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I Cannot Continue To Live Without Affection

Question:

I’ve been married 14 years. For about 13 years, my husband has not shown affection to me (holding hands, sending cards, buying gifts, hugs, sitting next to me, etc.). We have pets and he showers them with affection. He says he loves me and shouldn’t have to repeat it, unless something changes. He has also been verbally abusive during our marriage. March 2005, I told him I was considering divorce and seeing a counselor. He refuses to see a counselor, saying he has a brain and knows how to use it to fix his problems. In the last few months, it is obvious he is trying harder. He hasn’t been angry much of the time. The verbal abuse has decreased considerably, although I still get an abusive remark several times a week. He has been exceptionally nice the last month. However, there continues to be no affection. Over the last 11 months, I have talked with him several times to express my need for affection and that I cannot continue to live without it. After typing this, it seems obvious, but I really don’t want to give up on the marriage if there is any chance he is coming around.

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Answer:

So the question that you have to answer is “what can I live without and what do I need”. The difference between what you can live without and what you need is exactly what you cannot compromise on and still feel okay about yourself. If you really need affection, then, that is a perfectly reasonable thing to leave your marriage for. If you can live without affection but you prefer not to, then you should stay. In either case, you should consider asking your husband explicitly for the things you need. “please hug me and tell me you love me. I know you don’t need that yourself, but it is really something I need in order to feel good about our connection”, might be something you say to him. He may do it only grudgingly, but if he does it at all, that is a good sign, and I would recommend waiting around to see if he will continue to respond to explicit instructions. If he just refuses to compromise, and you can’t compromise either with regard to what you need from him but don’t have, then it is time to leave.

There is a very good book on the subject of being ambivalent about leaving a relationship that I’ll recommend. It is called “Too Good To Leave Too Bad To Stay” by therapist Mira Kirshenbaum. The book offers a variety of situations in which people are usually better off leaving, and situations where people are usually better off staying. It can be helpful to know that other people have been where you are now, and that they’ve been able to make their big decision to stay or go, and that life goes on on the other side of the decision, often in a better form.

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Comments
  • Natalie

    I read your response to the woman married to a non-affectionate man for the past 14 years. This woman acknowledges that he has become "nicer" but has not improved on the affection. Your response did not acknowledge any progress he seemed to have made. Furthermore I disagree with your suggestion to consider divorce. This man obviously thinks his marriage is important enough to make these nice changes has he really been given enough time to provide this woman with what she needs? Something changed in the early part of their marriage, and it's going to take her receiving support (therapy, group, etc) and him connecting with a men's group or at least one man who would commit to helping him understand how affection plays a role in maintaining intimacy in a marriage. This conflict has been long-standing. Hence, "waiting to see" if he can follow through with this wife's request for affection is a set-up for further disappointment.

  • karen

    I have been in the same type of marriage for 23 yrs. Im now getting a divorce. Get out now it will nerver change, only for a short while. This cycle will countine as long as you stay, it's part of the controll these type of people use. The more i became a whole person and realized the abuse the worse things became. My husband is the one who wants the divorce not me, but I now know that it should have happned long ago. I have alot of healing to do from all the yerars of neglect and abuse from this man. Get out now!!!!!

  • Anonymous-1

    I have a similar problem, but the roles are reversed. I have been married to my wife for 16 years. It was obvious from the start that I needed more physical affection than she did, but 7 years ago she openly admitted that intimacy for her is like living in hell. I deeply love her (we were childhood sweathearts), and desperately want to make our marrage a success, for us and our three small children. But I constantly feel completely worthless and undesireable, I don't see how I can continue. She utterly refuses to talk about it, however, she does make attempts now and then to show me she cares. Neither of us are abusive to each other. I've stopped trying to talk to her about it, it's too painful. I don't even tell her if I've had a bad day at work, I can't risk the emotional damage of no affectionate response. I have no idea what to do.

  • Anonymous-2

    I realize that this post is old, but hopefully someone will read it. My husband and I have been together for 11 years and the need for affection that I feel has not subsided. I have told him time and time again how important it is for me to feel that he loves m outside of the bed. No matter what I say or do, it always ends in my being blamed for the situation. He constantly tells me that I need to stop harrassing him in regards to needing affection. He also tells me that he knows what a woman needs, but at the same time he will not give it to me. If we go without sex for 3 or 4 days days, then he'ss more open to doing the things I like. I am at my wits end here. The last thing I want to do is look for the attention I so desperately crave outside of my marriage. I don't know what to do!! Someone help me, plase!!!!!

    Lonely in Long Beach

  • Anonymous-3

    I have been married 8 years. It is a second marriage for both of us. My first marriage was full of affection until tward the end. While I was dating my second husband, he played the game. Affection, attentiveness, cheerfulness, and a little romance. Once the ring was on my finger it stopped. Stopped. I would say we have been in counseling for 6 of our 8 years. There have been some episodes where he really tried, but that only last for a couple of weeks and then back to the rut.I totally understand the desire for divorce. but having been there done that once, and knowing the loneliness of that, why bother. So it boils down to loneliness and isolation in a marriage or living with those challenges out of marriage. The longer time goes, the less my attraction to him, and the worse my esteem. You stop caring about your weight, your appearance, and going out as a couple. In the meantime you are getting older, and feeling like this can't be my happily ever after.After all that, I wish I had some advice. I don't.... I would never encourage divorce, because I hate divorce....but I don't know if we are meant to settle and endure, hoping for some acknowledge as a woman and wife.

  • Anonymous-4

    before i comment i grew up close to long beach but now on the wrong coast, the east coast and believe me i hate it!I have a wife that has me so messed up about never giving me affection, and she makes me feel like the bad guy here. I really don't think its fair to anyone that does not receive affection. I mean this lady does not care and is heartless about it. all I want to do is make love to my wife and have her listen to me. my wife is a very good lady but she will pretend to get mad to get out of even touching me. Shes says this isnt true but im 53 years old and been around the block a few times. I just want someone to love me, it isn't about sex, tho that helps lol, its about love. I am a christian man that just wants his wife to love me. I really don't know what to tell you cause I can't figure it out myself? I wish you lots of luck in your situation.

  • cari

    I'm sorry to be negative, but if he's not giving you attention and is verbally abusive, he has a problem. I'm not sure why you would want somebody like that to touch you with hugs and kisses. I guess if he's trying to be a better person and starting to treat you decent, then maybe eventually I could see you wanting him to show physical attention. I would want and need sincere verbal attention for awhile before anything else.

    Also, I feel if somebody has to ask for attention (which should be a natural thing between a husband and wife) what's the point? Even if he complies, he's still not doing it because he wants to. More than likely he's doing it to avoid a confrontation, or for his own satisfaction. He obviously doesn't care how you feel if he's typically not a loving caring person, and is verbally abusive to you.

    I'm sorry for the negative response and I sympathise with your situation. Best of luck to you.

  • Kristen

    I have been battling this same question for the past 3 years (at least). First, I would like to give some background.

    I am 37 years old and grew up in a family where I was never told "I love you" or given physical affection (hugs, kisses, etc.) This has created a void for me. I was also sexually abused by a half brother - which is not talked about in my family. I was also date raped in college and used sex as a way to feel loved (or at least cared about). I have come to terms with these events, but I still am longing for someone to take care of me and show me that they love me through hugs, kisses, and loving words.

    Just this week, I approached this topic with my Dad. He was very responsive in a positive way. He really pushed for me to talk to my Mom (whom I have been longing for affection from) and stronly believes she would also respond in a positive manner.

    Anyway, my husband of nearly 9 years is not physically affectionate - not even sex. We have been in and out of counseling over the past 2 years. He acknowledges my feelings and agrees he doesn't meet this need. He believes I am right to want this and tries for a couple of weeks, but like others have stated, just stops trying. He also states it is hard for him to be affectionate. I don't understand this. I am very saddened and lonely that he is unable to meet this need. He gives our daughters hugs and kisses - often they initiate - but still rarely does this in my direction. I often cry myself to sleep and am just not sure what to do. We are best of friends and great parents together, but we do not have any passion anymore and we have sex maybe 4 times a year. Because of our 2 young daughters (almost 5 and 7) I am not sure what the best thing is to do. Do I stay in a marriage that is good in most other ways or do I leave and break up a family for my daughters?

    Sorry for the long post, but any thoughts would greatly be appreciated.

    Kristen

  • DMH

    To the woman who has been married for 14 years without affection......I can completely relate to your situation as I am living it right now. I have been with my husband for 21 years (married 17 years). When I read your comment about he shows affection to your pets, I just knew that I had to write a response. My husband does the same thing....and I think that's what makes it hurt so much for me!! I get no affection from him whatsoever unless he wants to have sex and then suddenly he is groping me instead of showing me affection, touching etc to lead up to it. I resent it. I have tried many many times to tell him point blank what I need, but he could careless. At one point, I told him it's alright, I have just learned or gotten used to living without it.....the sad part was he was happy he was off the hook!!!! It is really hurtful....and he will never change...and I have asked that question that was in Anne's response a million times...is it worth letting my marriage go....there are other problems, but the worst for me is living without affection. I haven't decided yet, but it is coming. I wish you luck with your marriage whatever you decide to do. Progress is good, but sorry to say IT WILL ONLY BE SHORT TERM.

    Sad and Lonely in WI

  • Elizabeth

    My husband stopped being affectionate after marriage, except for when he wanted sex. Tells me hugs are for babies and kissing spreads germs. He actually tells others I am unaffectionate and frigid, while he pushes me away if I try to hug or kiss, pulls his hand away if I try to hold hands. When we went to counseling, he admitted he could do "better" at being affectionate, but when I would say the next time that nothing had changed, I was told to be patient. He too is verablly abusive and showers affection on the pet. But, you couldn't have predicted any of this before marriage. I guess only married people's kisses spread germs. I feel like I have to not only live without affection, but have no one to talk to or confide in. I have to be careful what I say, sharing a problem at work will be used as evidence against me, telling him he is abusive or unaffectionate gives him the words to use when he makes up things about me to others, his anger is unpredictable. The other day I was straightening the pantry and he got mad because I moved his tuna fish cans, if I have a headaches he tries to pick a fight, if I ask a question about something he said I get "if you had listened" or "you're getting so forgetful." It isn't just lack of physical affection, there is no emotional sharing or connection.

  • Tina 2010

    Reading these comments is all too familiar I just ended my marriage after 18 years. He had affection for the cats and his basketball, but that was it. The non-affection eventually morphed into repressed rage attacks, missing money and who knows what else. Didn't realize all the stress that was on my oldest child, but after just four months, he's back on track and thriving. Never wanted divorce but so much gratitude that it's an option.

  • Anonymous-5

    Like so many others in this column, I too am married to someone who, in less than five years and two beautiful children later, has decided that affection is not something she 'needs'. Period. She just doesn't need any part of it. No hugging kissing let alone making love. We make love because I make a big deal out of it. I have tried playing her game and acting like nothing matters, but after a week or two, I was going crazy. When I finally let it all out, she said "I thought things were going really well" Of course she did, I wasn't complaining about why she didn't kiss me or acknowledge me when she came in. I take care of kids most nights, give them bathes, get them supper, and she does the mornings. She acknowledges the great father I am , but other than that, it really appears she doesn't need me at all. She really wants to try (sometimes) but seems that as soon as I show any kind of disappointment, she uses it against me for the next week or so, and again all affection is out the window. I want a happy marriage, I believe in happily ever after, and really want to try to respect the committment I made. I too am in a deep hole where I can no longer see the light of any day. Only my own 'selfish' needs which are not met and make each day seem to drag by. Why is this happening?? How can two people in love find so mch fault with one another, until it seems there is nothing left?

  • Emily

    In addition to exact precision of all the personal testiomonies above (reading the experiences above was like reading from my diary), here is more of what I experience ever day. This was my last straw... this "relatinship" (we technically broke up last week I broke up with her officially) is over. I can't take this anymore... it's destroying my mind, body, and soul.

    God bless her...

    5/11/10

    I just went off on Erin tonight because she was drinking in front of me. I had come downstairs to eat the pizza we had ordered, and she had poured a huge glass of alcohol… I’m not sure what kind, but the glass was pretty large. She had JUST, literally, 2 hours prior to that arrived home from the bar.
    Anyway, I came downstairs to eat and staring right in front of me on the coffee table was this huge class of alcohol… the glass looked like a glass you would see in the medieval times. Mind you, there had not been alcohol in the home for our ENTIRE relationship. I specifically made it very clear to her that I did NOT want it in the home. When I told her this tonight, and stated that I was uncomfortable, she laughed at me and said “Too bad --this isn’t your house I can do whatever the ‘fuck’ I want.” I said to her the ONE thing I didn’t want to be around was alcohol in the home. I have told her numerous times that if she wants to drink, that’s fine, but NOT inside the home because I do NOT like how she gets when she drinks. I do not trust Erin period, let alone, when she drinks, and I have been lied to by her on numerous occasions, and alcohol only seems to perpetuate matters.
    She used the excuse that she is at her “dad’s” and can do whatever the “fuck” (quote) she wants. Completely walking ALL over me! …having NO disregard for my wishes/boundaries at ALL ,and caring for no one BUT herself. How DARE her pour a HUGE glass right in front of me! And to think that she still has more in the fridge… I am upstairs now. She is probably reveling in the fact that I am up here and she can finish what she had left. While I was down there, I told her to pour it out. Out of decency and respect I thought she would at least do that, but she didn’t… instead, she chugged it down. Of course there was still more because it was a pretty large glass.
    Anyway, I do not want to be around her. I raised my voice pretty loudly while downstairs, explaining to her that I was highly uncomfortable and could not believe that she would do this after I made it very clear that I did not want to be around it.
    I said to her that if her dad wants to drink, or anyone else, that’s fine, but I do NOT want to be around it with her because I do not like how she acts when she drinks. She has a serious problem with lying, cheating, temper/anger issues. Erin takes it way too far and has a serious problem with it.
    It seems like most of our relationship has been one-sided. Erin started being selfish in the very beginning when we first started dating. She would always want me to please her sexually and would not return the favor. She would literally turn her back on me after I finished pleasing her. She would also push for sex. She claimed to need it in order to feel desired. It was excessive though. I specifically remember a few times (this was seldom) when I was not in the mood, and Erin would lay on the guilt, causing me to feel like a mediocre partner. I can specifically remember feeling fear (“pressure” is the only way I can describe it) that if I did not comply and do as she wanted (she often demanded covertly blackmail?) then she would leave me and seek it elsewhere.
    One time Erin let her enthusiasm and ego get the best of her and she did not stop touching me when I told her to. I will not go into details, but she has some serious issues with boundaries. Anyway, she pushed me to be intimate with her and pushed for involvement and threatened that if I didn’t she would direct her attention elsewhere to other pursuits.
    Erin has had violent outbreaks off and on throughout our relationship… rages… she will kick and slam doors and yell. She almost always yells. One time she got pissed off that I wouldn’t take her to this thrift store called Recycled North. Erin and I had run many errands that day and had come home and had innocently forgotten about Recycled North, and she kept pushing me to take her. I told Erin that we had both innocently forgot and that I would take her tomorrow. She would not accept this response and began laying on the guilt.
    I told her that she was being manipulative (she was literally acting like a child and being abusive/controlling), and she exploded and packed all of her belongings and lined them up at the door. This all happened within an hour. She also managed to go online and rent a car at that time. I remember feeling completely devastated at this time and wondering how she could just leave someone she claimed to “love so much” over something that seemed so trivial. I set a boundary that she did not like, and she coerced and guilt-tripped me until I called her on it, and not liking what she had heard, she out frustration, impulsively packed her things up to leave for a 9 hour trip back home. I cannot explain the hurt that resulted from this incident and the lack of trust that followed. Trust was completely undermined by this incident.
    This was not the first time that Erin had undermined the trust in our relationship… 3 months prior to that, 3 months into our relationship, after frequent talk about “marriage,” Erin actually proposed to me only to ask me no more than a few days later, on Thanksgiving, if I would have a 3-some (group sex) with her and someone else! I was astonished. Absolutely appalled. I thought it was a joke. I literally could not believe what I was hearing or make sense of that “reality.” It was not a reality to me, and certainly not a “reality” that I had lived in before. I could not believe, after 3 months of being together, the woman who proposed to me would have the audacity to ask me if I wanted to have a 3-some. I was horrified. I said “Absolutely not.” I asked her why she would ask me such a thing, and she said “Because I have always wanted to and have never gotten the chance.” Again, this was 3 months prior to when she had packed up all of her stuff over me not taking her to the store. I experienced similar feelings of disgust and betrayal in my stomach that I did at the latter incident.
    Several events have transpired in between these two events, as well as before, and shockingly --and worsly, after. Erin has had a history of lying, cheating, stealing, and alcohol and drug use, and I guilt myself for not having left when I learnt of all of this. Unfortunately I did not learn of this until 3 months after we had been involved, and certainly not voluntarily. I mean, Erin did not volunteer the information. I discovered that she had a whole slew of problems in the midst of one of her many crises. I have somehow fallen in the middle of it. I seem to have gotten entangled. She has lied to me on numerous occasions, and I actually have detailed accounts of this as a result of trying to cope with the horror. I wrote as a constructive outlet for my anguish, loss, and grief.
    There were so many times when Erin would not tell me things. She would purposely withhold information, as well as affection, claiming that it was her “right,” yet it was uncharacteristically out of line, and if I had (which I wouldn’t) ever done anything of such nature I would be characterized as a “villain.” I say “villain” because that’s how her mind seems to work. She sees things in “black and white,” “all or nothing” and acts much like a child. Erin has serious mental disturbances, including paranoia and entitlement issues which can be expressed in frequent anger bursts to intolerant pushiness. She likes to see herself as the victim and often engages sympathy from people to elicit attention and affection. When she was little she used to feign being sick, often, to avoid having to go to school. She will also push you away if you get too close to her and pull you close if you seem the least bit distant. There is rarely a moment “in-between.”
    I may never understand why Erin has done so many reckless and cruel things, and I may never understand why I stuck around for the time in which I did except out of guilt and a natural tendency to shoulder responsibility and protect and provide for those I love. I do not want to endure this horrific situation again, and I hope that I, for the sake of my own sanity, can learn to grieve this loss and develop better trust and boundaries and learn to re-rely on my intuition so that I can guard against being manipulated and used again.

  • Anonymous-6

    You are not alone, to all of you who get no affection or quality time. My husband goes out drinking and don't even come home at all sometimes till the next day. It is really not fair that he does this to me or my two daughters. Especially his 7 year old, who is very close to him. She cries when it gets dark and late because daddy is not home, and she wants him. When he gets home the next day, he acts like nothing ever happened, and says nothing about it. Just calls me to see where i am at if im gone when he gets home. Does he have no conscience, (sorry about spelling) or what. We have been married for about 13 years almost and he also is very mean when he drinks, so id rather he be gone if he drinks anyway. I get no hugs, kisses, time from him really, unless he wants sex , which isn't too often anymore, plus i will be making him wear condoms from now on due to the fact he stayed over night with his cousin Mike, friday and sunday last weekend(so he claims), as i am not interested in catching anything just incase hes lying. It is hard to be with someone when you cannot trust the person. He also does not talk to me, very quiet unless he is talking about his motorcycle that i will not get on, due to him speeding. His driving record is filled with speeding tickets due to him never learning his lesson. He is a great dad and our 7 year old loves him very much, they have a great relationship. Sometimes i just think he is cheating, or out at strip clubs, drinking, getting drunk, and only with me for our 1 daughter that is ours together. I have no money to leave him financially. He has left me 7 times during our marriage and came back. Every time he left he went to live with his mom, she welcomes him back each time. Thats another story. They also bought him his motorcycle, paid it off in full basically. I'm not wanting to leave him and struggle with these kids. I do not like the single life.

  • Donna

    For the past 15 years my husband has not given me any affection. It was not always like this. Now we sleep in separate bedrooms. He ignores me and does not talk much at all. I use to call him at work but now i don't and he never checks on me. When he comes home he goes straight to the shower, eats and watches tv and thats all. I have ask him why he has no affection for me and he just says he is not interested. That hurts. His has a niece that has done mean things to me and he will never take up for me. I guess blood is thicker than water.

  • linda

    im married 12 years with no affection and i cry i really dont know what to do im 58 not young not sure what to do

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