There are a lot of components to intimacy: physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual. Affection can actually be part of all of them.
If you’re feeling disconnected from your partner, working on the level of affection in your relationship might be a good place to start.1) When did you last hug for more than a quick second?
A real hug actually does something to your biochemistry. By “real”, I mean a hug that lasts. A hug that envelops you. That feeds you.
If you’re used to not touching, or touching that’s like a glancing blow, then a real hug can actually feel strange the first time you initiate it. It can feel awkward, even with the person who’s supposed to be closest to you.
That strangeness is a sign you need to do more of it. It’s a sign that hugging is producing vulnerability, and shared vulnerability breeds closeness. The more you hug, the less awkward and the more fulfilling it’ll feel. It’s a way to start gaining the connection you’re craving.
2) Are you giving the affection that you want to be getting?
Sometimes we focus on the lack–what others are failing to provide. But we might be overlooking our own complicity. Relationships are reciprocal.
The good thing is, when you are affectionate, it’s likely to be in the way that you enjoy the most. So every time you express that form of affection, you’re also teaching your partner what you really want. You’re asserting to yourself–and to your partner–what’s meaningful for you.
Also, it’s worth asking yourself whether you know the type of affection your partner prefers. People can be very specific in this area. If you don’t know, it might be a great time to ask.
If you haven’t been reaching out much yourself, then you’ll want to investigate that. What’s holding you back? Is it a fear of rejection? Is it resentment (that you feel like you deserve more from your partner and you’re withholding until he does it first, in a game of chicken that benefits no one)? Or is it your own sense of unworthiness?
Depending on the answer, you might need to pursue different next steps. But self-awareness is an important guide.
3) If you are reaching out and being rejected again and again, have you addressed the problem directly?
Your partner might be oblivious to your overtures. John Gottman, noted couples researcher, has found that partners engage in bids for connection that can be as subtle as grazing the other person’s hand; in a satisfying relationship, those bids receive responses most of the time.
You might be making bids that are going unrecognized. Or your partner might be secretly angry with you, or just preoccupied, or a million other things. How will you know?
You need to ask. Expressing that you’ve been feeling neglected or hurt or overlooked is critical. It gives the other person a chance to make it right, rather than you suffering in silence.
4) If you have spoken to your partner and he/she doesn’t seem to care, what now?
This is a tough one. It’s very personal and individual. It might mean that you push for couples counseling. It might mean that you start thinking about exit strategies. It might mean that you seek therapy on your own to decide what you are and aren’t willing to accept, and how to live, day to day, with those choices.
But I will say that it’s one thing to be negligent about your partner’s needs; it’s another to be informed and then to knowingly choose to hurt that person. That qualifies as emotional abuse. It’s important to acknowledge that to yourself when you’re making the determination of what you can (and should) tolerate.
We all deserve an emotionally responsive partner, and we all need to learn how to be one ourselves.