‘The Lack of Physical Affection From My Girlfriend Is Becoming Unbearable’

Q:

My partner of a year and a half and I just moved in together in March 2024 and I was very excited. I knew that some hurdles would arise, but this one is weighing on me the most…Her love language is mainly acts of service, which I am very happy to give and receive.

The issue is that mine is physical affection (the non-sexual kind especially), and I’m starting to feel burdened by the lack of it. Living with her just made it more apparent and less bearable. I did discuss the issue with her since we moved in, and her response was that she would try to do better but that she’s just not all that touchy with anyone. I knew that going in, she was very independent, and I thought I could take it if we met halfway, but I feel like this “halfway” as it is now just isn’t enough. There is some physical affection, but I’m the one who initiates it most of the time.

Every other aspect of our relationship is amazing, we have great communication and we are planning on buying a house and spending the rest of our lives together…I just feel like a huge 30-year-old crybaby thinking about asking for more physical affection and, on my worst days, starting to think “maybe moving in was a mistake.” I feel like a core need isn’t being met and the effects resulting of this are starting to bleed into other aspects of my life. I don’t want to end this relationship and I’m scared of creating tension if I ask for more again. I don’t know what to do anymore.

– Butch Baddie with the Saddies :(

A:

Dear Butch Baddie with the Saddies,

Moving in together can be a significant test for a relationship. It’s the first time most couples get a look into how their partner really lives. That can shape the relationship’s whole trajectory. It’s a chance to behold their habits while setting up the next stage.

So when I saw this, my first thought wasn’t about love languages. It was about the trials of seeing someone as they are at home. My thought is that since moving in, the two of you are now meeting life in its daily mundanity but spending more time together than ever. Even if you’re not absolutely spending more time together, you’re with each other more than ever. And I think you’re feeling it keenly because the amount of affection you’re getting hasn’t increased relative to the amount of time lived in each other’s presence.

For some, that’s traceable to the dynamic change between dating and moving in. When we’re dating, the time we spend with our significant others is regulated and maybe not quite as much time as we’d like. Moving in can flip the switch and leave us with far too much of the other person. And the time we have doesn’t feel quite as special. It manifests in small, unexpected ways. Meals together are less interesting. Catching a movie becomes routine. Sex? Again?

The language of love

But that’s not the only thing at play here. That’s where love languages come in. I appreciate your commitment to using love languages as a framework for navigating your relationship. Because for all its flaws, using love languages shows you want to cultivate a healthy, reciprocal relationship.

But you’re also meeting the limitations of this framework. Love languages can be a helpful guideline for appreciating our partners, but they can’t overcome problems on their own. That still falls into the important relationship domain of work-our-asses-off and make-compromises.

When I draw back the framing of love languages, I see an ordinary but challenging relationship problem. You believe you’re emotionally contributing to a relationship but it isn’t fully reciprocated. Your efforts to address this have been met with agreement, but insufficient action. This distresses you and makes you question your behavior and right to take up space in the relationship.

Well, I’m glad you’ve described your relationship’s communication as great, because you’re gonna have to put it to use. Your first port-of-call is going to be Those Conversations with your partner. Prepare yourself for them. Take time to jot down key themes or talking points beforehand. Mull on the frustration and even resentment it’s caused, but set those aside and don’t carry them into the conversation. Think of your partner as an equally caring and compassionate counterpart.

Crucially, you’ll need to make clear the extent of how this is affecting you, just as you did to us in your letter. This isn’t just about cuddling or physical pleasantries. Your sense of security is being destabilized, and it’s impacting other parts of your life. And the fact that you’re becoming hesitant about communicating your needs is itself worth looking into. At uncommon (but very real) low points, you’ve even wondered if this is endurable.

That’s the gravity of the situation. This started with differences in physical needs but has reached a point of emotional destabilization and distress. You did an awesome job of conveying your needs and their weight to us, but we’re not the ones who need to hear it most. She is.

Fresh perspectives

Perhaps the next time you need to have this conversation, it might be necessary to frame it as one about your emotional distress and need for security in the relationship. As you say, your girlfriend has always been very independent. It’s entirely possible that she doesn’t consider physical affection as paramount as you do. I think that could go some way to explain why her efforts aren’t very all-in. She sees things from a perspective shaped by not needing physical touch. So reaching her through language about physical touch is harder.

Above all, reach out to her with the understanding you’re trying to cultivate a better relationship for both of you. This isn’t about a shortcoming of hers because I don’t think she’s exhibiting a major shortcoming. It’s about using the strong foundation you’ve built together to address your crucial unmet need that’s building up to pain. Lots of pain.

Reframing our needs and taking things from a different angle is an awesome communication skill in relationships. It benefits us by pushing us away from our default perspectives. It paves the way for fresh insights that give the situation new gravitas. In a conflict where people profoundly care for each other, it might be the thing that snaps one party into the realization that something is wrong.

I’m autistic, so this happens a lot in my relationship. My girlfriend often has to reframe and re-explain things to me from a different angle for me to grasp the full weight of her feelings. We wouldn’t be here if she didn’t develop that appreciable and excellent skill.

I don’t believe for one second that you’re being a ‘crybaby’ because your needs are unmet. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel cared for in a relationship. Butch or otherwise. You deserve a relationship where you can lean on your partner (literally) for comfort and share in the enrichment. You’re taking the steps to build that environment for yourself, and I trust your assessment of the relationship as amazing. It sounds like a great place to be, but it’s also flawed — like any other relationship.

This challenge isn’t insurmountable. I think you’re doing a great deal already and just need to nudge it again from a different angle. You’ve already been speaking the language of love. This could be a good time to re-open the conversation in a new dialect of love.


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Summer Tao

Summer Tao is a South Africa based writer. She has a fondness for queer relationships, sexuality and news. Her love for plush cats, and video games is only exceeded by the joy of being her bright, transgender self

Summer has written 40 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. “Your sense of security is being destabilized, and it’s impacting other parts of your life. You don’t feel safe enough in your relationship to keep addressing this.”

    This feels like a bit of a leap, but I understand where it’s coming from. I don’t see OP indicating feeling unsafe….maybe uncomfortable?

    OP, you say “every other aspect of our relationship is amazing,” which I think is excellent…I’d suggest keeping an eye on it, as other issues may come up, and my hunch is that the disconnect in physical touch might expand to other disconnects.

    Communication. Do that. Your partner is not a mind reader and neither are you.

    • Hey Rachel, I re-read the portion you pointed out and I think my more serious internal monologue was taking charge without considering what my words might sound like to a reader. I’ve amended that section to better reflect the gentleness it deserves.

  2. The reply here focuses on the interpersonal and emotional side, so here are two cents in a different direction:

    Is this a physical need you could fill in other ways? Like getting a cuddly pet, or finding other ways to warm and soothe your body like blankets or baths?

    No partner can provide everything, nor should we expect them to. If the rest of the relationship is great and important, maybe this is an aspect you can take off your partner’s list.

  3. You’ve taken such a wonderful step voicing your needs, Butch Baddie with the Saddies. I feel for you.

    While reading your thoughts, what came to mind was a personal essay that, while not centering a queer relationship, seems like it’s in dialogue with where you are. If you haven’t already read it: CJ Hauser’s “The Crane Wife” has reminded me I can have the relationship I want. You can have the relationship you want, too. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/07/16/the-crane-wife/

    Good luck to you!

    • p.s. To clarify, I’m NOT suggesting you end your relationship. But “The Crane Wife” might hopefully help you feel empowered in your journey with your partner.

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