"All I really want from Nathan is to feel loved by him! I deserve
to be loved!" Julie said, trying to hold back the tears.
Her husband, Nathan, quickly responded, "I love my wife
very much, it's Julie who doesn't see all the things I do for her."
Julie's next words have been repeated over and over in my years
of dealing with couples in marital trouble: "I see the stuff he does
and I appreciate it, but I don't feel any love between us." Sadly,
Nathan is oblivious to Julie's core needs and admits that he
doesn't want to be bothered with finding out what they are and
how he can meet them. Investing himself into the feeling side of
love is too much to ask. So the wall between them grows higher.
When I witness marriages like Nathan and Julie's collapsing
under the weight of reality, one of the key elements missing is
always an adequate dose of affection. It's a fact: When we feel
loved by another person, the world and its pressures are more
tolerable and manageable, because we know that someone actually
cares about us and is willing to go out of his or her way to
help us feel loved.
As Nathan and Julie sat in my office for counseling, Julie
described her marriage. "On a scale of one to ten, our marriage
is definitely down at one. My husband is not naturally an
affectionate person, and we don't have any affection in our
marriage. I think of romance when I think of affection-not
necessarily sexual, but touching, caring, saying I love you,"
she said, letting the tears flow.
Down deep Julie knows that Nathan thinks he's loving her
by all of the things he does for the family, but as his wife and
lover she doesn't feel loved by him. Nathan has fallen prey to the
trap of mistaking routine for satisfaction, and it's draining their
marriage of its vitality.
The truth is evident: Julie and Nathan's marriage is starved
LOOKING FOR CONNECTION
Nathan and Julie's story is not unique. Many couples today live
what Henry David Thoreau described so poignantly in his bookWalden as "lives of quiet desperation" in their marriages. God
made all of us with needs (that I like to call biblically appropriate
needs), that should be met in a biblically appropriate marriage,
which is one where both spouses try to live as God describes in
the Bible. But for many married people, these needs are not being
met in their marriages.
Each day they rise from bed, hit the floor, and go about their
daily lives, everything seemingly normal-yet deep inside they
are longing, almost frantically, to connect with the one person
they care for the most . their spouse.
I see this nearly every day in my work with couples and
families. And it's a problem that doesn't seem to be going away.
I've been a marriage counselor for more than twenty years, and
I hear of a longing for affection over and over.
Here are just some of the statements I hear regularly from
callers on my radio show, Parent Talk OnCall, that support this
idea of quiet desperation:
* "I'm famished for love in my marriage."
* "I need to be touched by my spouse in a way that he
has never touched me before."
* "We live in the same house, we're raising the same
kids, we're spending the same money-but we're
just not connected. I don't even feel like I know
* "He tries, but my spouse doesn't know how to show
me the kind of affection that I need."
* "I feel so all alone in our relationship."
Perhaps one of these statements echoes the cry of your
heart. There you are, with the one to whom you've dedicated
the rest of your life-living in the same house, eating the same
food, breathing the same air . and yet you're desperate toknow that person. To have him know you.
A good marriage is like sitting hungrily at a vast and sumptuous
banquet table loaded with beautifully presented, scrumptious
dishes. Not only does every morsel taste delicious, but also
each item was specially prepared to nourish and strengthen
your body. Best of all, there is an endless supply of food in the
kitchen. This table will never be bare. God designed all of your
relationships-particularly your marriage-to be a banquet table
containing a feast for you and your spouse to enjoy as much
as you want.
But maybe your marriage is anything but bountiful, and the
banquet table is going to waste, untouched. The tasty appetizer
of tender words is missing. The delectable side dishes of emotional
closeness and spiritual satisfaction are absent. The rich
dessert of sexual passion and fulfillment are lacking. The all-important
main course of intimacy and trust is gone. It's a marriage
supper long forgotten, eroded away by the responsibilities
of children and career and by the subversive influence of negligence
In short, you're starved for affection.
People who are starved for affection have already slipped
past marital boredom and mediocrity and are beginning to disappear
from the relationship into themselves-or into the arms
of someone else. A marriage that is starved for affection is on
the brink, poised to either take an abrupt dive or slowly shrivel
up and die.
If you find yourself in this frightening place, you're not
alone. Today there are so many marriages that are starved for
affection in this country. Based on the number of people I
counsel who express this complaint, I believe we're actually in
the midst of a dire famine-and this is true even among Christian
couples who genuinely desire to enjoy every good gift from
The starved person can be either male or female. Denise
told me her story during our first session.
"Greg used to make me feel special and important. Now I
feel like he doesn't even care about me." She went on to explain
that in the initial stages of their relationship Greg talked
to her, spent time with her, and actually listened to her. Now,
as Denise put it, "Greg only cares about Greg. And he only
cares about me when there's something in it for him, like sex."
When they married, Denise handed her heart over to Greg
for safekeeping, but he didn't care for it as he should have. It
wasn't that Greg had intentionally set out to hurt Denise, but
that was exactly what he ended up doing. During the eleven
years of their marriage, their relationship had slowly slipped
from loving to lousy. Like most unaffectionate couples, it took
time for these two to experience enough pain to do something
about the state of their union. By then, each had replaced affectionate
feelings toward each other with something else. This is
common, for when loving feelings disappear, our human nature
demands that we fill up that empty spot. Any feeling is better
than no feeling at all.
Greg and Denise had wholly different ways of looking at feelings,
founded, in part, by their personalities. Greg, an engineer,
loved numbers, logic, and predictability. Denise loved experiences,
people, and change. She was something of a free spirit
who enjoyed being social and active. But when Denise wanted
to go out and have fun, Greg wanted to stay home. Worse, when
she wanted to talk about feelings and life, he didn't.
Greg thought it was a waste of time to talk much about things
that seemed, to him, unimportant-things he flippantly referred
to as "that touchy-feely stuff." He went so far as to tell Denise
that she should find someone else to talk to-so she took him up
on his suggestion and met a guy on the Web who seemed to care.
Denise felt safe with this arrangement because they only talked
through e-mail and, after all, Greg had given it his approval.
The distance between Denise and Greg grew, and as it did,
so did Denise's cry for affection. At first she nagged Greg, but
later nagging changed to frustration, then anger, and ultimately,
resignation-and an unhealthy preoccupation with
her male Internet friend.
All this time, Greg was Mr. Oblivious. He thought things
were just fine. He figured as long as food was on the table, a roof
was over their head, and Denise slept in the bed next to him
every night, things were okay. Because Greg wanted nothing to
do with how Denise was truly feeling, he fell prey to the idea
that this structured relationship routine translated into satisfaction
for Denise, which was the furthest thing from the truth.
When Greg discovered Denise's online relationship, he was
upset. "When I told her to talk to someone else about her feelings,
I expected it to be a family member or a girlfriend-not
some guy on the Web," Greg said. "She was an ocean of needs I
could never fill." Denise, like so many others, had chosen to
retreat from Greg behind a self-made artificial barrier. These
walls can be made of a variety of behaviors-busyness, silence,
anger, alcohol, drugs, pornography-each leaving the wounded
person still hurting, but with a new set of problems to overcome,
compounding an already difficult situation.
Denise was so consumed by her need to feel that she
couldn't peer beyond her self-protective wall to see Greg as he
really was-a man about to drown in her unfulfilled expectations
Greg and Denise loved each other to a certain level, but it
wasn't enough. Without affection and an understanding of how
each other felt, their marriage had slipped to a dangerous place.Love is a Biblical mandate that is foundational to a successful
marriage. You choose to love someone else. It's a commitment
of your will. Affection goes a step beyond love. Affection takes
the loving relationship between a man and woman in marriage
into the deeper realm of tender expressions that result in feelings
of closeness, passion, and security.
EVALUATING THE SYMPTOMS
Many people I talk to show signs of being starved for affection.
Some are acutely aware of just how empty their marriages have
become. They're hungry, and they know it. Still others realize
something is not right with their relationship, but just can't put
their finger on it until I suggest they are affection starved.
What about you? Do you resonate with the symptoms of affection
starvation? Is tenderness, emotional closeness, sexual
passion, or a combination of those absent from your marriage?
How you answer the following questions will give you a good
* Do you feel close to or distant from your spouse?
* Do you feel passionate or mechanical?
* Is your behavior toward your spouse spontaneous or
* Are you emotionally full or empty?
* Do you feel loved as you were meant to be loved, or is
there something missing?
* Do you feel inspired or expired by your spouse's
* Do you feel adored or indifferent?
* Do you feel understood or disregarded when you talk
with your spouse?
If several of your answers indicate a lack of satisfaction with
the current state of your marriage relationship, you may be
starved for affection. You may feel lonely, angry, and bitter
about the lack of affection in your marriage. And these feelings
are perfectly understandable. But what should you do if you
find yourself in this condition? How can you get the emotional
sustenance you need from your spouse?
If you're starved for affection, you really only have three
1. Leave your spouse and find someone else.
2. Leave things as they are and struggle along.
3. Tackle the problems without attacking your spouse.
If your choice is anything but that last option, there isn't
much I can offer you. But if your desire is to take on the problems
and solve them, I want to assure you that there is hope for
renewed tenderness, closeness, and passion in your marriage.
You can return to enjoying the banquet God planned for you
and your spouse.
We'll talk later about those situations where one spouse has
tried absolutely everything and nothing works. There are
times-whether due to mental illness, addiction, or abuse-where
even the steps suggested in this book aren't effective. But
for most couples, one person can make changes that will impact
his marriage in significant and positive ways, changes that will
end the starvation and provide needed nourishment.
That's what happened when Nathan decided to apply this
principle to his marriage. Nathan said, "I was miserable, so I decided
to take responsibility for my marriage. Many times my
wife will withdraw and she doesn't come out until I cross the
bridge or build a bridge to her. So I take it upon myself to build
that bridge, watch what I say and do, and purposely try to create
a good relationship. If I want more intimacy or affection, I
think, I can create this if I'm willing to put some effort into it.
"Once I became aware of who I am in Christ and who
Christ is, I knew I had to change. The Bible says, 'Husbands,
love your wives just as Christ loved the church' (Ephesians
5:25, NIV). So I have become more sensitive and caring toward
her. I work at building intimacy with her by the words I
speak and the actions I do. I don't wait for her to come into my
world-I get into hers. And the dividends are really big. She's
more caring, more sexually aggressive, more open to what I
would like to do. We have a very good relationship at this
point, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Today our marriage
is pretty close to a ten. We have problems in our family,
as all families do, but we talk about things and stand together.
We didn't always do that."
In this book, we will talk about specific ways you can impact
your marriage for the better, whether or not your spouse wants
to embark with you on the exciting road back to the banquet.
Nathan took action by himself. While it took work and perseverance,
Nathan and Julie are much happier today, and Julie is
no longer starved for affection.
I want to assure you that there is, indeed, hope for your
marriage too. In the first half of this book, we'll talk about
what an affectionate marriage looks like, the causes of affection
starvation, and roadblocks to achieving the rich marriage
God intended for you. In the second half we'll identify specific
areas of affection starvation and give some practical solutions
to help you and your spouse get the affection you need in your