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I was talking with a friend the other day about how deeply our childhoods affect our grown lives. There are some people who have made a radical turn in their adult years, but for the most part, our childhoods shape the person that we become.
I was thinking about this when I considered my own marriage. After almost three years into marriage, and five years of being together, it feels like some days my husband and I are hardly more than roommates. I put a lot of this blame on myself. I have a very hard time being affectionate, even though that is what I crave the most. For example, I would love to hold hands with my husband more often. But as silly as it sounds, I am still too shy to just grab his hand even when it is right next to mine.
I think a lot of it has to do with the way I grew up. In my family, we all knew that we were loved, but we didn’t express it very often. We hardly ever said “I love you,” or hugged each other. That stuff was all too touchy-feely, and felt more uncomfortable than if we had tried to express our love in other ways (such as quality time, gifts, etc.) So when my husband playfully mentions that I never tell him I love him, it makes me cringe a little inside. It’s not that I don’t love him, or don’t want to tell him that I do, I just don’t know how to say it. When I try to just say the words, it never feels like it comes out right.
So what can you do if you aren’t used to being affectionate in your own life? This is something I have struggled with, and I feel like I am just beginning to break the barrier. Here are the things I have done, and I hope they help you too:
1. Do the internal work.
Have you always written off your lack of affection as just another personality trait? It might be more than that.
There’s a new book that just came out called Safe to Feel: A 30 Day Devotional for Women Who Struggle With Affection. I highly encourage you to read it and work through some fears you may be having without even realizing it — things like fear of rejection, of being vulnerable, etc. This is something more women struggle with than we realize, and it helps to know we’re not alone.
2. Have a really honest conversation.
If your spouse does not know why you are struggling so much in this area, he might begin to feel like he is the problem. Clue him in to the fact that you are just not used to expressing your emotions very well, but that you are working on getting to a spot where you can. He might even use this opportunity to take the lead, and engage you in some spontaneous affection from time to time.
3. Start small.
If you try to force yourself to be extremely affectionate all of a sudden, it will just not work. The fact is that you can’t force yourself to do something you are uncomfortable with for very long–it will eventually lead to burn out and you will be right back where you started.
Instead, start with a few small actions to help get yourself used to acting a new way. Instead of sitting on your own sides of the bed or couch while you watch TV, scoot close and lay your head on his arm. This way you won’t be fully committed to cuddling if that’s just too much, but you still have that comfort of being connected with him physically.
4. Find someone else going through it.
There is something powerful about going through the same situation with another person. Tell a close friend about your feelings and fears. You never know if she might be struggling with the same thing, and can give you some advice or at least encouragement as you go through this journey together.
The bottom line is, the only way to change your behaviors and habits is to start taking action. It will probably feel pretty uncomfortable at first, but that’s OK. Your spouse loves you and is sure to love the extra attention they will be receiving. Give yourself permission to take it one step at a time, and even laugh at yourself a little. Soon enough, reaching for his hand or giving him a kiss goodnight will feel like the norm!