How to Meet the Need for Affection
Dear Dr. Harley,
My husband doesn't seem to get it. I want him to be physically attentive to me, but whenever he does, he turns it into sex. He won't just hug me. How do I explain to him that I need his attention without sex?
Affection is the expression of love with hugs, kisses, cards, flowers, and the words, "I love you." Affection is not only expressed in marriage, it is also expressed to your children, your parents and, sometimes, your pets. It is our way of telling people that we care for them and that we will be there for them when they need us.
Both men and women need to know they are loved. But women seem to need affection, the expression of love, more often than men. That's why men usually don't show it as often as women need. But any man can learn to do it as often as his wife wants him to. In His Needs, Her Needs, I write about the importance of creating an environment of affection, where a wife is reminded continuously that she is loved and cared for.
Sex, on the other hand, is an entirely different need than affection. While it also should be met in marriage, sex and affection should not be confused. Many men, particularly those who do not have much of a need for affection, use affection as an opportunity for sex. They show affection whenever they make love, but not at other times. This causes their wives to react with resentment, the way you have reacted in your letter to me. Most women feel used when their husbands are affectionate only when they want sex.
Affection is something you can do with your parents or children as well as your spouse. It is not sex. While you may also be affectionate when you make love, sex should be a special event in an environment of affection. My chapters on affection and sex (chapters 3 and 4) in His Needs, Her Needs, makes this point very clear to the reader. If your husband would read it, I think he would "get it."