When you’re in the early stages of your relationship, there’s a great deal of intimacy, plenty of romantic gestures, and physical affection comes easy. You can’t even fathom a time when all these wonderful things might not be a part of your story.
And for some married couples, that honeymoon phase can last years. But even healthy relationships eventually hit a steady plateau, usually when life gets busy with careers or raising a family. This doesn’t mean that our romance should take a backseat when life is in full swing, though. Quite the opposite.
It just means we need to be more purposeful in our marriage and with our spouse.
You might be thinking, but I’m not the problem, my husband is not affectionate, he’s the one who needs to meet my emotional needs. And you would be partly right.
But marriage is a partnership, which means when one person is struggling, the other half might need to step in and help. Today, I’m addressing what we, as wives, can do to encourage more romance in our marriages, even if our husbands never initiate affection.
So if you give me the benefit of the doubt and read this post to the end, I think you’ll see how we can have the marriage we crave if we are willing to put in the work. Marriage takes work and sometimes the problems we see can’t always be fixed by the person “at fault”.
But if we decide that our marriages (and men) are worth the effort, then I promise you, the results will be so worth it!
1. Accept that we can’t change our husbands
No, don’t throw in the towel and give up. That’s not what I mean by this. Sometimes we wives think our partner needs changing and that we’re best suited for the task. I was stuck in that mental rut early in our marriage and it left us both super frustrated and things were less than cozy between us.
Then one day he told me something I’ll never forget, “he didn’t marry me to be his mom, he married me to be his wife”. And it finally hit me as to why we were struggling in our romantic relationship: what man in his right mind wants to be intimate with a woman who acts more like his mother than his sweetheart?
This was an epiphany for me. I was treating my husband as one of the kids instead of respecting him for the man that he is. The man I fell in love with. When I finally accepted Steve McGraw for Steve McGraw, not Kim’s version of what I thought Steve should be, I started to appreciate our differences and things between us grew sweeter.
The truth of the matter is, we don’t want someone just like us who does everything the way we want things done. It might sound nice in our heads, but deep down, we know we want someone who can think for themselves and offer a differing perspective in life. It’s what drew us to our husbands in the first place.
And our men don’t want women who “mother” all the time. If he wanted that, he could have just moved back home. He wants a partner with who he can have an intimate conversation, make love to; a romantic partner who wants to be with him for him, not who he “could be”.
2. Have an open heart
My husband was my best friend before he ever became my boyfriend. Talking has always been easy between us. It’s probably the strongest part of our relationship. But we are both incredibly stubborn and when we were newly married and immature, we didn’t have a healthy way for us to deal with problems.
I have an aversion to being wrong. It makes me bristle, even if the truth is staring me in the face. And being adept with language, I can usually turn anything around and make it my husband’s fault in some way or another. But as you can imagine, this eventually shut my husband down.
Finally, when I felt there was too much distance between us and nothing I did or said made any real difference, I decided to have a talk with my best friend. But this time, I would let him do the talking. And I purposed in my heart that no matter what he said to me, I’d leave my heart wide open and examine it against his words.
This was the turning point in our relationship.
How I started the conversation about affection in our marriage:
Swallowing my pride, I sat my husband down and asked him what I could work on in myself that would encourage him to be more affectionate towards me. I told him I wanted him to be very honest with me, that I wanted to work hard to be the woman he could cherish every day.
Being the gentleman he is, my husband kept dodging the matter by saying there was nothing to change and he does cherish me. But I just rephrased my question a few times, telling him I really want to work on my part as a wife, to be more loving and I needed his help to know where to start.
When he finally felt sure this wasn’t a trap, he gave a small suggestion. I took a deep breath, brushed away the defensiveness building inside me, and asked genuine questions to help me fully understand his suggestion and how I could work on it.
When he could see my earnestness and knew he wouldn’t get attacked for his opinion, he really started opening up. It wasn’t a dump fest where he aired all my problems. But he was honest and I learned things I had no clue were ever an issue between us. Things I never would have worked on had he not mentioned them but would have kept adding to our marriage problems.
When he was done, I had tears streaming down my face. I never realized just how much I’d contributed to pushing my husband away. But hearing my husband talk about the small things that shut him down, made so much sense and I purposed in my heart–as well as promised my husband–that I would work on them.
You know what that did? It started bridging the gap between us and immediately made us closer, making it easier to have that physical closeness that we both wanted just couldn’t reach at the time.
I continue to work on those things, all these years later because I don’t want to ever again lose that physical touch or that emotional intimacy that keeps our love strong.
3. Recognize stressors that might discourage affection
When I asked my husband some of the things I could work on, he mentioned stress is a big factor for him. And although I was not contributing to his stress, he knew it was something practical I could do to help. He listed some things that would add to an already stressful day and I went to work reducing those areas in our home.
Now when he comes home, it’s easier for him to relax which makes it better for him to connect. (There will be different stressors for each home/marriage, that’s why talking it out helps pinpoint trouble areas to work on.)
Universal things that help husbands decompress:
>>Allow him to settle in a bit before bringing up things that need addressing.
There are going to be things you need to talk over when you meet back up at the end of the day, but just after he walks through the door is not the time to do this. I even hold off kissing my husband until after he’s had time to put his things down and change out of his uniform.
By then, he’s shed his “weights” and is much more open for affection.
Food is also an excellent motivator. Having something to eat while you talk can just about smooth over any situation. I’m not talking about a romantic dinner, I’m talking about just food. Just talking over dinner. Of course, making his favorite meal would be a bonus…
Letting him talk about his day is a great way to relieve that stress from a long workday. Not all men will want to do this, but if they are willing, listening to whatever he needs to say is a great way to bond with your man, especially if you are showing interest in what he enjoys or does at work.
The more you do this, the more your partner will open up. And once he does, it’s so much easier for him to be that affectionate person you’ve been wanting him to be.
>>Keep the house relatively clean.
I used to be a packrat until after my fourth move. That was when I started adopting a minimalist mindset and got rid of everything we didn’t use. When we removed half of our belongings from our home, I was amazed at how much stress went with it.
My husband deals with some of the worst homes out there, I’m talking homes that belong on Extreme Hoarders. I can’t tell you how many times he has thanked me for keeping our home clutter-free, an oasis to come to at the end of a busy day.
I do not have a perfect home and it isn’t spotless, but I have worked hard at keeping our main living areas easy to clean so that it takes minimal effort to look nice. And this effort has benefitted our entire family’s well-being.
>>Work at keeping a peaceful home.
This is not the easiest to work on, especially for someone who gets overwhelmed easily. But small tweaks like less technology before dinner, a clean house and dinner prepped early made me less stressed, our kids happier and my man eager to come home.
>>Don’t press for things to get done around the house.
The best thing for our marriage was when my husband invested in a dry-erase board. It was a small thing that ended up having a big impact on our long-term relationship.
Instead of him resenting me every time I reminded him of things that needed doing, he would write them down on his board where he could see it several times a day. It was no longer connected to me and I felt sure he wouldn’t just forget about it.
>>Help take things off his plate.
If I see my husband getting overwhelmed, I try to tackle some of his to-do list. This has been such a help to his stress levels that I truly enjoy looking for ways to make things easier for him, even though I’m incredibly busy, too.
On a plus side, he has done the same for me more times than I can count and those little things really do go a long way towards endearing each other to one another.
>>Engage in physical intimacy
I know how hard it is to think about sex when your own love bank is bone dry. But we’re doing our part to make our relationship work, right? Well, men feel connected to us through sex. It’s his love language, plain and simple. And if we want to tear down those barriers between us, the fastest way to emotional intimacy between a man and his woman is through sex.
But it needs to be more than just the act. He needs to feel wanted, desired, that his touch means something. When a man feels loved and accepted, especially when he’s at his most vulnerable, there are no limits to how he’ll respond in turn. When we make this a priority, coupled with a few of the above-mentioned tips, the transformation is truly remarkable.
(I know this can be hard to do, especially when feeling unloved, so read How to be More Affectionate to Your Husband for some tips that really help!)
4. Remind by example.
Sometimes, men get so wrapped up in what they’re working on they don’t always think about who’s around them. (To be fair, us women can often do the same.) A gentle reminder may be all they need.
I don’t mean to say, “I can’t remember the last time you reached for my hand!” or “Why do you never kiss me for longer than half a second?”.
I’m talking about just sitting next to him on the couch and reaching for his hand. Kissing him just because. Rubbing his back or massaging his feet.
I know that our first response to lack of affection is to shut our men out. But that just doesn’t work. However, when we focus on loving our husbands the way we really want them to love us, over time, he can’t help but reciprocate.
Most men aren’t going to admit this, but stress and distractions are the two things they struggle against the most. Being patient with them and working to understand the things keeping them from being affectionate will go a long way towards having that closeness we desire with them.
And when they do initiate affection, notice it, even if it’s only a simple gesture like a hug, etc. Brag on their touch and the feeling that it gives. Reciprocate with a smile and more closeness. Be their sweetheart again. It worked once, it might take more effort this time around, but it’ll work again.
5. Win their affection
When I met my husband in college, I had just broken off a two-year relationship and was not in the mood to talk to anyone. But it was summertime and since few students remained on campus, we kept bumping into each other and eventually became friends. Fast friends. We were inseparable.
But it took several months for me to agree to date him because I knew once we did, that was it. We were in it for the long haul and I was scared of commitment. But he knew what he wanted in life and he was convinced I was the one he wanted by his side.
Whenever I ask him what were the things that first drew him to me, his answer is always the same: he loved my spirit, my smarts and my love for others.
So when we started feeling distant, I analyzed those things he loved so much about me and asked myself if I was still that girl he first fell in love with, or was I someone completely different? Honesty had me admitting I lost sight of that person years ago.
Regardless of the reasons, I wanted her back. Not just for my husband’s benefit, but for mine, too. Because I really liked that girl. And I missed her. Now I work on maintaining that best version of me. She’s older now, more mature and altered in some ways, but she’s still there and that makes me happy.
And my husband can’t resist that girl. And that’s how I want it to be. Even when we’re 90.
This post is about encouraging affection because the truth of the matter is, there is no magic switch. Men are easy to understand and easy to love, but too often, we get caught up in the Hollywood/Hallmark version of men that we lose sight of who we have right in front of us.
My grandmother married seven times. Seven. By the time she got to her last husband, I think she finally realized that there is no such thing as a perfect spouse and eventually started working on the marriage she had.
And if we’re truly ready to do whatever it takes to have the kind of marriage we had in those early years, it starts with us. Maybe that’s not fair. But if this is important to us, it doesn’t matter how fair it is or who should be making the first steps. Just know that when our men see us making a genuine effort to do our part in making our relationship better, they’ll want in on it, too.
About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.