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My boyfriend loves me but isn't affectionate - we are building a house together, how can I know I will be happy with him?

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heart to heart The questioner's philosophy
Well, I'm not really sure how to answer that. I am of a United faith, but don't attend church regularly. I know that whoever I end up with I want to be sure and I want to work through any problems so it never ends in divorce.
The questioner's hopes and aspirations
To be successful in my career, have a loving family to come home to and with whom I can share that success while living in a small town or rural area setting.
Question
I'm 22 years old and I have been dating my current boyfriend for three and a half years. I know that I love him and I know that he loves me. However he is not an affectionate person - he never hugs me or shows me that he loves me physically. If we hug it's because I make him hug me back, if he kisses me other than during sex it's because I asked him to do it. He's not encouraging toward me and doesn't compliment me.

I know by looking at his parents and how they are, that this is simply the way he has grown up. They barely talk to one another and they never hug or tell each other that they love one another. This is a big problem, because the family that I grew up in was quite different. My parents regularly tell me that they love me and that they are proud of me. We hug daily and tell each other that we love each other. From my experience this is what the average family does. My boyfriend and I never fight about anything serious except for this. There is no doubt in my mind that he is in love with me by other actions that he has taken.

We are building a house together over the next year. How do I make him understand what I need from him? I have talked to him MANY times and explained it. He doesn't change. I feel like I do a lot of the work in our relationship and he's just in it for the ride. I know that part of that is because he is so easy going and nothing really ever bothers him. Will this change as he matures more, or am I wasting my time in trying to change him? How do I know if I will be happy if I just get use to the fact that I'm not going to ever get that from him?

Wallace's reply
Wallace
You are asking very important questions at a critical point in your life, questions that I am delighted to answer. One presumes from your questions that you are seriously considering a life together with this young man, and I sense that you occasionally wonder if being with him is the right path for you.

The first thing I wish to share is that you are indeed wasting your time trying to change your boyfriend. We cannot change another person - your boyfriend is the only one who can change himself. You can, as you have been doing, share your needs as his partner, but if he does not meet some of your needs and is unwilling to change to meet your needs then this must be accepted. However whether he chooses to change can be influenced in a major way by how you communicate with him. For example there is a big difference between

  1. Demanding that your boyfriend change, since this will probably cause him to become rigid and defensive, and
  2. Leaving him to change or not as he wishes, which will encourage him to open up and listen to your point of view.
Ask yourself which of these two approaches you are taking? If it is the first then I suggest you change the way you communicate with your boyfriend. Instead of demanding that he change, accept and love him the way he is. I want you to watch within yourself, for times when you are becoming frustrated with your boyfriend. Frustration is the first sign of non acceptance and a lack of love. Each time you notice yourself getting frustrated remind yourself that you are trying to change your boyfriend again and that this is what is causing your frustration. Remind yourself that your boyfriend is free to do as he chooses and replace your feelings of frustration with love and acceptance. If you practice this little exercise in awareness, you will quite quickly stop getting frustrated.

Then from this place of non frustration share how you feel when he does not kiss you affectionately or does not give you a hug? Do not blame him for not being physically affectionate. Let him know what you need as his girlfriend and prospective life partner and leave him free to meet those needs or not as he feels inclined. In romantic relationships each partner needs to feel free to do as they choose while at the same time feel connected, through good communication, to the needs of the one they love. This is one of the secrets of having a successful romantic partnership.

You have not mentioned becoming engaged or married in your question. Personally speaking I do not encourage the modern trend in many countries to live together in an open ended manner. In your situation I strongly encourage you to aim at getting engaged and then married. I will tell you why I encourage this.

If you date a long term boyfriend with the intention of becoming engaged then married, it brings problems like the ones you are having to a head. In the run up to becoming engaged each of you will be strongly motivated to face up to and address outstanding issues in your relationship. Your intention to get engaged will help this.

The run up to getting engaged is a very important time in the growth of a relationship because both partners are highly motivated to learn to meet one another's needs more completely, so that they will have the confidence to marry. During this very precious time, difficult and contentious issues can be addressed fully and completely. Without the intention to get engaged, then married, difficult issues like the one you are having with your boyfriend, can simmer unresolved for years and eventually cause serious problems. The failure by many couples today to use the period prior to engagement correctly, to address difficult issues, is one of the major causes of separation and divorce.

Through an intention to get engaged and, as a result, feeling very motivated to address your unmet needs for affection and other issues, you will find it easier to make up your mind as to the suitability of your partnership for a lifelong commitment. You will find that either your boyfriend changes and your needs for affection are met, or you will discover that your boyfriend is unable to change in which case you will then know in your own heart, from your inner guidance, whether you can live with your boyfriend as husband and wife as he is, or whether the relationship must end.

The next 6 months are a very important time for you both and will determine whether your hopes and aspirations for a partnership you can be sure of, where you can work through any problems so it never ends in divorce, does in fact come true.

Further Help and Resources
If you want to know how to tune into inner guidance and work with it to help you make the important decisions in the months ahead I strongly recommend you buy my book - here. Read it right through and begin to tune in to your God given inner voice - it will guide you and keep you on the right path.

If you are having problems communicating clearly with your boyfriend I recommend you do some of the exercises from Peter Shepherd's Communication and Relationships Course with your boyfriend. It's available free of charge - here online.

You may feel you need personal support to help you through your difficulties. Many churches offer pre-marriage support services or, if difficulties persist, I suggest you see a local relationship counselor.

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