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My Husband Feels I Demand
Too Much Love and Attention

QUESTION: I have been married for 11 years my husband and I have two children and we are having problems. I am a very loving person and my husband is not. He feels I demand too much love and attention. I feel he gives me no love or attention all I ask for is a hug or kiss every once and a while and maybe a comment of I'm doing a good job or I look nice. Am I being excessive? If things don't get better I have thought about having an affair just to get that companionship the laughter. Am asking to much?

ANSWER: Your needs for laughter and companionship are real, but "having an affair" is not the answer to your problem! Infidelity will only damage an already faltering relationship, from which your marriage may never recover.

You have been married to your husband since you were 16 years old and he was 20 years old. Since you married so young, you skipped the single young adult stage of development. You did not have a chance to experience the freedom of being a single adult woman with a chance to clarify the type of man you wanted to marry. It is likely that you did not know as a teenager what your desires would be as an adult woman. Qualities that you looked for in a husband at 16 could be quite different from someone you would marry at age 27.

It is also possible that you have not yet defined your life outside of marriage and motherhood. If this is the case, it is critical that you devote a good part of your energy to "getting a life". An affair is a distraction often used to avoid much needed self- development. Women who have exclusively defined themselves through marriage and motherhood early in life may be more vulnerable to depression. This depression may sometimes express itself as increasing marital dissatisfaction.

You and your husband have two children and a history of 11 years together as a family. Your commitment to one another may well need to be reviewed in light of currently emerging needs and values. I suggest taking your initial commitment seriously, which includes staying abreast of one another's needs. Remember that this is your family and your marriage; get on track together to see what can be done to create the kind of atmosphere in which both of you can grow.

You might start out by remembering your first date. Share with one another what attracted you to your partner. How did you support one another in establishing yourselves as independent adults in the world? You must have been very important to one another during that period of growth. Acknowledge the positive ways you helped each other grow.

Then, review your experience of becoming parents together. Did this happen quickly or even precipitously? Or was it planned after an initial period of forming your couples' relationship? If you also skipped the stage of becoming a couple together without children, then you may have had very little time to get to know each other. Early responsibilities of marriage and family could have given you a strong bond and purpose together, which may have been what you needed as a teenager to separate from your own family. However, now you may be longing for the courtship, romance and freedom of these missed stages of early adulthood. "Having an affair" may symbolize a yearning to regain lost opportunity for laughter, fun and companionship. And/Or it could be standing in for the lack of developing your own life!

If your husband is able to understand that your needs for fun and spontaneity can stimulate the marriage, perhaps he will be more willing to listen. Attempt to trace your respective experiences of fatherhood and motherhood. And ask yourselves where you may have lost track of one another. Did you ever have romance and laughter? Did he ever express his love to you in words or physical affection?

You have every right to want to be loved in a way that reaches you. Hugs and encouraging words are important to you! One key to success in a marriage is for each person to be able to "speak" the other 's language to an extent. While it is fine to be different. It is also critical that those differences are understood. True understanding lends us the capacity to extend ourselves to our loved one in a way that causes our partner to "feel" loved. It is not enough to simply "know" we are loved. We must also experience it viscerally to feel satisfaction in relationship.

Gently and firmly communicate your need to "feel" loved to your husband. It is time that he stop minimizing your needs, for this will only make you cry out louder. Ask him to refrain from trying to "talk you out of your needs" and ask instead that he consider his responsibility to understand you. If your husband wants to remain married, he must accept the responsibility that comes with marriage. As his monogamous lover you do depend on him for feeling "special". This is the nature of monogamy. You are no more "demanding" of affection from him, than he is "demanding" of not showing such affection in the marriage. Defining a loved one as "demanding" is an attempt to ignore rather than engage in a discussion about the definition of marriage.

If you stay together (in a satisfying manner) throughout your lives, you will go through many such discussions which metamorphasize your relationship. Some couples describe these transformations in the relationship as having 3 distinct marriages together. New visions for the marriage are a result of the needs that emerge throughout the life cycle. Harville Hendrix's book, "Getting the Love You Want" can also prove useful in establishing a shared vision of your relationship, which is necessary for your marriage to successfully get back on track.

Consider the reality that your desire to have much more from your relationship may also be fulfilled from "getting a life" for yourself. Take your needs in the marriage seriously, but do not avoid finding meaning in life that is not defined by your marriage alone. You may be stagnating on other levels, and pressurizing the marriage instead developing interests, skills and activities (other than an affair!) outside of the home.

You owe it to yourself to develop interests that will serve to stimulate your growth and sustain a sense of wonder and excitement about life. Turn your energies towards finding these interests and developing friendships based on activities outside your marriage. Both you and your husband need outside interests and relationships which stimulate and support your marriage like underground springs feed into a river. Any marriage is likely to implode without external nourishment.

Some of your answers will come from self-exploration, others from mining the development of the marriage with your partner. "Having an affair" is an escape fantasy. Confront the work to be done in your partnership and your own development. These two avenues hold promise for substantial change rather than a precipitous exchange of one set of problems for another. Roll up your sleeves. There is work to be done!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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