How do I express love better?

I don’t want to mess this up just because expressing words of affirmation/affection doesn’t come naturally to me. 

A BIG SWEETIE:

I’ve been in a relationship for not quite a year now, and we’ve had some friction come in recently. It’s about how we both give and receive affection. 

She’s very open, complimentary, and talks about her affection for me frequently. I love her, I love what she does for a living, I love being in crowds with her, I love our us time. She’s amazing! I just don’t express these things out loud. 

I express my affection towards her through acts of service. I cook for her frequently, I talk her through stuff when she’s upset, I always put in the work for her in that specific sense. And to me, this is proof of my love for her. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t do any of these things for her. And I don’t have to force myself in any way to do them, they just happen naturally for me. 

I’m sure you’ve spotted the problem here, and this is something we’ve talked about. She wants/needs to receive affection in a similar way to the way she expresses it, and that’s difficult for me to do naturally. I have a mental block with sending or receiving words of affirmation, and it has come out in her (reasonably!) wondering if I’m as invested in our relationship as she is. Which I am! I just don’t say it out loud. 

I get caught up trying to find the *perfect* words, the perfect thing that won’t sound fake, and it results in me choking on my own tongue until nothing gets said. And I don’t like that it stresses her out, but I can’t figure out a good way around my own brain to get there that won’t feel fake as I say it. It seems like a ridiculous thing to say, but I have incredible difficulty talking out loud about the specific things I like about her, to her face. 

Do you have any tips in helping me get past this? I don’t want to mess this up just because expressing words of affirmation/affection doesn’t come naturally to me. 

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SOPHIA:

Please believe me when I say that in general in relationships between a man and a woman, the bar for the man is in hell. Perhaps sub hell. I believe this at my core, and thus I don’t think I’m very liable to giving men passes where they shouldn’t get them. I feel pretty unafraid to say that if anything, I’m harder on men in relationships than I need to be because most people aren’t hard on them at all. THAT SAID!!!!! ➡️ ➡️ ➡️

I THINK YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT AND PERFECT AND YOU’VE NEVER DONE ANYTHING WRONG.

Ok, not exactly that, but I do think that your girlfriend is being a smidge unreasonable. Which is fine and not a red flag or anything—all of us have wants and desires out of a Platonic ideal of a relationship that are not easy or even possible for our real life partners. She’s not being mean or cruel or delusional to express what she wants—in fact, it’s beyond lovely that you two are emotionally adroit enough to understand so much about how you love one another. It’s a green flag!!! You two are angel cuties!

However, you are expressing your love for her. Let’s not lose sight of that!!!!! You are into her, you are listening to her, you are expressing love in ways that work for you. So it’s not like you’re closed off and shunning affection, which is a real thing that some people do and it makes a relationship not work. I don’t want you (or her, but I have no control over if she reads this) to lose sight of the fact that you are putting in effort.

To my mind—and maybe I’m delusional about love so feel free to ignore this and denounce me as a bumbling idiot—one of the best practices of love, which is an action, is accepting love in the ways other people give it, not only in the way you’d like to receive it. (This doesn’t mean accepting abuse or ill treatment!!! This is not an abdication of standards!!!) As an example, my mom would love to talk on the phone every single day. My dad would love it if he and I never talked on the phone again. They BOTH love the shit out of me, at times perhaps too much. But if my only measure of love is how often they want to talk on the phone, I would miss out on my dad’s hilarious emails that he sometimes sends while drunk.

That—practicing the acceptance of love how others give it—does not mean, however, that you don’t adjust for others. Like I said, my mom would love to talk every day, which isn’t feasible for me. So, after a long, painful period of her feeling upset that I didn’t call more and me feeling like I could never call enough, we made a schedule where we always talk on Saturdays and then if we talk more, great. But at least one day a week, we call.

We adjusted because we love each other, the same way I’m sure you’re looking to adjust because you do love your girlfriend. A lot. (As evinced by this letter). So, I’m going to give you some advice on changing your behavior, but I again want to remind you that your girlfriend ought to be meeting you in the middle here. I suspect she feels like she already is—that by “accepting” that you aren’t a verbal declaration/words of affirmation guy, that she is somehow compromising by staying with you. If that is the case, I get and empathize with her feeling, but I think it’s a bit of an immature look at love. Which, look, all of us are immature about love and partnerships all the time; I know I am!!! I’m just hoping that she fully understands that her choices are pretty much staying with a guy who loves the shit out of her but doesn’t always express it verbally, but who wants to try OR losing that love.

I don’t want to make it seem like I think her desires themselves are unreasonable. THEY AREN’T AT ALL! I just think she might be placing a little too strong of an emphasis on them. (Although, perhaps if I got a letter from her, she would explain her feelings differently).

Anyway, I think you should try to adjust a bit, because uncomfortable adjusting is a deep form of love, and here’s my recommendation for how: start on paper (or cellphone). Leave little notes around the house that just say, “I love you so much.” You do not need to reinvent the wheel here. If you want to go nuts, you can say things like—and please make them true— “I love your smile/hair/laugh/ass/legs/etc” Again, you do not need to write a paragraph in iambic pentameter to prove that you love her.

For my money, simple things that aren’t too flowery work a lot better and ring more true. If someone was like, “I want to stare into your eyes all night because I see my future there,” I would probably laugh at or vomit on them because it sounds ridiculous. Now, if someone (whom I was dating) saw me in a nice outfit for a date night and just said a simple, “Holy shit you look hot,” that would go a lot farther. Because it seems true. It seems like you couldn’t help but express that. My point is, that for most people I know, they don’t want poems and speeches, they want things like, “You look gorgeous today,” or “Last night was so much fun with you.” Little, truthful reminders that you like being with them.

Not only is hearing those things verbally nice, but often it really sets apart a romantic relationship from a platonic one. (Although I do tell my friends, “holy shit you look hot” a lot, I feel like most men who date women don’t do that to their platonic friends).

Again, start small. Write the words down and send them in an email or text her, if that feels easier. Keep your affirmations to one sentence at first. Talking about love is a little like talking dirty—it takes practice to not feel weird doing it. I promise you this: You cannot and will not say the wrong thing. Ok, maybe you could but unless you like compare her to corn on the cob or something, you’ll be fine. Keep it simple and true. If remembering to verbalize is the issue, set a reminder on your phone for every couple days. No, that’s not cheating; I promise.

You can also—and I know this is crazy!—ask her what she likes to hear. Not in terms of having pre-written examples or anything, but if you have any confusion or doubt about what kind of stuff she likes, you could say, “Hey, I’m really going to try to be more verbally affectionate, but it does make me a little nervous about saying the wrong thing. It would help me to know what kinds of things you like hearing the most.” Maybe she wants more compliments that are about her appearance, maybe she likes more about her personality. Maybe she likes just to hear the words “I love you” more. Ask.

One more note: you may want to show her your letter to me because honestly, it’s very romantic and sweet and lovely that you wrote to someone to try to fix this problem. If I were here I would lose my mind at how hot that is for someone to care enough to want to address a problem.

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