Let Your Spouse Find Someone Who Will Be Affectionate If You Can’t

If someone denies their partner any affection, they usually have one of three reasons for doing so:
They are “tapped out” (although still work, go to the gym, go to kids’ activities, have a social life, etc); this one is really just “I don’t want to go outside my comfort zone”)

They are literally tapped out, for example, addiction, clinical depression, or severe anxiety, trying multiple treatments to no avail, unable to work, pretty much unable to parent or function without a lot of instrumental support
They are too resentful and remain so despite trying couples counseling, endless fights about whatever the issues are, etc.
In the second case, this person needs a lot of therapy and medication. They are really in a bad spot and most spouses will want to be ethical and supportive, and stay by their side. Of course, if someone is in a yearslong battle with addiction, depression, or whatever else, and cannot focus on having any sort of intimate relationship at all for this entire time, then that will change the calculus for many spouses.

But in the first or third case, this is someone who has the capacity to be close and affectionate, and likely is with kids and even friends, but they cannot bring themselves to be affectionate or loving to their spouse. Often, they will not only find it hard to give physical affection, but also any loving words. They have basically cut themselves off from their spouse but they feel their “reason” is good enough to make their spouse stay with them anyway.

There is really not much difference between the first and third cases. People who are more conflict averse will situate the problem within themselves and say how busy and tired they are. People who are comfortable with and even drawn to conflict will situate the blame in something the partner did. If you are in one of these dynamics, you can try couples counseling, although it is often the case nowadays that people have tried multiple go rounds of couples counseling and gotten nowhere on the affection front (except possibly when the “tapped out”/resentful partner is drunk on vacation). But you can and should also consider why you are preventing your spouse from being free to find someone else who would love them more in the way they need.

When people refuse to act loving, including physically loving, but still want to remain together indefinitely with no plan of attack for how this affectionless state will be remediated, it is likely that they are remaining with their spouse primarily out of anxiety. Anxiety and panic make people very selfish. When you are scared, you look out for #1, with the possible exception of also looking out for your kids as well. If the idea of divorce terrifies you, for yourself and/or for your kids, then it may be the case that you are locking yourself and your partner into a no win situation that will unfortunately also train your children that a loveless marriage is normal.

Another reason that people will not readily admit for why they stay with a partner that they cannot bring themselves to give affection to is that they want to punish their spouse. Whatever their empathic rupture is, infidelity or anything else, they feel they would be letting their partner off the hook if they just let them go and potentially be happy alone or with someone else. The problem with this punishment is it doesn’t work. The punishing partner is punished just as badly as is the purported victim, by feeling angry and resentful all of the time, which impacts their emotional and physical health. And of course the ultimate victims in this tense, angry scenario are the very children whom the couple is supposedly staying together in order to protect.

If you are the partner who stays in a zero-affection situation, you need to think about why. It is likely you had a parent that was unable to show you love in a normative way, with consistency, loving words, cuddles, and so forth. You either had a parent who blew hot and cold unpredictably (which leads to preoccupied attachment) or who was fairly detached all the time (which leads to avoidant attachment). You can read more about attachment here. Your self-esteem issues from your childhood prevent you from advocating for what you need in a relationship and setting healthy boundaries with your partner. Instead, you allow them to deny your basic human need for love and listen to their excuses about why you are impossible to love, no matter how they word it or who they blame.”

Share your love