The Affection-Starved Marriage

Copyright Ari Bowman

Copyright Ari Bowman

Someone asked: “How do I teach my spouse to show me affection?”

There are many strategies I could list, but first I suggest considering three questions:

1. Why do you want more affection? I know, it’s obvious, right? Doesn’t everyone want affection? Yes, for the most part (except, of course, for  those people who live in the woods  and never talk to or touch other beings with beating hearts and who are perfectly content.)

Consider the question. Really get down to the specifics of why. Do you feel unloved? Are you having issues getting in the mood for sex? Do you miss the affection your partner once showed you, back when your partner was trying to woo you? Are you walking around with a strange, uncomfortable “things aren’t right” feeling that you don’t understand – but, somehow, you believe affection might erase? Some other reason? Once you know your reason, it’s easier to communicate the importance of affection to your spouse.

2. Are you showing yourself affection? This is an important question to consider, especially if you feel unloved. Do you feel unloved because of what your spouse does or doesn’t do? Or do you feel unloved because, deep down, you believe you are unlovable? Only you know whether you feel unlovable, but a possible sign: you crave affection like a drug. You just can’t get enough of it because getting affection is the only thing that allows you to feel good about who you are. If this is the case, your partner trying to fill your heart with affection is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

If you feel unlovable, consider why. If you can point to legitimate reasons – you are a serial killer, you defrauded thousands of people out of their life savings, you torture puppies, you recently jacked up the price of a life-saving medicine by more than five thousand percent – then stop doing what is making you feel so bad about yourself, apologize for your actions, and put things right. Time will not make you feel lovable again. Nor will affection that comes from someone else. But becoming a person you can admire? That generally works.

If you can’t point to legitimate reasons, then learn how to fill the deep, gaping hole in your heart. Maybe you’ve heard of self-compassion. Perhaps self-affection should be a thing, too. What self-affection actually looks like will vary from person to person. For me, it’s giving myself permission to rest. Rather than feeling guilty for taking a nap or sleeping in, I  tuck my inner child into bed. The child is me. I’m tucking myself in. Yes, it’s a little odd to think of yourself in two parts like this, but it works. Try it. Mother yourself. Maybe you mother yourself by taking a moment to jump up and down, clap and carry on when you do something right. Or maybe you serve yourself your favorite dessert and you eat it without guilt. Perhaps you wrap yourself in a cozy full-body sweater as you take five minutes to listen to the rain and tell yourself that things will get better. Or maybe you excitedly set your alarm early so you can get up to watch a sunrise.

Or maybe you remind yourself of all the reasons you are lovable. And you are lovable.

3. What is affection? This might seem like common sense, but trust me, it’s not. Everyone has their own definition of affection. What is yours? What does affection mean to you?

Once you know the answers to those questions, then you can figure out what to do about it all. That’s when you ask for the affection you want, explaining why affection is so important to you and what affection looks like to you. Make sure to point out the upside for your spouse. You’ll be happier, less stressed, more in the mood for mattress time, more energized – whatever is true. That’s also when you create a cheatsheet of affectionate acts (pat my bottom when you walk by, call in the middle of the day to hear my voice, spoon with me on the couch…) for your spouse to consult when they’re stumped. Remember: Your spouse cannot read your mind. If you don’t give your spouse an affection map, your spouse will get lost in the forest of apathy.  

Nudge you partner from time to time with comments like, “You know what would make me feel loved right now? A hug” or “If you gave me a massage, I think it would help me get in the mood.”

I know, I know – it doesn’t feel like affection if it’s not spontaneous. Get over it. Change your definition of what qualifies as true affection. If you ask your spouse for help and your spouse responds by helping you, your spouse is showing you the highest form of affection of all. You ask and your spouse responds? You are loved, baby. Soak. It. Up.

Compliment your spouse whenever your spouse shows you the affection your desire. And give back. Find out what kind of affection your spouse desires. You might want cuddles, but your spouse might define affection as being left alone in the garage or having the permission to sleep in. Give your spouse the affection your spouse desires – not the affection that you wish your spouse desired and not the affection that you desire for yourself.

And have fun.

Some Random Things

A reader got in touch because she’d noticed a nasty comment on an old post. It was directed at me, telling me that I was a bad person and that I should take a permanent vacation from this blog. Considering I wrote my last post more than six months ago, the reader justifiably worried that I’d taken the comment to heart. She wanted to know what she could do, and she offered to police the comments area. It seemed like a very kind gesture, and I want to put it out there for all of you. This isn’t about my personal feelings. I’m pretty tough these days. But it’s my hope that the comments area on this site remains a positive place where people can truly help one another. When trolls invade the comments, the site stops being positive and people don’t feel free to share. So do point such comments out to me. I will delete them. There’s no room on this site for hate.

Second, the nasty comment wasn’t why I hadn’t updated the blog in so long. The true reason: my paying work got super busy + I was exhausted due to a drug interaction + I was out of inspiration + I had some seriously time-consuming life issues that left me with no free time to do things like write new posts. You all can’t give me time or energy or stop my brain from developing migraine headaches, but you can offer inspiration.

Finally, I co-authored a new book. If you struggle with eating, this is the book for you. This is an affiliate link. If you click on it, I make a nickel or a dime or some small amount of change, and I appreciate every penny.

15 comments… add one

  • Aleta February 6, 2016, 7:22 am

    Missed your posts recently and was pleasantly surprised to see an email in my inbox!

    • Va February 7, 2016, 10:40 pm

      What your saying is so very true. It’s making me take a second look at my insecurities. Thank you.

  • Spencer Santana February 7, 2016, 11:36 am

    That would be a very very sad marriage. Good thing me and my wife have the exact opposite.
    Spencer Santana´s last blog post ..The Ultimate Guide To Owning a Samoyed Bonus

  • Lucy February 8, 2016, 9:21 pm

    alyssa. I was so happy to see your post. It was just what I needed to read tonight. So glad your life gave you time to share with us.

    • Alisa February 9, 2016, 9:09 am

      Thanks Lucy– Happy some people stuck around to read and comment. Thanks for being there!

  • Gay Edelman February 9, 2016, 6:42 am

    Some very valuable insights, Alisa, to which I’ve added, for myself: Share the wealth. I have an abundance of needs for attention. There are some, yes, that can and should only be satisfied by my spouse. But when it comes to being listened to, for example, which for me is a form of affection, I have a wonderful tribe of girlfriends I can call or meet for coffee and a gab.
    Gay Edelman´s last blog post ..8 Ways to Help Your Favorite Food Addict

  • Ron M. February 12, 2016, 8:59 pm

    Hi Alisa…I’m so glad you are OK. I have missed your blog. Good luck on your new projects. I hope your drug interaction is under control. I am a nurse and know how dangerous some of those are.

    As far as affection is concerned, I think everyone could use a little more. In this electronic age, no matter who texts what, I think we are losing a little of our ability to empathize. That includes in our own homes. Marriage needs to be a sanctuary. To some extent we are all a little insecure. No matter what decision we make, someone will be there to tell you why it was wrong. We can’t plan your spouses reactions, so we can only move unilaterally. I believe, if we communicate well and often, and are continually supportive of our spouse, there is a good chance it will be reciprocated.

  • Jenny February 14, 2016, 11:08 am

    Hi I just randomly found you and started reading. My marriage of 33 years all of a sudden is in trouble. Yes, I realize it didn’t happen overnight I didn’t catch the signs and signals. With that in mind I have been trying to figure out if this man still loves or even cares for me anymore. Thank you for a few sentences that you wrote ” if you ask your partner to help you with something or to do something for you, do they? If the answer is yes then you are loved baby.” Thank you! I will continue to follow your readings

  • Marcus February 15, 2016, 8:35 am

    What to do when she doesnt love me anymore? I read in her diary that she fantasizing about someone else and she is only using me for my money. In the future she might divorce me and i dont want that to happen. Please help me.

  • Heather February 25, 2016, 12:41 am

    Thank you for this post. The idea of self-affection hasn’t really occurred to me. I am a licensed massage therapist, so I’m literally touching people to heal them daily, but it IS VERY much a one way exchange: I touch THEM, they never touch ME, so I tend to be left feeling a bit touch starved. I’m dating a man who generally only touches me when he wants sex. I tried to express my need to be touched a couple of times (the latest being yesterday, and I admit that I did not express myself in the most constructive way), but his response had been “well, I CAN be that way (meaning touchy feely), but generally I’m not.” I’m trying to come to terms with this reality, and your mention of trying to feel loveable by seeking out affection really hit home. I’ve always felt inherently unlovable. I’m working hard to become someone I could admire, and the idea of mothering myself and giving myself affection is a great one, as is redefining what affection is and seeing out different forms of it from friends and family.

  • Claudia February 29, 2016, 5:21 pm

    Monotony and routine are relationship killers and yet it is so easy for couples to get into that complacent “comfortable” role with one another. I think that this routine easily leads into feeling alone and “affection starved.” It is so easy to get stuck in a routine in the bedroom and I always find that steamy reads inspire me to try something new. I just finished a really good book called “Boredom or Love Till the Very End” by author Andrey Rider ( This book is rated NC-17!! Provocative, uninhibited, super sexual and a lot of fun. The reason I enjoyed it so much because not only is it a really addictive fiction novel it is also considered a self help book. Feel like your relationship needs some passion? Then this is a must read! Can’t recommend it enough! I think having FUN is a huge part of a healthy marriage/relationship – thanks again!

  • Mike March 17, 2016, 4:22 pm

    If you want to guarantee an affair stop love honoring and cherishing your partner – who cares about the infidelity if you don’t do the first 3. A marriage without affection is called roommates and roommates see other people

  • Thais Ortins April 4, 2016, 2:07 pm

    me too identified with the text, simply incredible this article


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