Affection in Marriage
When you’re struggling in your marriage there can be many causes. I would know! Couples come to see me every day with all sorts of problems. That does not mean that all of those problems are the causes of their marital struggles. However, what I see often is a decrease in affection towards one another. Affection is so important in relationships, especially in committed ones like a marriage. Spouses need their partners to show care and concern to keep the relationship strong and healthy.
Understanding what affection is and how it can help your marriage gives you the knowledge and the tools to improve your relationships dramatically. Affection seems to be a key to supporting many aspects of marriage. It’s good to know why a lack of it destroys marriages, but we also want to know why it can be a key ingredient to having a healthy relationship. I want to explore with you several ways that affection in your marriage can improve the connection between you. First, let’s look at what it is.
What is affection?
Doesn’t affection sound like an action or a feeling? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
A feeling of liking and caring for someone or something
A tender attachment
In this definition, affection is a noun. It’s a substance of something. That sounds strange. When we think about “showing” someone affection, we are displaying something to them. I believe we can have affection for someone, but isn’t that still a state or a substance of something?
When we are affectionate or showing affection to our spouse, we give them a picture of our care and concern for them. That is affection. We are giving them the understanding that we like them or care for them. So affection is that state of liking or caring for someone and showing affection is the action of letting someone know you like them or care for them.
How does affection help marriage?
Showing care and concern helps the spousal relationship in several ways:
- Showing Affection decreases the ability to become offended.
- Affection reminds a spouse or partner of the love that is felt towards them.
- One of a spouse’s needs can be a need for affection.
- Affection produces a sense of safety.
- The expression of affection helps communication.
- Affection produces a calmer response in loved ones.
When you show affection, relationships become easier because of the above reasons. Let’s discuss how each of these helps the relationship between a married couple.
Showing Affection Decreases Being Offended
When you demonstrate your affection for your spouse, they will less likely become offended by your words or actions. If you’re looking to communicate with your spouse healthily it takes good communication skills. Communicating affection regularly or at least when you begin to engage in conversation is important. Dr. John Gottman encourages couples to start a conversation by using soft start-ups. His research reveals that soft start-ups help keep a conversation positive.
By using this type of communication you’re less likely to arouse the defenses of your partner. Showing loving, gentle, and caring words when you initially engage is a form of a soft start-up. Sprinkling a little affection helps you show care and concern at the beginning of a conversation so your partner does not feel attacked. The more you show your affection the more softer your communication will be.
What does showing affection to your spouse look like?
A soothing touch, a loving affirmation, and a kind word can go a long way in expressing affection to others. Without starting a conversation this way you can easily offend your spouse. Harsh words may cause your wife or husband to feel criticized and attacked.
How does that usually go? It easily leads to defensiveness. Think about how many times have you felt dismissed when your spouse became defensive. Could it be how the conversation was initiated? Next time you try to engage with your spouse, attempt to use affection to start the conversation more gently. Show them in small ways that you adore them or are devoted to them.
Affection Reminds Your Spouse That You Care For Them
As we said before, offending your spouse is easy if you start harshly. However, using more ways to express your love for others makes it harder for your spouse to feel offended. Moments of affection make others have thoughts that seem like you think badly of them and more like you like them. We all wanna be liked.
It’s also is easier to hear what others have to say when we feel loved. Sometimes we tie affection and love together. Affection and love make others feel desired and that we want them to be around us. No one likes to feel rejected. No one likes to feel like they don’t measure up. Lack of affection brings on these negative feelings.
Everyone wants to feel like they belong. That’s the message affection sends. When a husband shows his care and concern for his wife he is letting her know that he is committed to her and does not want to hurt her. He is demonstrating positive intentions that are not intended to cause harm.
Consistent affection is important. Also, it is helpful to understand how your spouse prefers to receive affection and love. Being consistent and building a greater knowledge of your spouse allows you to show them how much you care.
Understanding the five love languages described in Gary Chapman’s book can help you navigate how to love your spouse and show them affection the way that they feel most loved. You can show them love through touch by holding their hand and giving them a gentle hug or kiss on the forehead. There are many ways to show love through touch.
Stay away from unwanted touch
Husbands, I encourage you to stay away from sexual or unwanted touch. There will be times for that. However, your job is to respect and love your spouse. Unwanted sexual touches aren’t loving. Talk to her about the type of touch that she enjoys and stay away from the type of type she does not.
Sexual touch should be reserved for moments after initiation for intimate time together. Even though touch shows affection, depending on who your spouse is, what they like, and the timing of the type of touch it could still be taken as offensive. It’s important to understand your spouse’s needs.
Affection Imparts Love.
When others show affection we are reminded of their love for us. Demonstrating affection displays a love for others. Without expressing love it’s really hard to have an intimate conversation. Trust is hard to build. Showing different forms of affection helps our partners feel loved.
I have heard many couples talk about how they don’t know if their spouse loves them anymore. Sometimes they blame it on fighting or arguments. However, after some exploration, most of the time affection has been withheld or limited. Spouses may withdraw from each other. They no longer show the amount of affection they used to. Don’t hold back your affection. Give it freely and often.
Your hurt is not the issue
What do you think your spouse is going to feel if you aren’t showing affection? Are they going to feel like you love them? Probably not. You may be wondering then, “What do I do if my spouse hurts me? “
Just because your spouse hurts you does not break the rules of affection and love. Love is not contractual. You don’t show love only because someone did something loving for you. Love is about showing affection to others despite whether they have been kind and loving to you. Our job is to be selfless.
Affection may also be a need.
We have already talked about this a little bit. We all need love. Especially in marriages and relationships. How would we know we matter if we didn’t receive love? Love binds us together. We feel a sense of peace and connection with each other when we feel loved. Love also helps us to build trust. Showing affection is an avenue to display the amount of love you have for someone else.
One way to think about this is the amount of intentional actions that show someone else you care about them and you have concern for them. Love has to be selfless and active. Showing others our compassion and enjoyment of them in multiple ways whether we feel like it or not matters. It’s important to prioritize affection and be thinking about how to show others love regularly.
What would happen if love was not present in the world?
What would happen if we did not have Love? The world would not be a great place to live. We would be selfish, angry, and hurt. Love and affection are needed. Without voluntary sacrifice and giving to others, we would be fighting to get only our needs met instead of caring about what others need. Forget connection and relationships at that point. We would struggle to feel safe. Trust would not be an option.
So showing affection is an act that provides a need to make others feel safe and increases their desire to love back.
Different acts of affection
Providing the needs of others, looking out for their well-being, and taking care of them when they are sick are all acts of affection. In a marital relationship, if kind gestures are not present, we would become resentful. When a spouse is sick it would be very unloving to tell them to take care of yourself.
However, if you are truly affectionate when you take care of them you’re also not going to be harsh with it. When you’re affectionate, you care for and love them the way they want to be loved. You fix them a drink or run a bath for them. You buy them flowers. You tell them what you like about them. We all need love and affection. We have a deep need to belong. When someone shows us affection, we feel they care and that makes us believe we belong.
Affection Produces a Sense of Safety
Since displays of true affection demonstrate care and concern for others, the recipients feel safe. It would be hard to feel safe in the presence of a harsh husband or wife. When I use the word safe, I mean emotionally and relationally. Harshness hurts. Gentleness and care show support. Yes, you may still struggle with trust in a relationship, but consistent caring expressions increase a sense of trust and safety in the marital relationship.
I have seen this same result in training dogs. Fear tactics work to get a dog to stop doing behaviors that are not okay, but training them to do the alternative healthy behaviors you want them to do takes gentleness and care. People react like animals to these different types of influences. Affection with your husband and spouse encourages them to draw close and have a sense of security with you. Harshness or rebuke will only cause them to fear you and wonder if they can be themselves around you.
Expressing Affection Helps Communication
When you express care and concern within your marriage, communication is much better. As we described above, affection can be helpful when beginning a conversation to not cause defensiveness. Also, when you show love to someone, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and see your good intentions.
Humans tend to air on the side of the negative. We tend to see the bad in a situation more than the positive. Expressing increasing amounts of loving affection infuses the relationship with positive vibes so that any bad or negative struggles get diluted. Communication is way more positive when consistent, regular demonstrations of care and concern are present.
Dr. John Gottman teaches that when couples are in conflict, healthy couples tend to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. What would that way about unhealthy couples? This does not bode well. I teach my clients that to communicate better, we have to meaningfully and intentionally raise positive interactions through the days and weeks ahead. What better way to do this than to insert small demonstrations of affection often and more consistently?
Affection Produces Calmer Reactions
Compare two couples. One couple shows very little affection and the other displays lots of consistent, genuine affection. What types of reactions would you likely see out of the spouses? With greater amounts of love, care, and concern you would see much more peace and understanding between the couple. Couples who show little care and concern are prone to be highly reactive, withdrawn, or both.
Affection, as we said above, builds trust and an understanding that your partner cares about you. It’s easier to believe they have your best interest in mind when they show their affection. It’s hard to believe they mean harm when you see more positive engagement from them. Naturally, your response to how they interact with you would be more of enjoyment, peace, and love.
The other type of couple would be more highly reactive. They tend to have more of what Dr. Gottman would call “negative sentiment override.” This is where they would see most things in the relationship from a negative or neutral position. Which means they don’t attribute good to much. They would be on the defense most of the time and be highly reactive.
Have you ever been in a place that felt unsafe? I would assume you felt on edge and ready to run or fight at any moment. Consistent negativity or feelings of not being safe in a relationship puts a couple in “fight or flight” mode. This mode is NOT calm. Consistent attempts to show love, concern, and affection help to turn this off in your spouse.
Why is this subject so important? Because many people are asking how do I make my marriage better. How do I get that passion back? I think it starts with intentionality. Stop blaming your spouse for the negative behavior you see. Start loving your spouse and showing them affection. They need to know you accept them and want to be with them despite their faults.
Jesus accepted us despite our faults. He forgot every sin we ever committed and will commit. I am not saying be like Jesus. I am saying, one day and one moment at a time. Figure out how you can love your spouse in a small way. Then consistently and intentionally repeat that affectionate sentiment in various other ways.
As we see above, affection can help with communication, decrease reactivity, meet your spouse’s needs, show love to your spouse, and create a peaceful and calm mood around you. Start doing this for your marriage today.
Brandon Coussens, LMFTBrandon Coussens, LMFT | Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy
Brandon Coussens is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Legacy Marriage Resources, LLC based in Augusta, Georgia. He specializes in marriage counseling and sex therapy. You can schedule a counseling appointment with him through Legacy Marriage Resources. He also offers Christian Coaching, Marriage Coaching, Financial Coaching, and Life Coaching to those who live outside the state of Georgia. To learn more about him, go to his Bio page.