Q. I’ve been in a relationship now with a man for roughly 8 months. He’s 46 years old and I’m 29. We’ve met members of each others family, are planning a trip this fall, and though things are great now, we’ve had a few bumps. A couple of months ago, there was an issue with a ex-girlfriend of his crossing a line, and he covered it up. It wasn’t physical, but emotionally it took it’s toll on my full trust in the relationship.
Yet I digress. He’s mumbled passively over the course of the first 4-5 months together the little words that every girl wants to hear (“love you”), but never fully looked me in the eye and said “I Love You”. At first I wasn’t sure that he had even said it, the second time I was sure but didn’t know how to respond, and the third time I just looked at him and smiled, and he said “I’ll get that for you because I love you” (while intoxicated). When I asked him what he said, he just looked at me and pointed to his eyeball, his chest, and then to me.
I’m concerned that there is a disconnect in our relationship. Do some relationships never convey that verbally and only through action? We are both well-read on the 5 Love Languages, as we both own the book. We both acknowledge that we have different styles (I’m a quality time & words of affirmation person, while he is an Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation person.). That being said, the quality time aspect of our relationship is something that he works on (which is the most that I can ask), however, the words of affirmation is huge. I do like to hear that my boyfriend cares for me, and I’m not sure that he realizes that Words of Affirmation is more than just compliments (which he’s improving upon daily); it’s incredibly affirming and settling to know how someone feels about you. It creates a level of stability and security in the relationship.
To come back to my original question, are we speaking completely different languages and don’t really realize? Is this something that I need to worry about as far as his emotional capacity to ever open up and say I Love You? Is this something that I may have to take the reigns on and just get it over with?
A. Communication is a big component in creating a lasting, healthy, full relationship.
The biggest role communication plays in a relationship is in problem solving and keeping things from being swept under the carpet, so to speak. If your partner is having trouble saying, “I love you”, how is he going to get real and deep on issues that come up as time goes on? For whatever reason he is having an issue being vulnerable. At some point, I would think his lack of communicating would get old in the relationship and be a source of malcontent for you. I would also think that at 46 years old, he would be past some of this by now. It feels very emotionally immature.
While I am familiar with the Book Five Love Languages, I view it for self-informational purposes only. We cannot expect our partner to make us feel loved by using our love language. It is our job to meet our needs not our partner’s job! I have seen so much anger and resentment built up in relationships because one partner is not using the love language the other one wants or needs. It is a train wreck of control and needy codependence. Instead, a more powerful route is to know what your love language is and then learn to meet your own love needs.
Relationships cannot carry all the baggage and expectations people have, it eventually crushes the relationship.
If each partner is responsible for his or her own baggage, needs, and wants, then the relationship becomes lighter. While we can share our emotional vulnerabilities with our partner it is not ok to expect them to meet or fix those needs. It will just turn to anger and resentment as time goes on and it keeps you from healing all of your own junk as it is now projected on your partner.
Yes, I agree love is a behavior, not words.
But there is a big pink elephant in this room that I am not sure is getting enough attention. You indicated he had some boundary issues with an old girlfriend and then covered it up. While I don’t know what happened, I do know that is a big red flag about his long-term trust worthiness. How was it talking to him about this issue? Was he honest and forthright? Did he blame or take responsibility? How has he regained your trust, or was it swept under the carpet? Having a trust issue along with a lack of communication would certainly question the long-term viability of the relationship.
Instead of asking him to communicate so that you get love validation, communicate about why it is hard for him to communicate. Maybe get into therapy and see if the two of you can be taught communication skills. Maybe he needs therapy to address whatever is holding him back from being able to show up and be truly vulnerable and intimate in the relationship.
I hope this helps!