Encouraging affection & expecting less affection

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    I have been with my boyfriend for 5 months. We have been friends for years and are happy to adapt our lives to create a life together. It’s really lovely.

    There is one thing which I find challenging.

    I’m used to having more affection than I recieve in our relationship. I’m a very affectionate person and have been in very affectionate and strong relationships in the past. I recognise when my boyfriend shows me he loves me, he can be very sweet,  but I often feel he does this from some kind of distant place. He has picked up on my desire for the expression of more emotional togetherness but I think it makes him feel inadequet as he tells me he cannot provide the level of intamacy which I crave/he thinks I deserve. I don’t want him to feel this way.

    I saw a couple on an escalator recently and I saw the happy depth at which the man looked at the woman, smiling. He petted her neck and hair firmly with his hand. I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t realised before, but I want this still. I’ve not out grown an appreciation for this type of affection.

    I ended my last relationship because we wanted different things for our future. The loss of closeness I felt with this individual is often a theme of dreams or a sad go-to-thought when I’m down. My lovely boyfriend knew me when I was in this relationship. He knows how affectionate my last spouse was with me.

    How am I to get over this loss? How am I to develope new ways of understanding love? How am I to stop hoping for and expecting reassuring signs of strong affection? How am I to encourage my boyfriend to become more reassuring? How am I to let go of insecurities surrounding this?

    To me, being affectionate in this way says: I’m here for you because I adore you, I believe in you, I believe in us, we have a strong relationship, I’m here and I’m not leaving, I want you in my life, everything will be okay if we continue to express love and care, I dont take you for granted.



    Dear Berta:

    The couple on the escalator: you saw them only for a moment or so. You didn’t see them before or after. Maybe there was an abusive fight before, or after. Maybe there is little love.

    It is similar to see a photo of a person smiling, looking happy- some people think that happiness is always there because the person always similes… in the photo, an eternal kind of smile. In reality, that person may be crying. The smile, that happiness was there for a split second, caught by camera.

    If I was in your boyfriend’s place, I would feel uncomfortable with being expected to behave in a way that doesn’t come naturally to me. Sometimes I could do it, intentionally, and that would be okay, but to be expected to do it daily, that would be very difficult. I would start resenting that expectation and my efforts to please this way.

    There are different expressions of affection and love. If you stop looking where you are looking, that is, on physical expressions such as you saw on the escalator, and start looking elsewhere, or if you already did, look further elsewhere and let it in, you will see his love and maybe it will calm you.

    It reads to me that you need those expressions from a man so to calm your anxiety, correct?





    Do you know about the Five Languages of Love?  Check it out.  It tells that we all have a strong preference in how we show love and how we like to receive love.

    I grew up in a family who showed their love through Acts of Service. They were not physically affectionate or used words like “I love you” but I knew I was loved.  My main receiving Love Language is touch so I love it when someone is physically affectionate with me.

    It’s a learning process between people who have different primary giving/receiving Love Languages.

    If there is a willingness to learn and practice each other’s Love Language then you guys will be OK.



    Dear Anita,

    Thank you kindly for your reply.

    I try not to expect this type of affection from my boyfriend. I feel so disappointed in myself if I ever make him feel like he’s letting me down, because i realise that I am letting him and myself down by being ‘in need’.

    The couple on the escalator, the man, reminded me if how my dad was with me as a child. I have guilt and abandonment feelings assosicated with my dad (as well as a lot of adult, positive feelings) which slip into my list of emotional baggage during a ‘low/apathetic’ time.

    I feel secure without touch when I’m single, but insecure without touch in a relationship if I feel like I need support. My boyfriend loves me well and uniquely. I don’t want his way to stop or change or to pressure him to ‘perform’. When he knows I want support, he’ll do creative and interesting things for me to try and cheer me up. Although I find them  beautiful I also think they are indirect.

    I am always doing self work. I understand that I am responsible for shaping my perspectives on these things.




    Dear Mark,

    Its kind of you to take the time to advise me.

    Looking into the five languages of love seems like a great idea. I’m sure my boyfriend will be as willing to try as I am (even if he doesn’t read to book).

    I recently read a book by Scott Peck who spends a lot of time writing about how we must love in a way which encourages our own spiritual growth and others whom we love. There is no way to read this book without realising that accepting full responsibility for how and what one thinks and how one behaves is the only way to grow.

    Getting tired or drained is killer. It’s at this time that putting mind over matter is so challenging and my touch-needy child works herself up.

    thanks again for the recommendation




    Hi Bertha,

    Here’s a little vignette, and some advice I learned for myself that I saw on YouTube. Maybe they’re helpful, maybe not.

    Many years ago, I was dating someone who was not very physically affectionate. I was craving more touch, hand holding, caresses, that kind of thing (Yes, even some guys like this). Anyway, we were traveling in the car one time, and she rested her hand on my leg. I said something like “I wish we had more physical affection in our relationship.” She withdrew her hand like a mousetrap had just gone off on it.

    That’s the story. Here’s what I saw on YouTube from a psychotherapist. The idea was to “catch” your partner doing a behavior that you want, and then to reward them for it, exclaim that you like it (but probably don’t go over the top or else it could backfire). With lots of time, and very gentle positive feedback, supposedly your partner will do the behavior more frequently. Maybe not in the exact way you’d like, but it might be enough. Another part of this counsel is that the worst thing one can do is to punish one’s partner when they do the behavior that you want. That is EXACTLY what I did when I’d said to this woman when she’d just been more affectionate, “I wish we had more physical affection, etc.” I should have said, “I like that” and maybe just given her a gentle hand squeeze. Simple, but reinforcing, and not threatening or demanding of her.

    Just my thoughts!

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 1 month ago by Craig.

    Thank you Craig,

    I appreciate you sharing your story,

    I think that you’re right about punishing and encouraging. As for your specific situation from your example, who knows what would have worked best.

    I will bear the encouragement advice in mind, absolutely. I hate making my boyfriend feel as if he’s not enough for me or he’s not given me what I need.

    thanks again




    Dear Berta:

    You are welcome.

    You wrote that the man on the escalator reminded you of how your father was with you as a child. And yet, you wrote that you have “abandonment feelings associated with (your) dad”-

    In your original post you wrote: “I recognize when my boyfriend shows me he loves me… but I often feel he does this from some kind of distant place”

    I am thinking that the reason you feel your boyfriend loves you “from some kind of distant place” may be that mix of affection and abandonment you experienced with your father. It may be that you want more of the Affection part of the mix and less of the Abandonment part of the mix with your boyfriend. Anxiety about abandonment fuels the craving for shows of affection.

    What do you think?





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