My wife says she loves me, but I don’t feel loved.

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Even though a married couple think they know and understand everything about each other, this is typically untrue. Most people do not know and understand everything about themselves, so how would they be so much more insightful about their spouse? The reality is that we do not even consciously consider so many things about ourselves and others; instead, we make assumptions.

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Another similar complaint is, “My husband does not tell me that he loves me, even though he insists that he does.” So, what it the deal? Why is it that so many people do not feel loved? There is, of course, a very simple answer available: because some people say and do hurtful things that undermine whatever loving words and deeds the share. However, this is not what we are discussing here. Even spouses who are not unusually generous in their criticism or insults are liable to experience the frustration of feeling that “whatever I do is not enough!” or “I know he thinks he is doing all he can, but he does not understand.”

All the Assumptions We Make About Ourselves and Others

Many people will have heard of the Five Love Languages, a very popular book that explains that people have different ways of giving and receiving love. The broad thesis of the book is correct, and key points will be summarized below, but it goes beyond that. Even though a married couple think they know and understand everything about each other, this is typically untrue. Most people do not know and understand everything about themselves, so how would they be so much more insightful about their spouse?

The reality is that we do not even consciously consider so many things about ourselves and others; instead, we make assumptions. Mostly, these assumptions are never articulated, so no one can dispute them. Thus, we continue thinking they are correct. It would never occur to us that we could be so way off the mark. All too often, we are not even aware that we are thinking, feeling, and acting in accordance with basic instincts that we take as given.

If we were to examine the most recent thing we did on any given day, we will see how even the simplest thing is based on expectations about ourselves and others. For example, you may have returned the milk to the refrigerator after using some for your morning coffee. That was based on the assumption that your spouse would rather that the milk was put back so that it does not sour. It is an eminently reasonable assumption.

However, it is possible that she would prefer that it was left out so she would have easier access to the milk when she comes to make her own coffee. The same would be in the reverse. Perhaps you are the one couple on the planet who have actually discussed and agreed on the house policy for milk refrigeration! Most couples can go through fifty years of marriage acting purely on their assumption. This is just one random example. This happens dozens of times a day.

If You Do, Does That Mean He or She Does?

Most of the time, these assumptions make no significant difference. Most people could not care much whether the milk is on the counter or not – wherever it is, it is. But there are some things that do make a difference – those matters that shape how a person feels. Despite the importance such words and actions, we are no more conscious of our choices, and we operate on the same kinds of instincts.

To give an illustration that has given many a spouse (mostly husbands) a sore ear: forgetting to buy an anniversary card, or giving it late. She thinks he does not care about the anniversary (and, if escalated, the marriage too), while he has no interest in receiving cards and cannot fathom that a colored piece of paper could mean that much. A large portion of the greeting card sector is relying on the woman being right on this one.

This phenomenon extends itself to so many aspects. If he buys kitchen appliances as birthday gift, she may feel that is not a real present, as it is a utensil used to make him food. She may feel that he is essentially buying himself a gift, while from his perspective it is a thoughtful gift will make her life a great deal easier.

She surprises him with flights to Miami, thinking that this would be an awesome treat, but he is irritated because she did not consult him about timing, and he now has a major scheduling headache with work. People who like surprises think that other people like surprises. People who prefer not to be surprises, unsurprisingly are not into surprising others.

We are making endless assumptions like these all the time. We take it as a given that what we have no interest in will likewise be of no interest to those we love. Many people dislike receiving compliments; for whatever reason, it makes them feel uncomfortable. Such people are prone to withhold compliments from others, which can land them in serious trouble.

Some people feel that pushing food onto people is a way of caring, while others find it intrusive and suffocating. None of this is about right or wrong, but about preferences. If one spouse is doing all the wrong things in all the wrong ways, it will not leave the other spouse feeling loved, however sincere they are about it.

The problem is that when things are not going well, we are often inclined to just try harder doing the exact thing that did not work until now! Imagine you are a tourist in a country whose language you do not speak. What you we do? You shout louder! Does it work? Of course not! Why then do we do it? Because something in our brain tells us that if this is our language everyone else must understand it as well. When it becomes clear that the other person is not getting our message, what do we do? We just keep at it, and work a bit harder at failure! This is pretty much what happens in many relationships.

Back to five love languages

According to Gary Chapman’s well-known formula, these are the five ways in which people express love – and how they feel loved. If you receive love in a particular manner, you are prone to assume that your special other is going to be the same, even though that is often not the case.

Quality time

For some people the most important thing is not what you give or do, but being fully present and giving them undivided attention. This is not about gazing lovingly into their eyes, but about meaningful conversation and engaging activities. For them to feel loved, you need to turn off all electronic devices and focus entirely on them. You need to listen intently and without continual interruptions, and show that you are listening. Communication for such a person is about building a connection and feeling supported, not providing information or asking for a solution.

Words of affirmation

For many people the key way they experience love is through the kind and supportive words said to them. For those people, the depth of sincerity with which you say those pleasant words is much less important that the fact that you said them. When you compliment your spouse on their appearance, their outfit, their timely arrival, the taste of the food, etc., they take that not just approval for the thing you specified, but as approval for them as a whole. As they experience it, you are affirming them, not just the food or clothing, etc. Encouraging words are also felt to be loving. Being supportive in the face of a struggle, empowering when confronting challenges, and helping them bounce back from failures, all leave a deeply loving impression for this kind of person.

Gifts

Some people’s faces light up when they receive a gift. The exact nature of the gift is secondary; it is the experience of receiving a gift that is special. To them, the gift is a bundle of love. The gift does not even need cost anything; the main idea is that they receive a tangible expression of another person’s love. Such people are particularly uplifted by a truly thoughtful gift, one that a great deal of effort, consideration, or creativity went into it.

Acts of service

Many people look upon more romantic expression of love as insincere, and they will judge how loved they are by what people do on a practical level. If you buy me a bunch of roses, but leave me to clean the house on my own, how much do those roses really mean? If you tell me how much you admire me, but refuse to come to my annual office party, how much use is the admiring words? This is the view of someone whose predominant love language is acts of service. Some people are resistant to provide practical help: “Iron your shirt? Am I your maid?” or “Take out the garbage? Is that the only think I am good for?” But for this type of person, doing the laundry conveys a similar expression of love as a hug or a kiss!

Physical touch

Intimacy is obviously an opportunity to show affection and strengthen the marital bond, but physical touch is much broader than that. Some people crave the physical contact, and feel loved thereby. A brief shoulder massage, a warm hug, or a sitting on the sofa holding hands, are all ways that some people need to have their love quotient delivered. Others are not “touchers.” They may have grown up in a family that kept its physical distance and giving hugs is not something that comes naturally. Even a small pressing of the arm can kindle warm feelings inside a person for whom physical touch is their main love language.

Foreign Love Language

People who are spoken to in a love language that is not their own may feel unloved, even though the people giving the love feel they are not holding back. Perhaps you gave your husband an expensive gift, but he may really need to be emotionally supportive through a difficult time at work. Perhaps the husband is effusive to his wife, constantly praising and complimenting her, but when he is done with him nice words, he makes himself comfortable in his favorite armchair, leaving her to handle domestic chores. He may feel he is so affectionate, but she may feel uncared for.

There is no reason to assume that a married couple would share the same love language, nor any of the other types of preferences we have been discussing. It is advisable to try work out what your spouses’ love language is. If you feel unloved, it is best to discuss it, as there is probably a simple reason. If you discover that the manner that you are expressing your love is not working, you need to adaptive and be ready to do things that are experienced as loving by your spouse. When it comes to sharing love, it is less about how you feel and more about how it makes your spouse feel.

 

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