I love my wife and kids. I tell them that… sometimes. Enough for them to know. But I’m not a hugs and kisses and displays of emotion type of dad, husband, or person. I don’t want to talk about my love for people — I would rather show it. In my opinion, talk is cheap and action is everything. So I provide for my family, I cook for them, I read with the kids, and do all the good sex things my wife likes. I do way more than that, but you get the idea. I’m a man of action.
The thing is, my wife wants more. She wants me to talk about my feelings and explore my sadness and happiness and, more than anything else, to be more affectionate. It’s bullshit. That’s not me. How can I tell her to pound sand without sending her off?
Emotional In El Paso
Congratulations on meeting the basic requirements of being a father and husband. Sure, I get it, you do “way more than that” but, basically you’re doing what you probably should be doing to find a good division of labor in your household. And, yeah, that probably sounds like I’m being disingenuous but really, I’m not. There are plenty of dads who’d prefer to coast as a breadwinner and call it good. You’re not that guy and so, you should have some commendation. Here it is: Good job, buddy.
Now, what are you going to do to foster intimacy? Because it would seem that your wife needs some intimacy. And while your kids may not be able to articulate it, I bet that’s true for them too.
Here’s the problem, man. You’re cheating a bit here. You see, you do the things that should rightly be expected of you as a member of the team that is your family and you call it “love” when it’s actually “responsibility.” It’s like those yahoos who call sex a workout. It’s not. It’s sex. And while it might get your heart racing for a bit, burn a couple of calories and possibly cause you to sweat, it will never be able to replace exercise or cardio because those activities require a specific focus and technique. Nor would you want sex to be a real workout because then it would stop having the emotional connection that makes it the special activity it is.
And that’s the thing. You may feel you’re showing your love through action. But clearly your love is not being communicated to your family. I say communicated because that implies what’s been relayed has been understood. That’s not to say that your family can’t come to understand that your actions are how you love. But, friend, I’m afraid unless you tell them that specifically, they’re not going to get it.
Now, I hope you’re starting to understand the pickle you’re in. Because you can’t communicate that your actions are done in love unless you are vulnerable enough to talk about how your love is shown. See the problem? If you maintain vulnerability is not for you, then you’ve put yourself in an impossible situation. You’ll keep doing things out of love and your family will keep not knowing what you’re doing. Frustration abounds.
But that’s the thing about healthy families: they require some give and take. I want you to hear me clearly — your physical boundaries are important and I’m not suggesting that people should be allowed to violate them. If you feel uncomfortable with a physical touch then you should not be forced or coerced into physical touch.
However, you have got to be willing to find a way to meet the needs of your family in a way that you are comfortable with. Telling your wife to go “pound sand” will probably, eventually, lead to a judge pounding a gavel in divorce court.
I suspect that you can foster intimacy, and show your feelings without resorting to hugs and kisses. There’s a lot of ways to be intimate. But, importantly, showing someone how you feel needs to be its own unique act, separate from your day to day responsibilities. Is there something you can do that is above and beyond your responsibilities. Is there an act of love that isn’t washing a dish? Or cooking a meal? I can’t tell you what that is. I don’t know you’re unique skills or the things your family desires. Can you build your kids a treehouse? That’s a big loving act, particularly if you do it with them and make it a special activity. Can you do something that is just for your partner? Not for the family (like laundry) or for yourself too (like sex) but something that is just for her? Think about it.
If this sounds hard, it’s because it is. But also, you’ve made it that via your own rules of loving. All of this would be easier if you acknowledged that talking about your feelings isn’t bullshit. It’s healthy. Do you have to do it loudly and publicly and make a big performative show about it? No. You can be very plain about the way you feel. You can state what makes you happy and sad, or what makes you feel love in simple, masculine, quiet ways. One way another those feelings need to be apparent.
You’ve got to know that love isn’t just being there. If that were the case, your family would be just as well off with a helpful room-mate. What they need is a husband and a father who cares about their unique needs and is driven by his own love to make sure their unique needs are met. Tell them why you do what you do, and then do something special. That’s how you’ll grow. And man, you do need to grow.