I grew up as part of a large, happy, healthy family and for some reason grew up very needy. My husband is not the gushy type and when he attempted to compliment me the first few times I brushed off the compliments. Since our first year of marriage, I can count the amount of compliments I have received on one hand. After a while, I got used to the fact that this is my husband. I am married for 16 years.
Over the last three years, things have not remained the same between us. My husband does his thing and I do mine. We live in the same house but I feel like we are barely married. I have tried therapy on my own but he refuses to join me. What should I do?
-Housemate for a Husband
Dear Housemate for a Husband,
I am sorry to hear that you are living this way. Often times it is lonelier to be in a disconnected relationship than to actually be alone.
Thankfully, a marriage is a greater system, and you have influence over 50% of it. That means that you can affect change even without him on board.
One of the first rules would be to go at a very slow pace. Just like it didn’t take one week to grow this distant, it will not take one week to reconnect. Be patient and don’t expect immediate results.
Every day, find one small way to connect to him. Make him lunch, or invite him to sit outside with you and have some tea. If it feels like too much pressure to find something to say, start by texting, or sending him a link that he would appreciate.
Additionally, you should make sure to stay away from all of the things that he doesn’t like. If you know he hates making late Shabbos, do your best to be ready early. If he doesn’t like talking about a particular thing, try not to bring it up. You can even tell him that you are making an effort to give to him in this way.
Showing him that you know what he likes and respecting what he doesn’t like will create emotional safety for him to come closer.
But that may not be enough. You can tell him how you wish that your marriage were more connected, but understand that he isn’t into therapy. A nice way to have your cake and eat it too may be through books by Dr. Sue Johnson, a world renowned therapist who wrote for couples who don’t go to therapy.
Now, for the needy part that you mentioned. Neediness gets a bad rap. So let’s first take a step back and see what we know to be basic human needs. The obvious ones are food, water and shelter. But there is another that often gets overlooked and was once a live-or-die factor for some babies in a NICU decades ago. And that factor is human connection. We all need love the same way that we need water. If I did not eat lunch, I will feel hungrier and hungrier as the hours go by until I am ready to take a bite out of my laptop. And there is no shame in saying “I am starving!”
It is the same with love. If we missed out on key parts of love at any stage in our life, we will only get hungrier for it. The key parts are knowing that someone is there for you when you are hurting physically or emotionally, knowing that someone will protect you if something is harming you and knowing that this person cares to do this not out of obligation, but simply because you are important and valuable to them.
When we miss a piece of this in our development, or if we have these pieces from our parents or spouse, but also get a message that contradicts it, we will end up hungry, or in other words, needy. But few people advertise the fact that they are needy. And I get why it is viewed negatively. There is a lot that goes into satisfying an emotionally needy person. It can feel endless, and it can feel like there is no room for my needs if I am trying to meet the limitless needs of the other.
But then many of us are walking around, having needs of connection and love, but feel like if we express it, we will be too needy. So instead, we just stifle it and have many needs which go unmet. I remember one of the first marriage workshops that I gave with my husband was to a diverse group of lovely couples on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The crowd was very much relating and enjoying our shtick until one of our skits portrayed a wife who said to her husband, tearily and softly, “I had such a hard day today. Can you just sit with me before you go back to your computer?”
Suddenly the cozy vibe from the audience jolted to utter disdain! We picked up on it and stopped our script to see what was going on for them. “She is too needy!” were the echoing protests.
We tried to distinguish between “needy” and “in need,” but there was a lot of resistance. This scared us. A lot. How can we have connected, strong relationships if the very basis of interdependency is gross and outrageous?
So, I wonder what it would be like for you to notice when your husband begins to connect more with you, and for you to softly and directly tell your husband that it would be very powerful and meaningful for you to hear a compliment from him? Scary stuff, I know. But very necessary for him to be clued in to what your needs are.