Hara Estroff Marano advises a wife who feels emotionally neglected.
I am a mother of three, as well as a graduate student temporarily in the U.S. to study counseling. The kids are with me, but not my husband, who travels frequently for his job at home. He is a very nice guy, supporting us, including paying my costs because l do not work in order to heed immigration laws. But there is one thing that has bothered me throughout our years of marriage: He finds it difficult to tell me he loves me. He does everything right, except this. Even now, at the end of our phone conversations, he never tells me he misses me or loves me. But when he phones the children, particularly the youngest, he tells them he loves them and misses them. How do l overcome this? I used to tell him that l love him, but I stopped.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Actions speak loudly, and your husband's actions suggest that he cares deeply about you and your children. Not everyone is equally comfortable declaring "I love you," and it may be especially hard for someone to declare it to a telephone. He demonstrates his love. Many people grow up in families and in cultures where an unwritten rule seems to be that the adults—and especially men—don't openly declare their feelings or even display affection openly. And yet with children, they may be entirely different. Even individuals who grew up in families where the adults never spoke in affectionate terms to each other may have no trouble telling children they love them. People perceive a difference between the needs of adults and the needs of children, and believe that the vulnerability of children requires the exercise of extra protections and guarantees of love.
Do not look with jealousy at your husband's ability to tell his children that he loves them; he is making an appropriate distinction. Nor should you cease telling your husband that you love him, especially at this time of separation. Just because he can't say what you'd like to hear doesn't mean you should withhold what comes naturally to you. This is one area where reciprocity doesn't work. When you start measuring what you give you start constricting feelings, and that actually becomes corrosive to your own sense of self and to the relationship. Just because your husband can't say "I love you" doesn't mean he doesn't want to hear it from you, especially when he is giving you so much.