love, appreciation and support, but he hasn’t been able to articulate those things, so I do my best to determine what he needs and I am very conscientious in my efforts to provide it. I’m not saying I’m perfect and I’m sure I miss the mark more than I hit it, but I also feel I’m working hard to make sure I’m giving him love and support in ways he registers it, which makes me even more resentful that he’s not working hard (at all?) to do the same for me.}

So here is where I humbly ask you to give me a little perspective:

What do you need from your relationship? Do you get it? Did you need to ask for it or continue to ask for it? How do you know you are appreciated by your partner? Have you had to work at any of this or did it just come naturally?

28 Comments

  1. Whew. This is tough stuff. The needs of two little ones take up so much time and space that it is incredibly difficult to nurture a marriage. I am a little sorry to say that I don’t think that we do enough to show appreciation but I somehow believe that we both know that we are each giving it all we have. I think it only gets you into trouble if you go down the road of equality because, even if you could accurately define it, I doubt it could be achieved.

    I think that in our case we are truly carried by the relationship that we spent years building prior to kids since we just can’t do much building right now. And we both believe that we will get back to it. Eventually.

    So I think that what I’m saying is that what works for us right now is embracing very low expectations. I doubt that any marriage expert would recommend such an approach but I do actually think it is working for us.

    1. I sometimes wonder if we struggle so much with this stuff because we weren’t together for long before we got caught up in the destruction of loss/IF/early parenting. I would say we should have waited but with my DOR and his MFI we probably wouldn’t have two kids if we had. There is no easy, right answer and even hindsight isn’t 20/20 at this point.

      I think my husband absolutely embraces your mindset–he thinks we should have very low expectations for the next few years and then try to rebuild after that. He just thinks these years are going to be really hard and there isn’t any way to make them less hard and we should just accept it and get through it. I don’t love this plan because (a) I think that subtle changes in both our attitudes could go a long way to making the next few years more enjoyable and (b) I worry that if perform little or no maintenance on our marriage during these hard years there won’t be enough left to salvage when things get better. I don’t know. Maybe I just need to accept that our marriage can’t be good right now and hope for the best later on.

      1. In my opinion, accepting your marriage won’t be fulfilling for the next few years is just a recipe for disaster. I remember my dad telling me that marriage is like a garden, if you don’t do some weeding, re-planting, fertilizing, and watering on a regular basis… the plants you want will just die…and the weeds (stuff you don’t want) will take over.

  2. I had this dream when I was a child that marriage was like a sleep-over with your best friend…every day. HAHAHA. It’s so much work. McRuger and I have struggled with how to show affection and appreciation to the other as well. We have different love languages (although, I don’t think that quite covers it). So, we’ve spent so many hours talking about what the other needs, and we still struggle at times. And, it’s much more challenging with two kids.

    It’s been only just recently that we’ve started to really become clear on how to balance everything. For us, it means making time…EVERY NIGHT…for “us” time. At least 15 minutes in bed or on the couch…snuggling and talking. After the kids are in bed, before any of the chores are done or computers are opened…we snuggle up together. We’re not allowed to talk about kids or money or work…just small things that we’re thinking and feeling. It goes a long way to helping us feel more connected, not appreciated per se, but feeling connected and loved is a good start. Sometimes (ok, often, it leads to sex)…but the goal is just to be with each other.

    And now, the baby is up from his nap….I had more to write, but it will have to wait. Sigh.

    1. I think I believed marriage would be like a sleep over every day too. Oh how wrong I was.

      I am curious, when you say you have talked for hours about what the other needs, did McRuger want to participate in those conversations? Or did you have to force it on him? I feel like when my husband participates in any conversation about our marriage he’s doing me a favor (or he believes he is doing me a favor). And I don’t think it should feel like that. He just doesn’t want to spend the very little time he has talking about these kinds of things. He just wants to watch something mindless on TV or go to bed. And I get that. But it is starting to feel like he doesn’t care enough to put in the time or the effort. And that is frustrating. I’m just sick of feeling like he is doing me a big favor by talking this stuff out or that he is conceding to my unrealistic demands for some quiet, quality time at the end of every day.

      1. Oh, that must be frustrating! McRuger fully participates and often initializes conversations about our relationship. He can’t stand to see me upset or concerned, and when it comes to our relationship…he knows the possible costs of an unhappy wife (he’s been divorced once before). He enjoys discovering new aspects of our life together, and I know how lucky I am that he’s that way.

        On the other hand, McRuger is also a “be-er” and I’m a “do-er”. So when it comes to making profound changes in how we work as a couple, I’m often left doing much of the heavy lifting. Because of McRuger’s ADD, it’s very challenging for him to change his routines (otherwise, he feels out of control).

        Certainly things aren’t perfect, but they’ve improved dramatically over the last few years. I keep meaning to write about this on my blog, but I haven’t figured out how without keeping some aspects of our relationship private. Sigh…

      2. Ha. This is my DH to a T. He doesn’t want to talk about it, work on it, etc. In 22 years he has never initiated a relationship conversation.

  3. 1. Your husband is scared by talk and therefore avoids. You will not change him as I know you know.
    2. My parents said the best thing for their marriages was that they did not ‘need’ each other … they ‘choose’ to be with each other. And 80 years ago that was not normative as marriage meant male dominance and generally female financial dependency. Remember how recent laws are that give women any legal independent existence. 40 years ago banks would not issue credit cards to women without their husband’s approval……
    3. These years of children and struggle actually do build a common base of experiences which can support a couple in staying together even as people build other relationships as well. No single person can meet all the needs of another single individual. Watch your children wanting to play with friends instead of only and exclusively with you. This reality is not part of the “disney dream” girls especially are fed in their formative years.
    4. Objectively relationships are hard, changing and never perfect. Hang in. He does love you and you clearly care for him as well.

    1. 1. Yes. I know this. It doesn’t mean I am good at accepting it.
      2. I think this is a really good way of looking at it. I don’t have to need my husband, I have to want to be with him.
      3. ” Watch your children wanting to play with friends instead of only and exclusively with you.” This is going to happen?! Really?! When?! πŸ˜‰
      4. Relationships are hard. And I think right now, with everything else being hard, I just want one thing to not be hard, and I want it to be my marriage. But that is not going to happen so I need to let that go and be okay with things as they are.

  4. yup yup yup. of course i get this completely. we have the same issue of him not wanting to talk about (like it actually PAINS him to talk about it, and he’s only talking about it to appease me and stop my nagging) and then, when we discuss things, and come to a consensus, he doesn’t follow through—not in a way I recognize. I think the “love languages” thing has something to do with it, but also just being “off schedule” with each other. He will try to hug me as I’m dealing with the kids running in the door and making dinner—and then he’s upset that i brush him off. And I’ll try to snuggle in the evening when the kids are asleep, and he’s on his phone or laptop and brushes me off and I get upset. I like Rain’s idea about 15 minutes together every day, but I don’t think my husband would be down with the “talking about small things that we’re thinking/feeling” part.
    Like you, I go through phases where I accept that this is how its going to be, try not to think about it, and look for things outside the relationship to meet my needs, but then I realize that ignoring the issues is not a good idea—eventually they’ll come back. I think most therapists and “experts” would feel that confronting the issues and doing the hard work is the best way to ensure there will be a relationship to come back to when this season of life is over.

    1. You know, I think being “off schedule” is an issue for us as well. Interesting. I never thought of it that way. Maybe if I try to focus on getting us on a more compatible schedule (asking for what he’s already giving me but at a different time), instead of asking for more or something different, he’ll be more open to that change, and then we’ll be a step closer to me getting what I want/need.

      I think you and I are in VERY similar places in our marriages. Everything you write here I can relate too. Intimately. I hope we can both figure this out. We deserve to be happy in our relationships, as do our husbands. πŸ˜‰

  5. My husband lacks greatly in the holiday/birthday department. To be clear my gripe isn’t that I want lots of expensive stuff. It is literally the thought that counts, and my DH has no thoughts. Many years ago there were some horrific gift choices. In his mind I am too picky. I mind he really didn’t/doesn’t know me or try very hard bc if he did, he wouldn’t have gotten those things. Since then he does not buy me gifts. Ever. Mother’s Day, birthday: nothing. I have to remind him usually to get a card. I bake my own bday cake. Again, I’m not being materialistic here. It truly hurts that he doesn’t think I’m worth the time to try to get me a gift I’d like.

    1. Wow. I could have written this. My husband does NOT do presents. At all. This was actually one of my love languages (present giving was a BIG part of my upbringing) and it has been HARD to let it go. REALLY HARD. I also don’t get even a card for my birthday or mother’s day. Not even a handwritten note. And like you, I don’t want anything specific (I buy myself what I want, that is one of my big problems ;), it’s all about the thought that went into it. I still struggle with this, though I’ve gotten A LOT better. But still, it’s hard. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for my husband to just show me he is thinking of me/loves me/appreciates me with a little token. A handwritten note on a piece of scratch paper would honestly be enough, but I’m never going to get even that.

  6. I am the one in my relationship who struggles to show affection, so my husband and I are the opposite of you and your husband. I grew up in a family that didn’t express emotion. I never saw my parents kiss until I was in middle school and only because my father was in a nearly fatal motorcycle accident that changed their relationship dramatically.

    I only wanted to say that I have so much love for my husband, but it makes me so uncomfortable to express it verbally or physically. I guess we I was bound to emulate the relationship I witnessed growing up. So…I empathize with your husband in that he may feel love for you that he’s just not able to express, even though he knows you need that. Not sure if that justification matters in the long run or even if his parents are or were similar in their inability to show affection…?

    1. Krista, thank you for sharing this perspective. I really appreciate hearing it from a more articulate source than my own husband. πŸ˜‰

      I don’t think my husband’s family is very “touchy feely” as they say. I’ve never seen his parents hug, but I don’t know if my husband has seen my parents hug and they do so a lot when it’s just our family around (in other words, they may hug more when I’m not present). I should ask my husband about this, it might help me better understand why physical touch is something he struggle with (I don’t think it makes him uncomfortable, he just doesn’t think to do it). I can definitely tell when we’re snuggling on the couch that he gets tired of it quickly and wants me to get off, which I try not to take personally. He also feels uncomfortable when I kiss him in public, so I try to be aware of that and not do it.

      I am curious (but please don’t feel the need to respond to this if you don’t want to), does this cause issues in your marriage? Or is your husband better than I am at feeling loved despite your aversion to expressing it physically or verbally?

      1. It did cause issues in our relationship early on, but luckily my husband (then boyfriend) pointed out my lack of affection and flat out told me he was not interested in a relationship with me if I wasn’t going to be more affectionate. I’ll be honest and say that I was surprised when he confronted me about it because I thought that was how all couples interacted. I didn’t even realize it was a problem!

        Since then I’ve been more affectionate in private, though I’m still not comfortable with PDAs. I think he’s come to accept that I’ll never to really touchy feely and he knows my family well enough to know why. Ironically, I do love it when he flirts with me publicly, but I feel very uncomfortable flirting back. Flirting comes naturally to him, whereas to me it will always feel forced.

    2. This is interesting because I’m like you too, not affectionate, but my family is very affectionate. My parents held hands, grabbed each other’s butts, etc. But now as I type this, I realize that was my dad’s doing and not my mom’s. So maybe I’m like her (I shudder at the idea) in this regard. Hmmm…

      On the flip side, my inlaws show NO affection and my husband was never told that he was loved by his parents. He marvels at the love in my family and I bet he’s just perplexed as hell that I’m a bit… err… frosty.

  7. At least he says those phrases. “Thank you for all you do” and “you do so much” are phrases I would love to hear, but never do. I try to give words of affirmation, hoping they will come in return, but my husband has a very critical nature and tends to highlight the negative even though I know that he is a happy man and is happy to be married to me. But you know what? He is a good provider. He is faithful. He is kind to me and we enjoy being with each other. He is the only person in the world who loves my kids as much as I do, who finds as much joy in them as I do, who strives for their best interests the way no one else would. He takes care of our house and shows his love- however, not in my language but in ways I have to interpret. But he still shows it. I’m sure he also has to do a lot of interpreting of his own. I think he would probably say that he would be happy with me showing my love in terms of service- keeping the house utterly clean and myself in great physical shape and a healthy, homemade dinner on the table every night. I often feel so much guilt and frustration, because I can’t show him love in all the ways he wants, and I’m trying to figure out how to arrive at that point between doing the best I can, feeling confident in my efforts, and not becoming bitter or resentful or anxious. I feel like my view of marriage has changed a lot. I don’t think marriage can “fill my needs”. I think marriage is finding somebody you can build a good life with, who can put up with you and vice versa. Your husband sounds like one of those people. I know mine is. But it’s hard letting go of the fantasies that I entered marriage with nine years ago.

    1. I would really struggle if my husband were critical of me. He is a very accepting and supportive person and that has been really wonderful in our marriage. I don’t think I could handle it if her criticized me a lot. That must be hard.

      I like the way you think of marriage. Maybe that is what I need to do, change how I view it and therefore change what I expect from it. I think that has already happened to some extent, but if I could revise my expectations even further, I would probably be a lot happier.

      I also want to say that my husband is an amazing person, a great provider, super supportive, a staunch advocate for our children, who he adores and is wonderful with. He is so amazing in so many ways, and I think that is why I want to be so happy with him, because I think we could be so much happier than we are. So many of the pieces are there, we just need to put them together in the right way…

      1. My husband also has the tendency to be critical. He apparently can’t help himself when he sees any of us doing things what he deems the “wrong way”. It was a major issue for us, and he’s working on it, but it still happens.
        I really like that definition of marriage, and I think its definitely true, but yeah, we’ve all internalized some lifelong slumber-party BFF view of marriage, and it is a tough thing to move on from.

  8. I think the thing that works for us is we laugh together, just about every day. We have agreed playing games is territory we can share. Sometimes we play a video game together or cards or whatever, and laughing together helps a lot. We also schedule important conversations (usually over a meal out because at home we can’t ever stay focused) and we make some attempt to stay on topic. Weekly date night is wonderful when we can manage it and our date night rule is no kids or home get discussed, just fun and being together. I think it’s worth figuring out what works about your relationship and celebrating that now while figuring out what needs work and starting a bit but not expecting to finish it.

    1. Laughter is a great way to keep a marriage together. I find when we laugh together at some point during the day we feel a lot closer. Maybe I should just focus on making him laugh. Maybe that would be enough… πŸ˜‰

  9. I have told my husband in the past that I would like more affection- I love when he throws his arm over my shoulder- he just doesn’t do it often enough. I’m hoping that if we are able to have a second baby that in a few years we will be able to do more “just us” things.

  10. Hello, Friend!

    This was really, REALLY great for me to read because B is YOU, and your husband is ME. B says, probably once every couple of weeks, that I am not showing my love for him, and that I seem uninterested in him/our marriage. And he could not be more wrong, but we just show our love differently. He wants me to get up with him in the morning and have coffee (oh good God, I just want to sleep. Why can’t he show his love by realizing I want to sleep? :)). He’d like me to initiate sex more often, but I say, “I’m not an initiator, and I don’t turn you down when you initiate, so get over it.” He wants deep conversations, but ONLY about things that interest him. I want him to say thank you for all you do, give me some free time away from the kids (and yes, him too), and let me sleep. It sounds so sad, doesn’t it?

    If your hubs is anything like me, I’m here to tell you that he loves you, he loves you so much. He just doesn’t have the energy to show it because, as you said, “we have two tiny people siphoning our resources and leaving us depleted.” That is my main issue – I think about B multiple times a day, send sweet texts, chat with him online when he’s not on a call, and tell myself I’ll jump his bones tonight. And then – the end of the day rolls around and I am just DONE. None of this is an excuse, but it is a REASON.

    Keep telling him what you need, but also keep filling your own cup. But make sure you guys have YOU time together at least once a week – a movie on the sofa with your head in his lap, a dinner out even if it’s just something quick, a glass of wine in the backyard. We do that a lot, and it helps immensely. I always end those nights wanting more of it, and he may too.

    Hang in there. HUGS!

  11. I have been married 28 years and I too am like your husband. Never have been particularly comfortable with shows of affection,cuddling etc etc. It actually makes me uncomfortable and I don’t know why -even feel a bit like that with the kids ( now young adults) though I would do anything for them and they know it! I much prefer to have my husband show how he feels by being reliable, thoughtful and considerate to me which he is, nearly always, and I am to him too.He knows now I don’t need or want declarations of love. What makes it work is being there for each other, always. He has worked away Monday / Friday for years and this works too, even when the children were younger, I had lots of space to myself during the week. Dealing with the kids myself worked for me.Strangely though I do like birthday/ Xmas gifts and cards and would be upset if he didn’t take time to buy a thoughtful gift for me.I guess we are all different and we need to figure out what works for us and our partner and keep going until it all falls into place somewhere along the way!

    1. Hello Margaret and thank you for commenting! I really appreciate hearing from women who can relate to my husband because you all seem to be better able to articulate your aversions to physical touch better than my husband has been able to. It’s also comforting to hear that you really truly love your partners even if you don’t show it in that particular way.

      I sometimes wonder if my husband did the gift thing instead of hugging/cuddling if that would be okay too. The fact that he does neither is very hard. When I search my mind for specific examples of his love it’s hard to find them when there aren’t hugs/cuddles or tokens of thoughtfulness to fall back on. Sure he says nice things every once in a while, but as they say, actions speak louder than words. πŸ˜‰

  12. I think what helps us is that we have started to take time to sit outside on our porch together in the evening and remember how on FB I said we don’t do family dinners very much? Not doing them gives us time to eat together, chat, watch reruns of The Office and just recharge a bit. I’m probably a little less demonstratively affectionate than he’d like and especially when he’s stressed, he can critical in a way that drives me up the wall, but we both try to cut each other slack and try to thank each other for what we do.

    1. Yeah. We do not have that time right now. At all. By the time I’m done putting my daughter to bed it’s like 9:30 and then he has to do dishes and I have to do laundry and we’re both just trying to get to bed. I just don’t know how we can carve out that time for each other during the work week. πŸ™

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