Is It Ever OK to Withhold Kisses and Hugs?


Following up on yesterday’s blog post about what we should and shouldn’t withhold from our spouses, I received a question:

[D]o you kiss and hug someone with whom you don’t feel close and by whom you don’t feel loved?…Kiss and hope you’ll eventually feel it? Hug and enjoy feeling close to he who talks to you through gritted teeth?

This is a great question. I did not mean to imply kisses and hugs should never be withheld, only that withholding them to manipulate your spouse to give you more of them won’t help a marriage.
Don’t kiss and hug if it doesn’t make you feel good about your relationship. In this case, search for every little sign that you really are loved, setting aside your expectations about how you ought to be loved.
Gritted teeth are a sign of resentment, of unmet expectations. You can’t do much about your mate’s unmet expectations, but you can do something about your own. Stop doing whatever makes you feel resentful (including kisses and hugs), and let go of your ideas of how you ought to be loved.
Expect to be loved (i.e., do not accept any behavior that a decent human being would protect you from if a stranger did it, like physical harm, believable threats of harm, or emotionally damaging diatribes or snipes), but try not to expect love will be shown through fairness, gifts, shared activities, loving words, emotional support, conversation, or taking out the trash before the garbage truck arrives. While you’re tapping your foot waiting for any one of these, you’re missing out on the others. You’re not noticing them or you’re actively discouraging them.
If there’s something you need, ask for it. If your mate cannot or does not provide it, find another way to get it (without violating the integrity of your vows). I find that it helps to really drill down on needs that begin with the words “I need him to…” You are powerless to meet such a need, but it’s usually not your real need.
For example, if you need an orderly kitchen, it doesn’t matter that he’s the cause of the disorder, because he’s not the only one who can create order. If you need more praise or more deep conversation, he’s not the only one who can provide it. Even if you need more physical touching, there are massage therapists, dance classes, facials, hospitalized children, nieces and nephews, and pets who can provide a good bit of touch and bring your need down to a level he may be more comfortable dealing with.
It’s amazing how much a relationship changes — and how quickly — when any of the resentment in it is drained. I love hearing the astonished reports of those who try it.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Patti–
    One again, you have put into words something that’s been working in my marriage!
    My blogging this year has actually “brought my need level down” in the area of “being heard” to the point that I no longer “need” my husband to be my sounding board.
    I have been wondering why he seems so much more interested in what I am thinking and what I have to say. It’s probably a combination of my thoughts being more well-thought-out when I do speak and me being much more comfortable with a good old fashioned shutting up!

  • Patty, I just wanted to let you know that I found your blog a few weeks ago and today, I posted a link to it on my blog. Your advice and posts have made such a huge difference in my journey to improve my marriage, without involving my husband, so to speak. All my nagging and talking in the past never made any difference but, since putting a lot of your ideas in use, we are gradually getting better and HE IS CHANGING! I get up every morning and say to myself “Assume Love” and it guides me in my interactions with him all day long. So, thank you so much for your blog. I will be reading it for a long time!

  • Wow, Cyndi. I feel like I just unwrapped my first Christmas present, and it’s such a special one. There is nothing I enjoy more than knowing someone’s marriage is getting better because I write this blog. What a thrill!

  • I found your article and I am excited to try your strategy. I have been reading about love languages and thinking why can’t my husband love me the way I wish to be loved. But I now realize that’s placing a demand on him and have been very disappointed. He shows me love in his own way (gifts). I need words of affirmation but get a lot of criticism instead and this was making think my marriage is not working. But I am going to try and just accept his way of loving.

  • Accepting those gifts with gratitude is likely to cut down on the criticisms, Maureen. We’re all better lovers when we feel appreciated.
    After you’ve decreased some of the tension, you can suggest gifts with words of affirmation on them by sharing your excitement over such a gift that a friend has received, a card you saw at the store (cards are gifts with words — some of them affirming), or pointing out something with an engraved or painted message that you would love to receive.
    You can also turn your words of affirmation for him into gifts (and cards) to make them special to him while still making you feel as loving as you do when you affirm him.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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