by John Santana
According to movies and social media, a typical healthy relationship should have plenty of physical affection and admiration between partners. So what happens when you date a non-affectionate person?
After scrolling TikTok and Instagram, seeing so many picture-perfect couples who kiss, cuddle and romance each other – those who don’t receive constant contact from their partners can feel unsatisfied and envious of a more outwardly affectionate relationship.
But how can you ask for more attention without sounding needy? How much affection is normal for a relationship?
Many people express their love and emotions differently. If you feel your partner does not openly express their emotions or affection as you expect, there are many ways to nurture a closer bond naturally and improve your love life with a less affectionate person.
What Are Physical Affection And Intimacy?
The dictionary definition of affection is a ‘gentle feeling of fondness or liking.’ This definition implies that in any loving relationship or friendship, there will undoubtedly be some presence of affection.
Affectionate body language encompasses a variety of gestures and acts that comfort and affirm the bonds between all people, such as one’s friends, family, and romantic partners.
Examples of affectionate body language include:
- Holding Hands
- Kissing of the cheeks, lips, or body
- Caressing (e.g., head, hands, arms, back, and waist),
- Touching heads
You’ll see that the examples above encompass a variety of gestures in differing levels of intimacy and eroticism. This is perhaps something many men (and even some women) take for granted. Affection and intimacy are not purely romantic.
After all, the definition of ‘affectionate’ means to express your fondness for someone else. Depending on the nature of the relationship between the people involved, a public display of affection is generally set according to societal norms or cultural customs.
For example, some cultures or societies encourage more kissing or hugging when greeting, while others only briefly embrace or shake hands. In some places, simply maintaining eye contact can be an erotic or intimate act relative to touching.
Therefore, when first establishing a relationship, it’s important to determine what level of affection and intimacy is within your partner’s comfort zone. How might that complement or conflict with your own?
Even if you’re dating an affectionate person, it is genuinely helpful to understand your partner’s personal history and background to better interpret and accommodate your partner’s feelings on a larger scale.
Why Is Your Partner Not Affectionate?
Humans are incredibly social beings, and we need connection on a physiological level. Without it, we become depressed and sick.
But being in a relationship requires vulnerability and trust. It is difficult for many people to offer this free when they’ve been heartbroken or betrayed before.
If we’re to consider ‘body language’ as a way to express love, we must consider that just like any other language, there will be people who are native speakers and others that struggle to express themselves through physical contact.
Openly showing affection through physical contact is a great way to increase feelings of intimacy and connection, but this is not how all people have experienced physical touch in the past.
Your partner might appear non affectionate if they have suffered physical abuse or trauma in the past. For them, touch might not always be pleasant or wanted. For some, dating makes them feel like a stray animal, hungry and desperately in need of care but afraid of strangers that come too close.
Your ‘stray black cat’ partner may just need patience and kindness while they acclimate to their new forever home (your relationship).
Some people appear non-affectionate but, in fact, simply communicate their love through different mediums. There are many different ‘love languages’ that communicate affection and tenderness.
To conclude the stray cat analogy, physical touch and caresses might annoy or anger some strays who have been abused. However, even lonely strays can communicate ‘thank you’ or ‘I like you’ by returning to a caregiver’s home, bringing gifts, or vocalizing their feelings.
Mental Health and Physical Touch
People who are navigating a depressive or anxious tough patch will often isolate themselves from those they love. If your partner is known to have tumultuous mental health, they may often withdraw physical affection within your relationship.
People who struggle with mental health often do not want those closest to them to be affected or hurt by their ‘bad mood’ or unpredictable behavior.
Withholding affection or intimacy is not always a conscious decision. Often it is a defense mechanism for themselves and their partner.
People who suffer from chronic mental illness can experience a complete lack of affection and desire for intimacy as a result of hormone or chemical imbalances. This means there is no blame or shame for either partner if there are cyclical periods of isolation and distance.
Only therapy and medication can create change overnight. However, kindness and patience are always appreciated. If you could support and encourage your partner through difficult emotional and mental struggles, they will surely reciprocate that tenderness in time.
If your partner struggles with their mental health, you could:
- Calmly mention to them that you’ve noticed their withdrawal and that you’re feeling (Your own response) to this situation – this option won’t place any blame or judgment on them and shows your desire to remain close in this moment.
- Discuss boundaries and signals that can quietly communicate their head-space – code words and signals can prevent many miscommunications and hurt feelings. Often when one partner is the primary initiator of all physical intimacy or affection, the relationship can become imbalanced.
- This can cause instability when one partner continues to reject several advances and affectionate gestures. It’s only natural for feelings to be hurt.
Differing Physical Intimacy Needs
Just as each person has their favorite food or drink that satisfies their hunger and thirst – each person has a manner of affection that fulfills their desires. If you feel lonely or disconnected in your relationship, these are clear signs that you are ‘hungry’ for more affection.
But just as you might feel thirsty for date nights and romance, your partner might be satiated and content with Netflix and Chilling at home. Either way, it’s a great idea to communicate with your partner when you feel your needs aren’t being met.
But most importantly, you should discuss what both your needs are/include.
Examples of affectionate acts:
- Hand holding
- Back pats or massages
- Wrapping your arm around their shoulder or waist
- Gift-giving and receiving
- Reassurance and affirmations
- Discussing your relationship status and experience
- More support with mental health and stability
We are all unique individuals, so we will all give affection and feel loved differently. In order to have any relationship survive, there are two rules:
- Both partners should communicate their own needs and
- Offer to support their partner’s needs where/when possible
Difficulty With Public Displays of Affection
It’s no secret that many people experience and suffer from anxiety in 2023, but ‘social anxiety’ is not just a buzz term that exists online. Many people feel embarrassed or awkward in public, so when they’re out for a movie date night, they won’t feel as comfortable being physically affectionate as they may be at home.
The reason for this is simple: being affectionate requires a certain level of confidence and comfort. Having anxiety or simply being in public and out of one’s comfort zone can result in feelings of low self-esteem.
Even the most overly affectionate partner can become non affectionate in public settings – this doesn’t mean their love has changed or been lost. As always, open communication can alleviate these feelings. The next movie date night you feel lonely with your partner, ask them:
- Do you feel uncomfortable showing public displays of affection? For example, I’d like you to (hold my hand, wrap your arm around me, etc.), would you consider this?
- How would you feel if I tried to kiss or hug you in public?
- Would affection in front of your friends or family members be alright or uncomfortable for you?
- Are there any other gestures you could offer to show affection in public or private?
How Do Non-Affectionate People Show Love?
Considering everything we’ve previously discussed, the best way non-affectionate partners show love is when they translate their affection through a love language both partners can understand.
What are the 4 Affection/Love languages?
1. Quality Time
Your partner may withhold their kisses and hugs but want to give you each spare moment they can. Perhaps your partner would prefer to give you their undivided attention when you can talk for hours without the distraction of television, phone screens, or any other outside interference.
People who express their love through spending time together have a strong need to always be with their significant other, whether it’s sharing a meaningful conversation or sharing a simple task or activity.
2. Acts of Service
For many people, especially those who spend a lot of time in the ‘talking phase’ of dating, “actions speak louder than words.” Perhaps your non-affectionate boyfriend skips the foreplay. But if he does your grocery shopping, always brings you coffee, fills up your gas, or completes banal chores around the house – he may be saying ‘I love you’ more than you think.
3. Gift Giving
The love language of gifts has a bad reputation for being materialistic. But for many people, it’s simply about having a visual representation of love. Giving and receiving gifts may be more about having a tangible and permanent reminder of their significant other’s feelings, especially if distance or time divides the two.
The key to saying ‘I love you’ in gifts is always giving something meaningful and sentimental that reflects your partner’s interests and values.
4. Words of Affirmation
Your ‘non-affectionate’ partner may shy away from holding hands or kissing but they may just prefer verbal or written affection. They might need or give frequent “I love yous,” compliments, praise, and verbal encouragement, and often engage in texting and social media communication.
According to the psychotherapist and certified relationship coach Fariha Mahmud-Syed, “Written and spoken shows of affection matter the most to these people. These expressions make them feel understood and appreciated.” A non-affectionate person might need you to engage in more conversations, debates, written communication, or affirmation of your relationship to feel loved.
How Can You Cope With No Affection?
The truth is you don’t have to live without affection, but you may need to better understand how your partner gives or receives affection.
If you feel that your partner does not engage with you in any of the above love languages or gestures, that may be an indication that they aren’t providing at all for your emotional needs.
If that’s the case, then there are a few questions to consider:
1. Do You Feel Loved in Your Relationship?
Affection is merely a gesture that shows love, if you feel unloved, you could be feeling the lack of these gestures, or it could indicate a greater issue.
2. When Did You Feel the Most Loved by Your Partner?
Looking back at your memories with your partner can help you make sense of your relationship dynamics. Asking yourself when and why you fell in love could help guide you back to a more loving and affectionate relationship without forcing any unfamiliar behaviors into your life.
3. How Long Have You Felt That Your Partner Has Been Non-affectionate?
If your partner has always been a non-affectionate person, then resolving this issue might involve understanding each other’s love languages better. But if your partner has become non-affectionate, this may indicate the changing phases in your relationship or the need to reaffirm your love in new ways.
Dating a Non-Affectionate Person
In conclusion, affection is only a reflection of your partner’s love for you. Human beings crave connection and love and each individual has a unique insight into sharing love.
For many, their love manifests in physical, emotional, and verbal forms of love. But some people express their love in more personal and individualized love languages.
If you feel your partner is a non-affectionate person, they may be communicating their love in a different language to you. But if your partner never gives affection in any manner, then that shows a deeper issue within your relationship.
Affection is the gesture or representation of love, to give no affection at all means your partner no longer shares any of those romantic feelings.
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