I have worked with couples where expressing affection has been difficult for one or both parties. They are both committed to one another and to the relationship but they lack the ability to express their love and connection.
For most couples, it is easier to expression affection when the relationship is new and everything is fresh and exciting. Depending on the needs of each person it can be easier to get their needs met to be touched, held or kissed in the first year or so of the relationship.
In the honeymoon phase, we live in a “love bubble” where it feels effortless to be in tune with one another. The other person can seemingly read your mind. This experience is caused by the flood of hormones that comes with falling in love. Those begin to fade and then begins the work of being in a relationship begins. This is when we need to be able to communicate our wants and needs in a healthy way. Negotiating our needs and compromising is the work at hand. Without those communication skills, the relationship begins to fray and affection can wither.
I often ask couples: “When did that change (to being less affectionate)? Has something changed inside you that has made those expressions of love stop?”
It usually takes some time to sort this out and there are many layers that need to be sifted through in the process. In some cases, there have been betrayals or trust or cruel words spoken that have damaged that free flow of affection. Other times it has been that one party or the other has “given up” communicating their true desires, their dreams for their live or the marriage.
In a marriage, we hopefully show up as an adult. We also have our venerable child selves who are wanting a corrective experience for their childhood hurts. Without being aware of it we can take our unmet child needs and expect our partner to love us unconditionally, the way we needed to be loved then. It is an unfair task to assign especially when the other person does not know it is your inner child who is needing this love. An example is having a deep desire to be acceptable and loved as you are and your partner (like all of us) has judgements of your choices, appearance, etc. This can cause a lot of pain and disappointment. If not talked about openly barriers get raised and the free flow of affection that is needed to sustain your relationship dries up.
What is needed is an awareness of the unmet child need in each adult in the marriage. And the awareness that it is not the adult partner who can fill that unmet need (at least not all the time).
Conflict is inevitable and repair is what keeps affection and love flowing. There is a need to take ownership for your part of conflicts and make amends for harsh words, or actions taken. It is important to work on your relationship with your inner child. and make sure that you are taking care of that part of you. Learning to sooth your own emotions is invaluable so that you can be your best self with your partner.
For affection to return there needs to be repair of the hurts so you can trust each other and have the honest talks about what affection looks and feels like for each of you. By doing this work you can move back toward having the relationship you really want.