Are You Acting Like a Child?

An email from “Henrion”:

My wife has been sick the last two weeks with the flu, then a cold, so I have tried to give her some room. We had a nice day yesterday…painted the living room, went on a walk, had my mom over for dinner. Then, I was on my way up to bed and walked up to her (she was sitting in a chair, watching television) and said, “Can I have a hug?” She looked at me with what I would almost call disgust. You see, when I ask for something like this, she says I use a “whimper-y” voice, and it really turns her off. Of course, I think I’m asking in a normal, modulated voice. But why should this make a difference anyway? I am asking for something I want, and is it so hard to provide a hug?

She says she should be able to say “no” and I should respect that. It’s not even that she said “no” (which she didn’t), it’s the look of derision she gave me. If she had said, “no, I still feel kind of sick and don’t feel like hugging right now,” that would have been fine. It’s okay to say “no,” just do it politely, if at all possible.

When she came to bed, I was reading. She said the “I should be entitled to say no and have you respect that” statement, and told me I was asking for a hug like a small child, and that I should have just come up and given her a hug, and if she felt like hugging me back, then she would have. I told her that, if I had just come up and hugged her, isn’t that forcing myself on her, like some sort of rape, because I didn’t have her consent in advance? (I know this sounds stupid, but she has actually brought this up in the context of more intimate touching). Plus, I said, I didn’t just want to hug her, and have her be hugged like a lump, I wanted a mutual hug. She said she was sick and didn’t feel like hugging. I told her that sometimes it was difficult to be her husband, because there were so many wrong ways to approach her. She asked me to turn out the light. I wasn’t done reading, so I took my book into the extra bedroom, and ended up sleeping there.

This morning I left for work without saying goodbye. She called me on my cell as I was pulling out of the driveway, accusing me of being passive/aggressive and punishing her by not saying goodbye. She said I need to be okay with her saying “no” to things, and get over this need to punish her. I told her I just didn’t feel like saying goodbye and that I wasn’t aware it was a marital obligation.

On the good side, she has shown a bit more affection lately, and I mentioned this and told her I appreciated it. She said that we had had a nice day, and that I was letting her refusal to hug me ruin it, as if all the affectionate things didn’t exist. I denied that. She ended up hanging up on me…can’t remember exactly why.

Henrion then shared an email exchange that he’d had with his wife later that day in which he and Mrs. H were both were striving for what I call “Righteousness Points,” trying to explain their individual positions and get the other to admit that they had been the Most Wrong. Naturally that wasn’t going to happen on either end. It was an exercise in futility, both people shouting past each other and stewing in their own worlds of hurt.

Let’s start by saying that you simply cannot argue with feelings or emotional needs. To say that someone “should not feel that way” is stupid and pointless. You have to take feelings as a given. You can explain a situation so that a person understands it better, and that may help them change their feelings about it, but you can’t just say that their emotions are “wrong.” They’re going to feel them anyway, so their feelings are part of the Reality you have to deal with. The only thing we can legitimately question in various situations is what people DO and how they EXPRESS their feelings. Let’s be absolutely clear about that.

Now then. My first and biggest question here is why Henrion decided to come to his wife and ask for a hug. I can understand why he might have wanted one, perhaps as a nice ending to a relatively happy day. I sympathize with the longing for, as he put it, “a mutual hug.” He had a need that I just can’t argue with. My puzzlement is in why he went ahead and asked for one, when his wife has apparently told him, more than once, that she doesn’t like him asking for hugs.

But how could there be anything wrong with asking for a hug, Henrion wonders. His wife has told him (again, on more than one occasion) that to her he sounds “pitiful” or “whimpery” when he asks for a hug or kiss. Henrion says he doesn’t understand this, because he thinks he’s asking as a “straightforward request, not a plea.” He thinks his voice is “normal and modulated” when he makes these requests, and after all, why should the tone of his voice even matter? He’s just asking for something he needs, right?

Well, yes, but there’s more to it than that. What is Henrion REALLY asking for? He says in so many words that he would not be satisfied with a reluctant, unfelt hug that isn’t “mutual.” So what he’s actually asking for is a feeling, an expression of genuine emotion, but it’s one that his wife can’t just summon on request. He’s effectively demanding that she respond to him, immediately, on his schedule, with the love and affection he craves. Asking is also a rebuke of sorts. It says, “You won’t show me the love you should be feeling (and when I want you to feel it), so I am forced to ask you to fake it.”

One reason Mrs. Henrion might hear these requests as “whiny” or “childish” is because this is common manipulative strategy in children. They will ask for hugs in order to get attention when they feel their parents’ interest has strayed, or to reassure themselves of their parents’ continued love after an angry incident. For most kids it’s enough that their parent dredges up an outward expression on command, no matter how reluctant or perfunctory it might be. Just getting the parent’s compliance with their request is reassurance enough, because they know that they still matter enough to the parent to at least be able to make them go through the motions of love.

But putting up these kinds of performance hoops for our partners, adult to adult, is usually viewed (although not always consciously) as a childish demand for attention. That may be why Henrion’s wife always hears his requests as whiny or whimpery, no matter what actual tone of voice he’s using. What she hears is, “Stop what you’re doing and show me that you love me. Right. Now.”

Although Mrs. Henrion is couching her objections in terms of the tone of his voice, it’s probably because she cannot face or express the fact that it’s not the way that he asks, it’s the fact that he asks at all. Like a parent who is faced with a kid who constantly uses his vulnerability as emotional blackmail, she “hears” it in a way Henrion claims he doesn’t intend, but I don’t believe she is misunderstanding the basic dynamic.

Now, I will agree that in a perfect world Mrs. H perhaps should not have responded to Henrion with a “dirty look” (although it was an honest emotional reaction, she could have tried to control her outward expression of it), but she does have the right to refuse a request to “perform” love. Henrion claims that he understands and acknowledges this right and only objects to the WAY she refused him, but I’m not so sure about that.

Henrion knew his wife’s previous disgust with these kinds of requests, and he also knew that if she did accommodate his request for a hug when she didn’t feel like it, it would be a cool, unfelt hug and not the “mutual” one he really wanted. More likely than not he was going to be totally disappointed with her reaction to the request, whether she outright refused or stood up and merely went through the motions. So I still wonder, knowing what he knew about his wife and her previous reactions to such requests, why he took the risk.

The more I look at it, the more I wonder. Viewed in a certain light, it’s almost as if he wanted to at least “test,” if not downright ruin, the relatively happy day they’d just had. Did he somehow, unconsciously, want things to go wrong again? To make himself a martyr to her “unfeelingness” or to prove once again to himself that he was still Poor Henrion, the Righteous and Misunderstood? Is he maybe trying to get “Mommy” to be mean to him so he can revel in her continued awfulness and his blameless goodness? If that’s the case, I can understand his wife’s charges of passive aggression.

When he asks for a hug he is doing something she has asked him (repeatedly) NOT to do, something that she has clearly stated “turns her off.” By going ahead and doing it anyway he is telling her that her feelings about it don’t matter, that what she has said to him about this kind of request is irrelevant to him. He doesn’t care what she thinks or says, he’s going to do it anyway. Nyah. So in addition to the manipulative demand (as she sees it), she also senses a slap in the face. In addition, he’s placed her in a situation in which she can’t win. She either jumps through the hoop he has insisted on raising in spite of her previous objections, or she refuses and allows him to put her in the “unfeeling bitch” doghouse. Lose-lose.

So, you might be thinking, what’s a husband to do when he wants a hug? The very question is backwards.

The problem is that Henrion is concerned with what he wants his wife to give him, what expressions of affection it is his right to ask for from her, and what he is or is not getting. He says, for example, that it shouldn’t be such a big deal to his wife to “provide” him with a hug. That’s the center of this conflict.

Again, it’s similar to the way children evaluate their relationships early in their ethical and emotional development. With them at that stage it’s all “tit for tat” and a constant need for outward reassurances. They look at their parents as a resource for them, whose function is to serve their needs. Children’s abilities to perceive or respond to their parents’ more sophisticated emotions are limited, thus they don’t care so much about the reality or genuineness of the feeling behind the hugs they demand, as long as they get them. This is perfectly natural in children. It’s part of what growing up teaches them to move beyond.

Mature people, on the other hand, do care about the genuineness of other people’s responses, so they tend to stop requesting mere outward shows or quid pro quos and simply GIVE a hug when they feel like giving one.

Sure, everybody likes “mutual” hugs, that spontaneous action/reaction when a hug you give gets an enthusiastic response, but the fact is that you simply can’t demand that kind of thing. You can only express yourself and your loving feelings and let other people feel the way they feel in return.

So if Henrion feels like giving his wife an expression of his love and appreciation for their nice day, instead of being fixated on getting a particular emotional performance from her, here’s what he might try instead: while they’re sitting next to each other, he can lean over and kiss her cheek, or take up her hand and kiss it, while saying, “Today was a nice day, wasn’t it? I love you.” And leave it at that. Remember: you’re expressing your real feelings for your own sake, you’re not “working” her to get a response that will reassure or gratify you.

She might answer such an expression of your love with a GENUINELY affectionate gesture of her own, and she might not, but I can just about guarantee there will be no “dirty look.”

Comments in response to this post:
Oh, if ONLY I’d read this a year ago. I was a bit Henrion, looking to test, and occasionally revelling in my martyrdom. We should do things, as you say, because we feel them, and not for the response. We can only control the love we give, not that which we receive.

meg • 2/25/04; 6:17:26 PM

The names have been changed to protect the innocent…or the not-so-innocent. Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’m Henrion (where does she come up with these names?!), so let me comment on this. I agree with the underlying point that I need to be responsible for expressing my own feelings and not try to get my wife to participate a certain way. Understand, however, that, even though my wife had said on some prior occasions that I shouldn’t ask for a kiss or hug, that I should just go ahead and do it; she has also said (when I go ahead and hug or kiss) that I should ask her if it’s okay…if she feels like being hugged. So she’s given me conflicting “directives” at times, to the point that however I approach her is unacceptable. It can be a lose/lose for me as well. I’ve decided, however, that the better approach is to just go ahead and do it, and not worry about whether I have her permission. If she hugs back, fantastic. If she doesn’t, eh, too bad for her, but at least I got to hug. If she pushes me away, or yells at me about permission etc., then she has that right, although I would probably advise her that there are more polite ways to take care of such an affront.

As for your take on this whole thing, Julia, I think “indelicate” comes to mind. I shared this story with you in hopes that you could provide some constructive criticism, not castrate me and treat me like a child (I already get that at home, thank you).

Understand that my criticism of you isn’t in the ultimate advice you give, but rather your heavy-handed method of dishing it out. The pill is so hard to swallow because half of it seems to be over-critical filler.

Harry • 2/26/04; 8:06:10 AM
On the one hand, it is quite true that “you simply cannot argue with feelings or emotional needs.”On the other hand, I’ve seen this basic fact used as a shield against reasonable argument and responsibility. If I say “I think we should…” that statement is open to debate. But if my partner disagrees and I suddenly accuse her of “disrespecting my feelings” by questioning or disagreeing with what I said, that effectively puts my position beyond debate. Is that fair? Looks like a sure-fire recipe for deadlock to me. If you can’t argue with feelings, and if both partners’ feelings are equally important and relevant, then what happens when feelings collide?

Feelings are hard to steer – but so are ships. In both cases, some navigation, and extra expenditure of fuel, are needed to avoid disastrous collisions.

Sometimes feelings ARE wrong – i.e., when one partner insists on treating the other’s mistakes as deliberate acts of hate. Feelings, however strong or deep, should not be used as excuses to avoid responsibility, or to avoid treating others as equals.

Raging Bee • 2/26/04; 8:11:14 AM
First, Raging Bee:

Sometimes feelings ARE wrong – i.e., when one partner insists on treating the other’s mistakes as deliberate acts of hate. Feelings, however strong or deep, should not be used as excuses to avoid responsibility, or to avoid treating others as equals.

Precisely. As I said, we can certainly argue with what people DO as a result of their feelings. If they are using them as a club or as an excuse to avoid responsibility, or to continue on a course of action or inaction that is counterproductive, injurious or nasty we can of course say they are wrong to do that!

My point is that you can’t indict the feelings, per se. People are going to feel what they feel no matter what, and if you want to work in reality, you have to understand and accept their feelings as a given, no matter how bizarre or ugly YOU think they are.

You can try to change a person’s feelings with talk and explanation, and you can condemn a person for the way they handle their feelings or the way they behave as a result, but you CANNOT say, “Your feelings are morally wrong.”

When feelings are on a collision course, decisions should be made on the basis of what ACTIONS are appropriate or inappropriate as human beings in relation to other human beings, not on whose feelings are stronger.

In other words, it is okay to be disgusted by your partner’s insistence on doing somthing you’ve asked them not to, but it is NOT okay to, for example, beat them because they pissed you off. Whether or not a “dirty look” is out of bounds is debatable, of course. I’d advise against it because it poisons the interpersonal water and makes resolution of an emotional impasse all that much more difficult, but I suppose a case can be made for “allowing honest expression” or something.

My own marital problems were the opposite: my husband is the emotional guy who expressed his negative emotions too freely, and I suppressed mine too severely. I know what it’s like to be on Harry’s end of things, but I also wouldn’t like to advise spouses of either gender to be like me, keeping their mouths shut just for the sake of a false sense of “peace.”

Harry, I’m sorry you felt “castrated” by my honest examination of your situation. I felt I was being upfront with you and with the other readers here, bringing out elements of your situation that would be hard for you to discover or acknowledge on your own.

The last thing I did was treat you as a child! A child would be coddled and soothed and reassured that everything was Just Fine. I thought, in fact, that you were an intelligent adult who could handle what I had to say, in spite of the fact that in the end I couldn’t “validate” you. I still think that.

I know you will take from this what you can use and discard the rest. Others will absorb what THEY can use and dismiss what’s irrelevant to them. This way everybody’s got some information and some interesting concepts to work with, whether or not they — or you — ultimately accept or apply any of it. In reference to your confusion about how to approach your wife, I understood you to originally say that your wife had only said “don’t just do it without asking” in reference to much more intimate sexual activities, not in reference to asking for hugs and kisses outside the bedroom. Explicit sexual activity and daily expressions of affection are two different emotional situations and (in my view, anyway) two different sets of “rules” for them are understandable and legit.

If this is not the case, though, if your wife has also recently said to you that you have to ask for permission for mere hugs, and then objects this strenuously when you do, I agree that she is giving you unconscionably conflicting signals, and you have every right to call her on this (the signals, not the feelings behind them).

But another rule of thumb you might want to take into consideration is that the most recent request your loved one makes of you in regard to such things is the one you should take as the literal “last word.” Things change, feelings change, people change. This is allowed (but not every other week, of course).

Again, I’m sorry if you were hurt by the honesty of my reply. But again I say that I think you’re man enough to take it and make your life better as time goes on.

By the way: Nobody can “castrate” you with words unless you LET them. People can wound your feelings, sure, but they can’t demolish you without your permission. You’re very bravely looking for the truth, Harry (no matter how much that search might hurt in a given moment) and in my view that’s a very MANLY thing to do.

Julia Grey • 2/26/04; 11:49:34 AM
Julia, I had a little trouble following your thread. This didn’t have your usual breezy assuredness. I think you hit on something important when you said, “So what he’s actually asking for is a feeling, an expression of genuine emotion, but it’s one that his wife can’t just summon on request.” But you only partially carried that through.

That is one important point: that asking for a hug, a kiss, sex, etc. can be meaningless or it can be full of emotional value. For many women, it’s easier to turn off the responses than to summon them on request.

That is a hook for the man to get into. Actually, it’s basic seduction strategy, that you identify what the woman is holding back and address it.

And it’s also a sign of hope. Emotional exchange can be worked on. It’s a problem. As you hear over and over, for many men, it’s the lack of knowing what is going on that frustrates. If in stereotypical ways, men need to solve problems, nothing annoys men more than a problem that won’t give up a clue about how it can be solved.

jonathank • 2/26/04; 6:57:11 PM
“When feelings are on a collision course, decisions should be made on the basis of what ACTIONS are appropriate or inappropriate as human beings in relation to other human beings, not on whose feelings are stronger.”

In the short term, this is true, and we are right to judge each other, and ourselves, by our words and actions, not by our thoughts. But in the long term, if the same feelings must be concealed, glossed over, or suppressed on a regular basis, in order to avoid wrong actions, then it is time to reexamine the feelings themselves, and possibly take some action, or some thoughful reassessment, to change the feelings (or what causes them) so that they are more in line with one’s real interests in the real world.

Example: Anger and frustration are inevitable, to some degree, and I simply cannot act on them as they happen without thought; but if I am angry and frustrated ALL THE TIME, then perhaps I need to reassess my wants, priorities, and/or expectations, and figure out what exactly is making me so. Do I expect too much of my partner, my job, or the Universe? Do I expect the impossible? What must I give up to get what I expect, and is that a good bargain? Have I learned the wrong responses or coping mechanisms? Am I channeling my energies in the right direction? Do I really need what I’ve thought I need all my life? Should I change my strategy for getting what I need or want?

In Narcotics Anonymous there is a saying: “You’re not responsible for your disease, but you are responsible for your recovery.” If your feelings are a disease in your life, preventing you from living and enjoying life on its own terms, then you are responsible for identifying the disease, and taking corrective action.

Raging Bee • 2/27/04; 8:55:12 AM
Raging Bee, you’re making perfect sense, and I agree that self-examination and the questioning and reform of one’s own mistaken or excessive feelings is a very good and necessary thing.

My contention was that it is totally useless to tell someone ELSE that they have to reform their emotions in order to solve YOUR problem with them.

That’s part of the Narcotics Anonymous theory, too, isn’t it? That no one and nothing can genuinely alter a man’s feelings and actions until HE is willing to change?

You can give other people reasons and exhortations up the wazoo, but until THEY willingly do the internal work you’re alluding to, their feelings and behaviors will not change. You’ll be beating your head against the wall AND adding pointless negativity to the relationship.

That’s why I say that we shouldn’t be wasting our time saying to each other, “Stop feeling those feelings.” A husband shouldn’t waste his time saying to his wife, “You should want to have sex with me,” and a wife shouldn’t waste her time telling her husband that sex “shouldn’t be that important” to him. Things are what they are.

The solution to the problems we have in dealing with other people’s emotions is not to sit around bitching and moaning to ourselves about their “wrong” feelings, and essentially just hoping that they’ll straighten up and fly right (i.e., the way we want them to). Racking up Righteousness Points in your own mind — no matter how righteous you might actually be — will do exactly J.A.C.K. to solve your problem.

All we can do when confronted with another person’s problematic emotions (or lack of them) is to take another look at ourselves, OUR reactions, and what WE might be able to do that could alter that person’s experience and outlook enough to make them look inward also.

Just yelling at them to “fix” themselves because their feelings aren’t what you think they should be isn’t going to do the trick.

Julia Grey • 2/27/04; 11:44:44 AM
Okay, Julia, here’s where the rubber meets the road, right?

You have previosly claimed that you write this blog from experience and that your life is a case-in-point for us husbands who ain’t gettin’ any. The point being that your sex life eventually “came around.” So, what did your husband change about himself that made you want to come out of your sex-less funk? Did anything *he* did affect your feelings or emotions regarding having sex with him?

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that he did make some changes in his behavior and, again, for the sake of argument, his change in behavior had little or nothing to do with your sexuality being revived. Have you asked him if this change in attitude/behavior helped him deal with his frustations along the way?

My marriage is perfect, but I’m sure Harry would like to know the answer to this, right, Harry? Just kidding, I’m dying to know if going through the incredibly difficult process of reshaping my attitude and behavior is worth squat. If it in any way encourages my wife to begin enjoying sex with me, great, but I would at least hope it helps make my life with her somewhat more bearable, or, day I say it, enjoyable.

So far, I don’t see a whole lot of either.

Duke • 2/27/04; 12:43:15 PM
Is it as simple as believing the words you hear instead of filtering them through your own wishes? So many times in disagreements with my wife what I found at the end, when we have reached some point of understanding, was that I had made errors by assuming that some other meaning lay behind her words. You can suppose that I just wasn’t listening, that I didn’t want to believe what I was hearing, or that my view of the world was so deeply imbedded in my brain that anything else didn’t make sense to me. All would be true. Often it was the assumptions that I was making that were wrong.

Of course, what is said is not always what is meant. Say one thing in anger or frustration and hours, or even minutes, later I wish that I had said something else. It’s more than the embarrassment of losing control. No, more because what was said wasn’t what was true. If that happens for me, why wouldn’t it be true for my wife? “I was so angry that I couldn’t think straight,” is a physiological description of the lack of oxygen in the brain as blood rushes to defense.

Ironically, it is the times that I have acted on what was said instead of what I heard that has worked out better. It becomes obvious when the words were not really what was intended, and to err by honoring what my wife says reduces the accusations of not listening or of hearing only what I want to hear.

I once began a conversation with, “You said ____, _____, and ____. That counts until you say something different. Your word is good with me.” She didn’t like the words that came back, and she was honest enough not to deny them. Like a mantra, “you said it” now cuts through a lot of verbal garbage.

I concede that your mileage may vary, but what’s wrong with honoring the words?

Jack • 3/1/04; 11:07:54 AM
I really hope Julia responds to Duke’s comment of February 27, but I want to respond to Jack. I can get a bit obsessive at times, Jack, and have actually found myself getting up in the middle of the night and writing down a conversation/argument that my wife and I had in bed right before going to sleep. I suppose the stereotypical woman can easily recall what was said without writing it down, but I know the way my memory works, so I write. In the heat of an argument, we say things we absolutely don’t mean. “Get out!” “I want a divorce!” “You’re a bastard/bitch!” “Bush is a great president!” Okay, maybe I’ve never said that last thing, even during the insanity of an argument. My point is, that these are fightin’ words, and it’s not really fair to hold them against someone.

Now, if you’re talking about words NOT spoken when passions are high, then, okay, bring them up later and make sure that what you heard, and the meaning you subscribed to it, is what the speaker meant.

For example, my wife once told me, calmly, right before falling asleep, that she had no problem with me going to a prostitute, because, in her words, “it’s no different than masturbating…just that someone is there.” I wrote that down, because I thought it was so crazy. Several weeks later, I brought her words up to her and asked her if she meant it. At first, she said that she had definitely meant it. So I said, “just to clarify this, you would have no problem if I took $300 out of savings, went to the classifieds, called a prostitute, and had sex with her?” She said, “no.” “But…” she began. (Ahhh, here’s where, as Duke said, the rubber meets the road)”…if you do that, I think you’re avoiding dealing with your problem, and I’d really lose respect for you.” My “problem” in her eyes is that I’m obsessed with sex.

So what I suspected was true: she’s really NOT okay with me seeing a prostitute. It just took a bit of follow up to make sure of this fact. BTW, I’m not okay with seeing a prostitute, either. The reason I’m here on this blog is that I want my wife to desire me, to enjoy making love to me, to initiate once in a while.

So my suggestion is, honor the words, but make sure to give them a chance to clarify their meaning before you act.

Harry • 3/2/04; 4:47:53 AM
So my suggestion is, honor the words, but make sure to give them a chance to clarify their meaning before you act.

Absolutely, Harry. Obviously your instincts on that troubling statement were excellent. This “I don’t care if you…” sort of hastiness is actually a very common reaction to long-term frustration and worry about this issue, and it is almost never genuinely meant.

But an extended clarification process is really only necessary for the more unusual statements like this one. In the ordinary course of interpersonal business, the rule should be to honor what a person said the last time they spoke to you about something. Sometimes it helps to make this understanding explicit, though, saying something like, “From now on, I’m going by what you told me the last time we talked about [subject]. Is that okay with you?”

I do want to answer Duke’s question, and in fact answering it in detail is part of my long-term plan for the blog. The short answer is that we BOTH changed our behavior and attitudes, and this was inevitable, because once one person makes a significant change, outwardly or inwardly, it changes the emotional environment for the other partner.

Interpersonal impasses and stalemates occur when both people are absolutely sure that it is the OTHER person who has to make the needed changes in THEIR attitudes and behaviors.

That’s why one of the ways to know how much you really love your wife (or at least how much you value your marriage) is to ask yourself whether you are willing to seek the truth of your own life or make concessions in the absence of ANY effort or or alteration on the other side.

If, as one of the commenters on the post below apparently feels, the idea of making any concessions or changes first is too much of a sacrifice of your personal pride or self-image, you have your answer.

The biggest point I have been trying to make all along on this blog is that there is absolutely no way to FORCE a major change of feelings or attitude on another person if they are not willing to change. You cannot “hold onto your self-respect” long enough to make your wife suddenly decide she adores you and wants your body.

You could, however, re-examine your concept of self-respect or what you feel it requires, and you could then figure out whether your concept is doing you more harm than good in the long run.

Yes, there ARE boundaries that a man should not cross to please (or seduce love from) other human beings. That’s why the process of making sure you know yourself and your unique “end of the line” should be approached with with All. You’ve. Got. in the way of intelligence and bravery.

To continue with the short answer to Duke’s question, I was actually the one who made the first breakthroughs in our sexual impasse. My fundamental eroticism “grew back” in a way I’ll talk about in more detail later, and — most important — I recognized my own quest for Power rather than partnership in my marriage.

Seeing the effect of my attitude changes on my husband, and the increasing trust and interest that those responsive changes in him then aroused in me, taught me the basic truths of this blog.

Julia Grey • 3/2/04; 10:25:44 AM
This is strange because I feel like I’m busting in on something really private–but I guess it isn’t really private because it’s a blog, etc.When you mention the ‘whimper-y’ thing I couldn’t help but think gender roles and how women (including myself) sometimes respond when men show certain kinds of passivity, needs or emotions–they see it as weakness sometimes (a tendency I really try to fight)…The requirement to mother, the idea that your partner is a child– can make some women very annoyed because life is hard and we always dreamed of someone who would be stronger and more with it than we are. I know there’s a lot on this blog about men and women being really different–and perhaps they are. But I *think* men need affection, love, etc. just the same as women and that women’s dream of ‘strong guy’ is just a fantasy.

In a marriage you’d hope that fears and weaknesses could be shared without all this mixed up gender stuff–that men have to be strong and silent, etc. But when other things aren’t going well I think we sometimes read stuff in funny ways. I think there was a flash of that with your wife that you saw even if this is not how she thinks all the time. Maybe that’s what’s going on here? At least in part. To ask for a hug can be kind of passive-aggressive (or seen that way) because it expresses fear of rejection but to take a hug is more stereotyped manly because it shows confidence and entitlement. (Of course, this also annoys people sometimes.)

So I’m not actually disagreeing with Julia–just adding another spin on similar ideas.

I seriously have no advice!…I’ve only observed that if either person is seen as ‘needy’ by the other this creates problems of mutual respect.

Miel • 3/4/04; 12:49:46 AM
Thanks, Miel. I’ve definitely stopped asking for hugs and have just been giving them lately. I even get a few from her occasionally, which is nice. I’ve been trying hard to be more confident lately, and it seems to be helping.

Harry • 3/4/04; 6:20:36 AM #

Well, that sure was a long post. Personally I would have been turned on by the question could I have a hug. Think that question is giving this woman just a little too much power. Some women can’t handle all that power. They can get abusive. I wouldn’t have even went into a full on discussion of why you didn’t just hug her. Why can’t you just read my human nature and know what I like and what I don’t? Why can’t you just be the exact image of what I think I need, in my head? That was just retarded in the first place. Should of said I’m sorry I even asked selfish.

Alanna • 5/14/04; 11:29:29 AM #

I was re-reading this because I some issues a bit like Harry

One thing that leaped out at me this time was Harry didn’t ask “can I hug you?”. His wife had told him to ask before he hugged or kissed her. That’s an “ask before you invade my space” point.

Harry asked “can *I* have a hug?” That’s what set off her “whiny little boy” and wasn’t the same thing as the agreement they had negotiated before.

enndee • 5/20/04; 7:34:35 PM #
>but you CANNOT say, “Your feelings are morally wrong.”

I’m not exactly sure what you meant. If a person is thinking “I feel I’m going to kill you”, some may say that this feeling is morally wrong, and tell it to that person, even if the person is never going to act on the feelings. As I see it so far, feelings can be morally wrong.. maybe not to oneself, but to other people. If I missed something, please let me know !

Dennis • 6/9/04; 8:36:50 PM

I haven’t read all of the comments, but there was something that struck me here, that may or may not have been addressed. I can see both sides of the coin here. My husband, as much as I love him, can be quite infuriating to me when he makes a request. If I say no, sometimes he will hound me until I give, or he will pout. Yes my big romantic manly man… pouts. It’s terribly annoying, and I know I’m guilty of it too, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so annoyed, but I put up with whining, pouting, screaming, and hounding all day long, and since my husband is really the only adult I come into contact with on a daily basis, it is extremely annoying when he acts out these childish behaviors.

However, I guess what I am trying to get to is what “Henrion” seems to be trying to express is that he has a need for affection as we all do. He’s trying to respect his wife’s wishes on one hand by not just taking control of the situation and giving her a hug wether she wants one or not, but on the other hand in turn blantantly ignoring conflicting instructions not to ask. I can see his dillemma. When in doubt, take the safest route… asking first. After all I can see that it would be less desirable to have your partner get upset and throw a hissy fit, and shut down completely over feeling violated, then it would be to simply have them a little annoyed, but still at least on some level compliant.

Simple solution perhaps: ask her if SHE needs a hug. Something like, “Hey you gorgeous woman, you look like you could use a hug. Do you need a hug? I could sure use one, what about you?” In a sense you are still expressing your need, but rather than asking her permission to get one like a two year old, your asking if it’s a need you can fulfill for her. You are showing her you are an intelligent adult, ready and waiting to fulfill a need for her, while still expressing your own need. Have fun with it, joke around with it. Say something totally romantic and get her laughing. Chances are it will be successful and make you both happy with the results.

Square1 • 10/7/04; 1:55:15 PM


12 Responses to “Are You Acting Like a Child?”

  1. Don Says:

    >>>I told her that sometimes it was difficult to be her husband, because there were so many wrong ways to approach her.

    I’m surprised no one zeroed in on this sentence here because to me it’s the most telling part of Harry’s dilemma. For the record, I think Harry, quite frankly, is being a bit of a douchebag, simply because his asking for hugs is his passive way of saying to his wife that there is no real intimacy in their relationship, and by ‘asking’ her for hugs, he hopes to subtly point that fact out for her so that she’ll come to that realization on her own and correct it. If you read between the lines, Harry knows that it’s pathetic to ask for hugs. In fact, that’s the whole point –“this is what you reduced me to! For the love of God, can’t you see our marriage is a sham?”
    However, I totally get what Harry is saying here. I’m sure he’s tried several hundred ways to express his displeasure about their sex and intimate life, and he’s been rebuffed several hundred times. There are so many wrong ways to approach her, because she simply doesn’t want to be approached – period. So I’m not sure why he’s still bothering, except that he still doesn’t get it and he hopes that one little thing will turn the tide. BUT ultimately, WHY is it so difficult for Harry to communicate with his wife? When he says there are so many wrong ways to approach his wife, I believe him, because I’ve walked down that road as well. And it leads me to believe that this stereotype that women are the great communicators and that men don’t know how to express their feelings is a bunch of crap.
    Harry needs to step back and reexamine how important this kind of affection is for him… I mean, hugs from loved ones are important, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the turmoil that Harry’s going through. I think Harry would get far more mileage out of NOT hugging his wife and telling her that it’s no longer worth his effort to do so. In my own marriage, I never asked for hugs, but my own wife’s passive negative response to hugging was to suddenly ‘feel ill’ or having the sudden urge to dredge up some pressing money or family problem (pushing my old stress buttons), so I’d disengage as soon as possible. This was completely soul-destroying and it put me in a really dark place. To this I eventually stopped hugging her. It wasn’t a ‘fuck you’ decision, I just started associating those “hugs” negatively and I didn’t want that kind of negativity anymore. That in turn took her off the defensive and she started examining what it was she was doing in more self critical terms.
    The gut response is to call this all ‘mind games’. I’ve given that a lot of thought, and ultimately I’d have to disagree with that assessment. A mind game is to traditionally go against one’s feelings to achieve some sort of relationship advantage. This is the refusal to participate in something that’s grown unpleasant.

  2. Nettie Dedrick Says:

    Everything Henrion said was exactly me. However I am the wife. My husband refuses hugs often. I thought he was being passive agressive…maybe it’s me? I just know my previous husband never minded hugging me anytime. He loved it. When he died, I thought being married again would be like that, and it was untill we said ‘I Do.’ Then all of a sudden he wanted me around but not to close, though.
    (At mealtimes, etc.) He thinks I am needy. (I thought I was supposed to need him?) Well, I have changed a lot to try to adapt to him, but it still hurts when I want to cuddle or have a hug and he says no. I am starting to wonder if it is worth it to be lonely AND married ! I think I could manage to be lonely all by myself. Unfortunately I do care about him and I think he would be very unhappy without me. Does anyone think I can change so much that I won’t care if I have an affectionate relationship with my husband very often? We have a lot of other things in common, and I do not believe in divorce and remarriage. Maybe I am being to demanding, I had never had that thought before. I will try not to be that way. Maybe that will help, so thank you. Thanks for letting me get this off my heart, since there is no one I can talk to about these things.

  3. Mitzy Says:

    What I find interesting is what is not said. While this appears to be a request or a demand she give a hug on his say so……..I have no doubt it really isn’t about hugs at all.
    Since Henrion seems to enjoy turning off his wife by not honoring her (and her feelings about his approaches) I suspect he is also dishonoring her in other ways on a daily basis.
    What he is really saying is that he is too lazy to honor her feelings. Plain and simple. He knows she has asked him NOT to “demand” things of her, yet he does.
    She also doesn’t want him to just force himself on her, without her permission (which really means she cannot FEEL desire) for someone so utterly disrespectful to “what does turn her on or off”.
    Whether he wants JUST a hug (on demand of course) or sex (again on demand) he is totally missing what she feels (not interested) in giving to him when he gives HER no respect to LEARN what he needs to to turn her on. She also has bad experiences in that he has no problem expecting her to perform (on demand) and clearly it bothered him greatly that he could not disrespect her feelings to get what he wants. Yes, he is clearly passive aggressive AND lazy. Otherwise he could easily learn the difference. People don’t want intimacy with someone who knows they are being IGNORED feeling wise. He is a smart ass that thinks he should get a response just because he wants to dis her and force her to have no voice regarding her feelings. No wonder she is “turned off”. She has asked him to do a bit of work (emotional) that is to respect her feelings on the matter, which might be “when I am interested, you will know it”…….Bet she won’t be interested in hugs or sex, as long as he expects to make her disregard her own feelings on the matter. He is a lazy, passive aggressive with a sense of “entitlement”.
    My husband used to “ask” with a total turn off, “Can I get a little?” No matter how many times I said don’t treat it like an appointment…….just do thoughtful sexy things and see if it happens. I am NOT a vending machine, but a person”
    It never ceases to amaze me how men disrespect their wife’s needs and expect a reward. Mine was also a good one for saying, “I know you are not going to like it but….and then do it anyway”. Go figure why we are divoricing and currently sleeping in seperate rooms.

  4. BlueRed Says:

    When I was 15 or 16, and started shaving, my (male) teacher of English told me never to let any woman have my razor. I did not know what he meant, I took it literally.

    Now I am 45 and I think I am starting to understand….. As a man, you never let your female partner hurt you.

    Harry, it is OK to want a hug, and it is OK for her to refuse. And it is OK for you to try again – perhaps in a slightly different way, and obviously not in any way that might hurt her. Read blogs, books, talk to people, keep looking for a way to get the problem sorted out. Keep thinking of what you want (not what is making you feel bad). When you know want you want, go for it,try every possible ay to get there. Never give up. Ever.

    Whenever I gave up, I lost. But when I persisted, usually I got what I wanted. It took some time and considerable effort – but is it not better than not getting there?

  5. Clive Says:

    I just have to say something to you all. My wife and I, married for 29 years and known each other for 30, we don’t ASK for hugs. We give them spontaneously. We hold and hug forever. Even our two kids join in for “group hugs”. As we pass each other or talk, arms go out and we hug. It is kind of ‘in the territory’. If my wife asked me for a hug, I give, unconditionally. And vice versa. We just LOVE hugging! There is NEVER a time we hold back a hug. Why should we? It’s so basic.
    What I read here looks like power play. People are using basic human affection and building silly rules around it. For Heaven’s sake – really – are you unable to hug and cuddle without asking? Where is the affection? Are you both using hugs to build power and control? Why would a woman limit hugs until she is “in the mood”? Why are hugs so controlled? To me this is power manipulation and the relationship is already is deep trouble. Women love hugs. Men love hugs. All people do. It is human nature! I could not imagine ASKING for hugs as a deliberate approach. My wife and I woujld simply hug, smile and share the warmth.
    So something is deeply wrong with what is going on with you. I think you need to get to the bottom of this, and quick.
    My wife and I DO have our own deep and problematical sexual issues that are currently undergoing UK sex therapy. But this bizarre hugging ruleset seems far more fundamental and unhappy than the problems we face. We may have our own issues in our sex lives, but we love our hugs and it is a deep, loving need between us. If my wife started rejecting hugs because of her mood set, I would be deeply alarmed.
    Please, if anyone has this issue, investigate. Hugs are for free, that is what we say. And for the doubters, my daughter has brought home a 17-year old boyfriend. He’s a great believer in hugs and as total strangers on our first meeting, he gave me a huge hug; a ‘Glomph’ as he calls them. As a reserved Englishman I was taken aback. But, what a warm, enjoyable way to make a new friend.
    So, if you are negotiating hugs, I think you have a major issue to deal with that meeds sorting before any other progress is made.

  6. NiceGuyturningNasty Says:

    Julia, this is a great blog, thank you!

    “My wife has been sick the last two weeks with the flu, then a cold, so I have tried to give her some room. We had a nice day yesterday…painted the living room, went on a walk, had my mom over for dinner. Then, I was on my way up to bed and walked up to her (she was sitting in a chair, watching television) and said, “Can I have a hug?” ”

    It makes one wonder how long a man’s (husband, mate, life-long friend and companion….etc) love, care-giving, affection, and attention must go un-answered before its appropriate to ask for some return of love and affection? Here, what seems like a reasonable attempt by Henrion to reconnect with his recouperated mate,…. on his way up to bed… with a measiley hug? and is rejected and hissed at?? This blog seems to be about these ‘frigid women’, who demand an endless supply of unrequited flowers, gracious comments, and romantic gestures (here: chicken soup, ni-quil, and afgans). Then they get pissy when dear devoted husband wants some small sign (or dare-say-parity) of affection in return??? And the men are childish??

    • Realismwriter Says:

      Well said niceguyturningnasty – 2 human beings, both with emotions and needs. Too much focus throughout on the man failings and just work at changing yourself for the better blah blah blah. Two to tango?

      Mitzy – your (ex) husband is a lucky man if he makes it out alive – best of luck buddy.

  7. Amy Says:

    Henrion must be my husband in disguise. My husband always asks for things in a childish, whiny, sing-song tone of voice. (Yes, including hugs) Also, when I ask him questions he tends to answer with a ‘questioning’ tone at the end of his answer. Random example – upon opening the fridge yesterday, I saw a case of beer in it, and I said with surprise, “Oh! It looks like you bought some beer. Is that to go along with dinner?” His reply: “Nooooo?” Like he was four years old. I haven’t been able to understand this method of communication – what his purpose / goal is, when he speaks to me in this manner. But then, neither have I criticized him for speaking this way, like Henrion’s wife in the example above. My response to the situation is to simply stop asking questions. I just make direct statements now. If I was Henrion’s wife, I would have given him a hug, mentioned (yet again) that he doesn’t need to ASK for hugs in order to receive them, and then summed up by saying what a ‘nice day’ we had together (Distraction from the hug issue!)

  8. lonely wife Says:

    I just don’t get it. Why is it SO hard to say ‘Sweetheart, would you mind if I gave you hug?’ while gently touching her arm or hand? I understand completely why his wife was irritated. There’s a big difference that anyone can see between ‘Can you give me a hug’ and ‘Would you mind hugging me.’ One is asking for permission to receive affection, as if the asker isn’t worthy enough to begin with. The other is suggesting that the man is being considerate of her feelings, but wanted to put out on the table that he wants some attention.

    I learned a while back that the words ‘can you’ does not work with people. ‘Would you’ is much more respectful and has never failed to produce a ready response that wasn’t nasty or hurtful like a dirty look.

  9. William Says:

    I got about half way through this post before I wanted to find where these people were and slap the snot out of the both of them.

  10. John Says:

    This article is clearly written by a latte-sipping intellectual with no knowledge of human personal relationships.

    The woman has ‘unresolved issues’ and one or more of … obsessive compulsive disorder ( a kiss = germs) and/or Asexual and/or frigid ..

    Sadly for most, these issues are pathological = life long and don’t respond well to treatment.

    Henrion needs to evaluate his options … rationalise this loveless situation which dominates his life .. starved and frustrated.

    Henrion should plan his exit from this relationship .. move on, and find someone normal and enjoy life as we are biologically designed.

    And to the schmuccos who think the answer is to give her a kiss on the cheek occasionally .. that is merely a psychological wank !!


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