Ask Team Practical: How to Feel Loved

My guy didn’t get me a ring. I thought that I was okay with this, but I’m not. No, I don’t want anything “bling-y” nor do I need it. I just wish he’d gotten or done something symbolic instead of giving me a ring.

I don’t know what exactly, but I wish I didn’t feel like he asked me as an afterthought. I got a, “Hey I’d like to be married, how about it?” followed with an, “I didn’t get you a ring because I know you’re not that kind of girl.”

Which is true.

But please, give me something?! ANYTHING would’ve been nice. An “I love you” somewhere in that sentence, or some sort of expression that he loves the life we have together and wants to continue building it. A nicely worded card telling me how much he loved me would have even sufficed.

Nothing. Nope. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Because apparently, I’m not that kind of girl.

So am I wrong to want something/anything? I’m worried that if I’m not wrong, this is the least of my problems.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t need/want to feel special because I’m getting/have gotten engaged. However, I do want to feel loved. I know that I am loved. But I don’t/didn’t feel it. I know the presence of a ring wouldn’t have made me feel it. So what is my problem? Why am I so blue about this?

Dear Anonymous,

Obviously, this isn’t about the ring. Which is great! Because I’ve already mentioned once or twice that you don’t really have a say in what gifts someone chooses to give you (or not give you). So, whew, I won’t have to repeat myself there. Instead of gifts and rings and stuff, this is about feeling loved—which is related, but very different.  It sounds like you (like me) feel loved when someone clearly puts thought and time into planning something, rather than doing it on the fly. I hear that. But the problem is, it sounds like your partner hasn’t heard it.

As weird as it may sound, knowing how to love someone is a learning process. He probably naturally, without even trying, just has tons of squishy-love emotions for you. I bet he even chooses to love you, actively making you a priority in his life. And I’m guessing he knows you pretty well, too. He might know exactly how much sugar to put in your coffee, or which Pandora station to leave on when you’re home, or the perfect thing to say when you’re mad at your boss. But loving someone, and even knowing someone, are both different than knowing what makes someone feel loved. That’s something you learn over time, and contrary to movies and novels, something that often requires actual real-deal, frank conversation, not always intuitive guesswork.

So, I mean, kudos to him for knowing that you probably don’t want “bling.” But, obviously he’s still missing something. That doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s off between the two of you, or you’re a poor fit, or he’s a thoughtless asshole, or that you should listen to that eensy little fear whispering at the back of your mind that maybe he just doesn’t care enough. It probably just means that he still has more to learn about you. Which is fine. Here’s another startling revelation about marriage: you probably don’t know everything about one another. And your relationship is probably better off for it. I was at a wedding recently where an older couple encouraged the groom, “Never stop dating.” Alright, sure, I felt a little queasy over so much cheese (and, honestly, I’ve never really come around to liking the term “dating”), but I think the point is that we should never stop trying to learn more about each other. As soon as we hit that point where we think we know all there is to know about each other, something’s off. Something’s gone stale. We stop digging deeper to figure each other out. We stop asking questions and paying attention. We lose a little of the intrigue. And you know, I’m not a super complicated person (I basically consist of watercolor paint and pastry), but I’m still learning new stuff about myself all the damn time. Stands to reason that some other person wouldn’t have me totally figured out either.

This little snag demonstrates just that. There’s a lot about you he still doesn’t know—which is fine. And one of those things he has yet to learn is how to make you feel loved—which is also fine. It might be disappointing in the immediate. But, because making someone feel loved is a long learning process, you can pretty much get ready for you both to get it wrong a bunch of times throughout marriage. Just ask my sweet, thoughtful, loving husband about my first Mother’s Day. Or, you could equally ask him about how I gave him Friday Night Lights for Christmas (I thought he loved staring at Coach Taylor as much as I do!). The bright side to that, though, is that just like so much else, it improves with time. You get to know one another, and eventually, you really can intuit what he would like, what makes him feel special, how to brighten his day. And he learns how to do the same for you.

But, to get there, you need to talk about it. “When you send me flowers, it makes me feel loved.” “I like when you text me that you’re thinking about me.” Sounds très unromantic, no? Shouldn’t he just know that stuff? And besides, isn’t it sort of selfish to tell him what I want from him? NO. Incorrect. Stop watching movies. There’s nothing unromantic about honest, heartfelt, caring communication. There’s nothing selfish about giving your partner a helping hand in getting to know you. Know what is unromantic? Special occasions ruined by a preventable misstep. Know what’s selfish? Stewing in a corner every time he slips up, but stubbornly refusing to share what only you know because, “He should just know.”

Another key to marriage? It’s never a good idea to assume your partner just knows about something you haven’t actually discussed. That goes for sex. That goes for marital expectations. That goes for grocery lists. And, hey, that goes for proposals. Consider this the beginning of a long legacy of (sometimes uncomfortable) frank discussions about what you need. Just take heart that a little bit of discomfort up front saves a lot of exasperation over the long haul.

So, eventually, you may want to have a frank (but gentle) chat about what makes you feel loved. You know, something like, “Even though I’m not into jewelry, I want to know that you invested thought and care into this.” Then, maybe give him some examples of what “thought” and “care” look and feel like to you. Even if you are super gentle (please be super gentle!), he’s probably going to feel like he let you down. Which is fair (he sort of did, right?). Here’s my last marital advice gem for today: when he has let you down (in this way, or in any other) provide him with a possibility for rebound. My gut impulse when I’m disappointed is to declare that everything is RUINED and there’s NO FIXING IT and LEAVE ME ALONE. How unfair is that? If you can get over the sting of disappointment enough to suggest, “Hey, that was sort of a letdown, but maybe we can go out to dinner and have a special night to celebrate?” you’re already moving toward working as a team to make each other feel loved.


Team Practical, have you ever been disappointed by how your partner expresses love? How did you work through it?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • At our marriage prep class we talked about the love languages, and although I was completely dismissive of them before I found it fascinating and really helpful to work out how I feel loved and how my fiance feels loved. They were different btw, so I was showing him love the way I know I feel it but he wasn’t responding and vice versa. We found it really helpful and easy to embrace, maybe you could check it out, the website has a wee quiz!! xox

    • Moe

      Yes, I read the book and thought it was a sappy idea at first but I get it. According to the assessment I’m all about Quality Time and my very least-expressed love language was Gifts. Which explained a lot for me.

      The amount of time someone spends with me or planning something for me means way more to me than any gift.

    • Samantha

      I was going to suggest this also! My fiance and I took this early on in our relationship but then again at our Pre Cana class, which reminded us about it. Since we’ve started to really implement it in our lives and it really is so helpful. We are lucky because he is a “physical touch” and I am equal parts “physical touch” and “quality time” so we mesh really well. But if we were trying to fulfill each other with gifts we wouldn’t have been getting very far at all! I would suggest doing this. It’s insightful.

      Also – THIS: “Sounds très unromantic, no? Shouldn’t he just know that stuff? And besides, isn’t it sort of selfish to tell him what I want from him? NO. Incorrect. Stop watching movies. There’s nothing unromantic about honest, heartfelt, caring communication.” My fiance and I have gotten a lot more open about telling each other exactly what we need. You can’t guess or assume the other person can get it without sharing. It’s totally helpful and like Liz said you are constantly and should be constantly LEARNING about each other. Sharing is learning!

    • KateM

      Most helpful book I have ever read. I give it as gifts, I recommend it constantly. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It explained why I always KNEW my mother loved me, but I rarely felt it. It has helped in friendships as well as family relationships. I gave it to my now husband about a month after we starting dating.
      You may not be the only one in the relationship not really feeling the love. He may feel the same way.

    • Lauren

      I love love love love the Five Love Languages (and the band the Love Languages – you should check them out!) I read it on a whim at his mother’s house. She’s a psychologist, so she has lots of these know-thyself books laying around, and I had never really seen anything interesting. I. Was. Floored. It suddenly explained so much about him (Physical Touch is his number one) and me (equal Quality Time and Words of Affirmation) and – no kidding – 100 percent changed the way I approached our relationship. I am not a touchy person, but realizing just HOW essential it was to him has made me more of a touchy person! It’s incredible!

    • Emmy

      Yep, this was huge for us. I often express affection through gentle mocking, which I guess sounds weird typing it out, but think 1930s screwball comedy. Turns out my fiancé’s top “love language” was words of affirmation, and I was seriously hurting him by expressing love that way. It wasn’t hard for me to adjust, and it made a huge difference in our relationship. Likewise, he realized he should touch and hug me more. It helped us understand each other better.

    • Ang

      Yes yes yes! I was thinking of the Love Languages the whole time I read this post. In addition to helping in your romantic relationships, it is also great for working with people in general. I was introduced to the book when I was in a ‘coaching’/supervisory position and it was phenomenal help in providing effective feedback to people. It’s one of those, “well yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” concepts.

    • Emily

      SPEAKING of books you think will be cheesy and then it actually changes how you approach your relationship: “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” While reading Liz’s response, it’s all I could think about, how (and why) to communicate what you want and need, and how to do it gently, without making him feel worthless. It’s heteronormative, but if you’re in a hetero relationship, it’s honestly great. Cheesy but great.

  • SJ

    This is such spot-on advice. I had/have twinges of this now and then with my beloved. He’s practical in his love and I’m intuitively flamboyant with mine. This means I write him songs and light candles….he brings me steak and lets me know he filled up my car and had the oil changed. For a while it was a huge deal that he did not bring me flowers. I made “flowers” into one of the only ways I felt loved (thanks movie industry) instead of realizing all the ways he already loved me. So now, I buy flowers when I want them…and sent him to the grocery store for steak for good measure.

    • EKS

      Yes! My too-be-husband gave me a tool set for my car on our first valentines day. So practical. But I’ve mentioned many times how much I love flowers, and this year I got beautiful flowers in a pot so I could plant them when it was warm enough and they would last longer. Still practical, but also I could tell he made the effort.

  • Not Sarah

    Off-topic: I really appreciate that the ATP posts now go live at ~9:30 Pacific time so I don’t feel like I arrive when the whole conversation is already over! Thanks APW!!

  • Lizzy

    Did you get him something to symbolize/commemorate your engagement and love? IMHO, those expectations should go both ways…

    • LALA

      This is a great suggestion! My husband got me an engagement ring but later on I purchased his wedding band, had it inscribed with our “motto”, and proposed to him with it. He was very moved and wore it with pride. A few friends ribbed him about it but he didn’t care.

  • kc

    Absolutely, especially on the 1. gently discuss expectations and what makes you feel loved/unloved, and 2. keep getting to know each other. People are super-complicated.

    I’d also add 3. let go of expectations if they don’t fit your person or if they require mind-reading (for instance, if you expect big, public, dramatic things in front of lots of people and your partner has terrific stage fright… maybe that’s not a way that’s ideal? Or if a prompted gesture ruins it for you, then don’t prompt – but also don’t expect.), 4. do unto others (try to learn what makes your partner feel loved, and do it), and 5. accept what is given in the spirit it is offered (yes, it’s not the color you would have chosen, but where your partner legitimately tried, give as much credit as you can manage!). In this case, he knows you well enough that he knows you a) want to get married, b) aren’t a super-blingy person, and respected those two facts, but does not know that you wanted *something* extra. Two out of three correctly guessed isn’t too bad for a field as fraught and unusual as engagement, yes? So, guidance; charity; and reciprocity?

  • Kara E

    I’m a compliments person more than I’d like to admit (as in, I LOVE receiving them from my husband), but they’re few and far between, though he does try to remember to say what he’s thinking out loud, which is lovely.

    BUT, I got a reminder of his true love for me this morning (and how much I love him): I live in the part of the country that’s had snow for days and was 14 degrees this morning. When I mentioned when we were getting ready for work this morning that I needed the jug of windshield wiper fluid for my car (that was in his trunk), he disappeared for a while, came back snowy and said my car was ready to go. He’d added the fluid and scraped off my entire car. What a gift of love.

    • Ash

      That is love. In my experience men are often much more demonstrative of their love through acts of service. I have to remind myself of this when many months have passed since I received flowers. My logical boyfriend doesn’t see ‘the point’ of buying flowers that die. (except when I point blank ask him too)

      BUT in the past week he helped me back up my hard drive, oiled my bike chain, and drilled holes in the bottom of my not-draining-well-enough flower pots. So there is a lot of love there too.

  • It took my husband a very long time to learn that relationships were reciprocal, and that what he thought and did impacted me as well. Neither of us had much dating experience before finding each other, and he was very…well, selfish for the first few years of our relationship. Not in a malicious way, just in an oblivious way.

    The best example I can think of is when he decided he wanted to move out of state for his first post-undergrad job. He spent a lot of time debating the pros and cons, debating if he was comfortable moving away, debating if he was willing to do a long distance relationship, and decided he was going to go. He then informed me about what would be happening in a couple months, and was genuinely baffled when I reacted poorly.

    That was the catalyst for a lot of work on both our ends to change how we related to each other (well, how he related to me, really). He actually needed me to spell out for him how and why our lives impacted each other, and how and why healthy relationships function. “Do you love me? Do you care about my happiness? Do you understand that things you say and do impact my happiness? How do you feel when I’m sad? Do you think it’s important to try to make me happy/try not to make me sad? Do you think you’re important to me?”

    For a while, it felt like the relationship was doomed, like I’d been traveling in a leaky canoe instead of on the luxury yacht relationship model that everyone deserves and that, perhaps, I should abandon ship. But he really did care about my happiness, and really did love me, and so he really did work to fix his somewhat myopic worldview. Perhaps the Questioner’s fiance is a similar type of person as my husband. Practical, rational, and perhaps a bit confused by the warm-fuzzies that other people require.

    (This was also our first and greatest lesson in “sometimes you have to do something you think is pointless, because it’s important to your partner”. Sometimes he has to inconvenience himself by slipping out from a post-work drink to text me that he’ll be late, so I don’t assume he’s dead. Most days I have to suck it up and make the bed, even though it’s JUST going to get unmade again, because an unmade bed is a symbol of carelessness to him, and it hurts his feelings when he comes home to a disheveled comforter)

    • “sometimes you have to do something you think is pointless, because it’s important to your partner”

      YES. I don’t see the point of making the bed either! Except now that the point is that it matters to him. And he doesn’t see the point of cut flowers because they just die. Except now the point is that bringing them home makes me happy.

      I’ve said this here before, but I’ll say it again because it’s just been so helpful to us. There’s a list of weekly questions on Young House Love that they ask each other every Sunday and while we don’t use all of them, the one that has been really helpful for us is “How did you feel loved this week?” Sometimes what he says made him feel loved is something I never would have guessed, but now I know to do those things more often. It’s a really good way to get the kind of affirmation you want/need from your partner through positive reinforcement.

      • Angie

        Not to be all Ms. Corrector, and maybe Young House Love does this too, but perhaps you meant Today’s Letters? Just thought I’d note that in case anybody wanted to check it out. We started doing weekly questions as well after I read about it on Today’s Letters (though changing the list slightly to be more applicable to us) and it has helped us tremendously. It’s been so encouraging to focus on the positives of how we felt supported and loved, and how we tried to support the other person, and allows us to see what really stuck with the other person. Often it’s something I didn’t even remember doing that ended up meaning a lot to him, which like you, I then try to do much more.

        Anyway, yay weekly questions! (and yay, it’s my first time posting, though I’ve been reading for about 8 months now!)

        • You’re right! Somehow mixed the two in my head, but yes, it’s from Today’s Letters.

  • rys

    I think this issue — and Liz’s wise answer — extends to all relationships, not just romantic/marital ones. As a generally easy-going, chill, go-with-the-flow sort and a generally on-top-of-life, takes-care-of-shit, self-sufficient sort, many people don’t think I need shout-outs or cupcake surprises or help or pats on the back or presents, etc. But, I’ve come to realize over the past few years, I do need these things and I need to make this clear to friends and family.

    {Because, yes, I had to tell my parents that I found it problematic that they sent my sister’s sister-in-law flowers because she was having surgery but didn’t send me flowers a month earlier when a) I passed prelims with distinction and b) had (more minor) surgery. They were honestly surprised I cared.}

    In contrast, every so often an awesome friend steps up and gives me a shout-out, gathers people for my birthday drinks, or plans an afternoon adventure, and that rocks. So, yeah, communication, not assumptions or mind-reading — even when it feels tricky and uncomfortable to tell (in my case) my family and friends, “please show the 30-something single lady that you care by doing x, y, or z.”

    • Yeah, agreed. I am so, so bad at telling my friends and family what I need (weirdly I am much better at it with my partner, but maybe it’s because I have wonderful sites like this one reminding me to Communicate) and a lot of the time I feel like they don’t understand me . . . but I also don’t tell them what it is I need from them. So the fault is kind of on me, there.

      • rys

        It makes sense to me that it’s easier to tell your partner what you need because I think as hard as good communication is, the message is out there that it’s important for growing a relationship.

        In contrast, when you’ve been friends with someone for a long time or been in a family that has operated in certain ways your entire life, it feels (to me anyways) whiny and/or passive-aggressive to suddenly start saying “I need xyz instead of abc.” Maybe it’s my personality, but I don’t think I’ve encountered good models for this sort of conversation with friends. It’s also hard to move between friends who often have a better understanding of where you are in life to family that may not have a clue about what you’re doing, especially if your career is really different and/or you live far apart. Life: it’s complicated.

  • Moe

    Ask for what you want. Encourage the behavior you want to see more of.

    The biggest fight we ever had was over a Christmas gift of a vacuum cleaner. Like you, I’m not really into big blingy gifts and grand gestures but the gift made me feel like a housekeeper. I was so torn over what to say and if I should say anything at all. When I did it turned into a huge argument. It was one of those conversations that opened up a pandora’s box of crap.

    Ultimately I told him that HE was the ONLY person who I would ever want romance and passion from and that if anyone else wanted to give me a vacuum cleaner I would be cool with it and very appreciative. But from him, I wanted something special and even a little extravagant (within budget limits of course).

    • kc

      (as a note: my husband bought me a vacuum cleaner, and I looooove it. But that is because I really truly wanted it more than something more “traditionally” romantic and it helps my allergies (and hence makes me feel better!) and it was more expensive than I would have been happy with spending on myself. But I would bet that the category of “wives who are thrilled, not angry, when their husbands purchase cleaning appliances for them” is very, very, very tiny indeed, advertisements from the 1950’s notwithstanding.)

      • Moe

        The vaccum was paired with a crock pot. It did kind of remind me a 1950’s vibe! I’m all about practical gifts too but part of my problem (I realize this now looking back) was that I felt really embarassed when other wives I knew were talking about their new handbags and jewelry after the holidays. (Comparison really is the thief of joy!)

        Now couple my comparing with his fear of failure and we had a powder keg go off the day after Christmas. Ultimately though I’m glad that I spoke up and that we argued about it because from the experience I learned that I needed to be honest and that he really wants to make me feel loved but needs to learn how.

        • Carly

          One year I thought I was getting diamond earrings and got a toaster oven instead. Yeah, that lead to quite the conversation about gifts and showing love. We’re now married, so all’s well that ends well, I guess ;)

          • kc

            That would be a problem. And one can’t even Bedazzle a toaster oven, since the plastic would melt…

        • kc

          A vacuum cleaner paired with a crock pot does sound like a recipe for Very Bad Things. Yikes.

          I have found, since my husband and I both lean pretty heavily on the practical/non-traditional/straight-up-weird side, that 1) I have to tell him when I want something specific [especially if it’s not “practical”], and 2) It makes life easier if I pre-empt pity discussions with people with “and this gift was so perfect because it expresses this facet of our relationship and I wanted it because of X/he’s encouraging me in Y hobby [or whatever]!”. Although, unfortunately, that sometimes makes them feel badly because their gift was pretty and impractical and romantic [diamond necklace or something?] but not as “meaningful”, whatever exactly that means. The comparison game is rigged, I tell you.

          • Liz

            We’ve had the “things for the house are not presents for ME” chat so often that my husband was nervous about buying a really, truly thoughtful me-gift for me this Christmas (a little cute herb keeper! I love fresh herbs!)

          • Brenda

            I would be delighted with a crock pot. Absolutely dying for some Le Creuset over here – we don’t have a registry but if anyone asks that’s the only thing I want for the wedding.

            Of course, if I bought my husband a vacuum cleaner HE would be thrilled. It’s all about knowing each other, and yes, that takes work and communication.

          • kc

            Just… the two of them together… crock pot *and* vacuum cleaner… seem too much like a 1950’s make-the-housewife-happy ad. Not “make your wife happy”, but the HOUSEwife.

            But yes, sometimes things sort of “for the house” ARE delightful things for me (Le Creuset dutch oven would definitely not be scorned, here, either). :-) It’s just that housewares are perhaps more of a potential minefield than some areas, I think?

        • Ha ha ha, oh man. I mean, it’s not funny, but I’m just picturing your face.

          Hilariously, I would have flipped if someone got me a vacuum and a crock pot, but my partner never will, because he hates giving “practical” gifts. I, on the other hand, dislike getting gifts that AREN’T practical.

      • Laura C

        My fiance is soooo sensitive about this that this year, after we’d moved in together, he told his mom not to get me a pan for Christmas as she had done the two previous years, because now it might seem like it was a “cook for my son” gesture, not an “I know you love Le Creuset” gesture.

      • Hop

        Totally agree. I got a vacuum cleaner as an anniversary present and LOVE it. And think about us every time I vacuum our dog’s hair off the floor. I’m weird like that.

    • Lauren

      One year when I was in middle school, my parents bought me a bathroom scrubber for Christmas.

      Cleaning supplies from loved ones are usually a bad choice, unless they really expressed desire for the item. Like a Shark steam mop.

      • Heather L

        My mom got me toilet paper for Christmas one year. How bout that?

        • KEA1

          My mom got a toothbrush for my brother for Christmas. Not even an electric toothbrush. Just a toothbrush.

          • Kara E

            Oh, see those are stocking stuffers!

          • jlseldon7

            It’s a big joke in our household that during Christmas we get stocked up on things like toothbrushes, deodorant, razors and chapstick. My sisters and I are actually disappointed when my parents “forget” to fill the stockings. My sister in college currently tries to make it through the whole year on her Christmas stash.

          • Not Sarah

            This was the first year I ever bought myself a pair of pyjamas. I’ve gotten them for Christmas almost every year. Totally normal.

            Stocking stuffers: razors, socks, toothbrushes, small kitchen things like flippers. I now need to budget for buying these things. Sadness.

        • Holly

          My mom always puts tissues for our purse or bookbag in our stockings. She always says “Santa doesn’t like snotty nosed kids!” I still laugh about that.

    • I told my husband while we were still dating that as a general rule, he should avoid anything that plugs in. I do love my vacuum, but as a shower gift from my parents, not a Christmas gift from my husband. When he found an amazing deal on a KitchenAid mixer in a Macy’s that was closing, he was smart enough to bring it home as a gift for the house, not for me. Especially impressive since it was right before Valentines Day. I really may have been fine with it as my gift, but it would still smack of “Now make me some cookies, woman!” Also, he uses it as much as I do, so it wasn’t *for me*.

      On the flip side, I had to learn that he really does want practical gifts. He would be perfectly thrilled to get Smartwool socks for Christmas every year. He offered up this advice by explaining to me why he didn’t like his Christmas gift one year, which was obviously (to me) very hurtful, but he really thought he was just helping me. I did learn from it, but hopefully he also learned that telling me which gift I’ve given him he liked best and why was a lot more effective than explaining why he didn’t like that particular one.

      • Notable exception to that rule: A very high-end Lilo rechargeable vibrator. Awesome gift for me and for us!

        • See, I’d been thinking that a possible exception would be something like an iPod, but your idea sounds better!

        • Stephanie

          You made my day :D

    • MDBethann

      My dad did this to my mom for a birthday present when I was in high school or college. A dishwasher for a birthday present a few years earlier had been a HUGE hit (our house didn’t have one), but the vacuum was a bust – (a) it wasn’t the type that she wanted and (b) vacuum cleaners aren’t time-savers like dishwashers are. However, it turned into the gift that kept on giving – my dad usually does the vacuuming in the house, pretty much ever since he gave that vacuum cleaner to my mom. She does most of the cooking, dishes, and laundry, but cleaning the house has become his “thing,” So while it was a lousy gift at first, it turned into a wonderful one.

  • kayla

    Oh, Liz. You are like three good therapists and four wise aunts all rolled up into one person.

    My fiancé and I are just figuring out this how-to-show-we-care business, and it’s amazing how much it’s helped. I’d been doing his laundry and rubbing his back (because I care so much!), and wondering why he wasn’t doing the same (because he doesn’t care at all!) He’d been taking me to dinner and emailing me just to say hello, and wondering why I still didn’t feel loved enough.

    We figured out two lists: one list of things we already do to show we care, and one list of things the other person would like us to do to show we care. When he takes me to dinner, I know he cares. When he scrubs the bathroom, I know he cares.

    This really does not come naturally. But it’s so important.

  • Emily

    When my husband and I were dating, we would see each other regularly but only e-mail between dates, because he was really uncomfortable with talking on the phone (he doesn’t like phone conversations in any scenario, and it’s exacerbated because English is his second language). I was feeling really antsy about our relationship in those gaps between dates, even though our time spend together was awesome, and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally I asked him at the end of a date if we could find some kind of middle-ground between the e-mails (which even if they were frequent still felt formal) and the phone calls, and I suggested Facebook chatting.

    Next day I had multiple messages from him saying he was thinking about me, and I returned the favor. It’s amazing how much that helped our relationship.

    I will also say that I am totally one of those people who went into this relationship with rom-com expectations of big romantic gestures. I found myself being disappointed when they didn’t appear, but then I realized that a) I am allowed to make those big romantic gestures too, and b) I’ve got an introverted partner who’s not going to do those big public displays, but he did give me a Christmas present wrapped in an oyster shell, and left me encouraging notes to find all over the house when he had to leave for an extended forced separation. There’s no complaining about that sort of adorable-ness.

  • Emilia

    I’ll chime in with another perspective here. When my then-boyfriend proposed to me on a trip that I had planned entirely, I was very disappointed. I had an idea, which didn’t form properly until reality didn’t mesh with it, that when someone proposes to you they should put effort into the proposal and, finances permitting, should plan some kind of trip and propose mid-vacation. What my disappointment eventually helped me realize is that the problem wasn’t that he proposed on a trip I had planned entirely. The problem was that he never planned trips, or weekend activities, or afternoons out, or even afternoons in, or anything, really, ever. I realized — slowly, and painfully — that I didn’t want a life partner who didn’t put any effort into the time we spent together. Somehow the Life Event Seriousness Level of the proposal brought this lack of effort into the spotlight for me, and raised a whole storm of doubt and unhappiness that I had been ignoring for years.

    I don’t mean to say at all that your situation is comparable, but I think sometimes when we feel upset about something we feel we shouldn’t be upset about, it can be because there is a much bigger issue at play that is the real cause of our feelings but we haven’t quite identified it yet. I would only encourage you to think about do you feel loved by your partner at other times, and does your partner show you that you are loved in other ways, or is the absence of the non-ring really a symbol of other concerns, made more significant by the proposal’s Life Event Seriousness Level. It might open the door to meaningful conversations with your partner about what each of you does to show love, and when each of you feels loved by the other.

    • Lauren

      Fiance and I just had a talk about this, because one of his good bros came to him looking for fancy date advice since fiance is the only one in his circle with a solid relationship right now.

      He told me about that and I laughed in his face. “Someone came to YOU for DATE advice? When I plan all the dates?”

      Which then led to a silly-serious discussion about how I am a control freak but sometimes like to be surprised. Which he has since made efforts on!

      Communication, people! Do it!

    • kc

      This is true. Sometimes not feeling the love is indeed them not giving out the love. (just… explore the other avenues first.)(if someone’s not watering the garden, then maybe that’s because they’re never going to water the garden, no matter how hot and dry it gets, and then all the plants will DIE in August… or maybe they think the garden has enough water from the drizzle a few days ago, and they may or may not be right about that.)

    • Not Sarah

      “I didn’t want a life partner who didn’t put any effort into the time we spent together.”

      THIS. One of the ways that I show I care about someone is by pulling them into my plans. It is sooooo frustrating when they don’t also pull me into their plans, omg. I also find that guys often do the first month or two of dating and then all of a sudden they apparently don’t need to plan anything anymore? WTF? I just don’t get it.

      I’m sorry that your then-boyfriend never planned anything you guys did together.

      • Emilia

        Thanks, Not Sarah. It turned out that, once I realized that I wanted a partner who put effort into the relationship, it made all of my decisions from there much more clear. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I learned so much about who I am and the qualities that are important to me in a relationship. Knowing that (better, anyway, though I’m still learning!) has been truly refreshing and life changing. My fiance now plans things, and I plan things, and neither of us has to Plan All The Things — from vacations to major life choices to wedding-related decisions to what to get for dinner. It’s pretty awesome!

        • Not Sarah

          Yay I’m glad you guys were able to work through stuff!

          (It wasn’t clear from your comment.)

          • Emilia

            The fiance is not the same person as the then-boyfriend actually! But all’s well that ends well :)

    • MDBethann

      On the other hand, some people are not planners and don’t enjoy planning. I enjoy planning, especially trips or other outings. Even for my birthday dinner, my husband wanted me to make the reservations – I got the sole right of choosing, but I made the reservations, not him. It does not mean, however, that he doesn’t care. He just HATES planning while I enjoy it. Do I get tired of it sometimes? Yes, but then I do say things to him about it. This was evident even when we were dating. But even though I do the planning and consult with him to make sure he won’t hate it, he goes along with whatever I’ve planned, even when it might not 100% be something he’s enjoying. He appreciates that I put time and effort into the planning, that I enjoy planning, and that I did give him an opportunity to provide input.

      Even though our proposal occurred on a tour of Greece that we went on with my family at their suggestion, he decided on the when and how of proposing & completely surprised me with it, and it took some planning on his part because he had quite the misinformation campaign going before the trip – he wasn’t going to propose on a trip because he was afraid he’d lose the ring, etc (he lost a new pair of glasses the year before at an airport, so it was a reasonable fear for both of us).

      And while he isn’t the planner, he is a caretaker and fixer – he does so much around the house to keep it and the yard looking nice as well as safe and warm.

      Yes, it does suck when it feels like you are the only one who ever makes a particular type of effort or does a particular thing in the relationship. But I think it all comes back to the point a lot of other people have been making on this threat – COMMUNICATE with your partner. Let them know what is and is not working for you. If they refuse to address the issues or agree to do something but don’t follow through or even make an effort, then I think some flags are going up. But an imbalance in one area doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with the relationship; a refusal by anyone to address imbalances would, to me, be an indicator that something is wrong.

  • meg

    Man. That last paragraph about not wanting to give a second chance really hit home. Ooof. Go Liz, with the good advice.

  • What has surprised me most about how my pre-husband and I express love is how much it changes in different stages of our relationship. When we were first dating, it was calling me every night (swoon). As we got more serious, it was actually saying “I love you” and I sometimes got really caught up in my own head over the fact that he just doesn’t say it very often. Now that we are living together and planning a wedding, I see it in things that others might find very meaningless– asking me if I want to watch a movie on a weeknight, buying me a jar of creamy peanut butter because I accidentally bought crunchy the day prior.

    I was shocked that it would change so much, and in a relatively short amount of time. And there is some learning and growing pains in those places where you are expressing (or needing) love differently. But, it also gives me hope that as more changes come our way (marriage, babies?, career changes?) we might not recognize the love right away, but it will be there.

  • Catherine

    This is an awesome post for so many reasons! I especially love this part – “I like when you text me that you’re thinking about me.” Sounds très unromantic, no? Shouldn’t he just know that stuff? And besides, isn’t it sort of selfish to tell him what I want from him? NO.

    This is so true and I have had to learn a lot about this with my husband!! I have had to just tell him, “Babe, I love it when you rub my back while I am doing the dishes after dinner” or “I loved it when we were dating and you would send me emails just to tell me you were thinking about me”. Your partner loves you and wants to make you feel loved… because they love you. And it makes them feel needed and wanted knowing that the things they do make you happy. Now, my honey rubs my back a little more often and emails me the lyrics from our first dance when he knows I am having a bad day. Open communication about your love languages is a win/win for all involved and ultimately brings you closer. My husband was picking weeds out of the back yard and called me outside. He said to me, “Would you help me with this? I know it’s picking weeds, but we can talk about your day and I’d love the company.” He was letting me know that he feels loved when we do things together…. even if it is getting dirty in the garden (which is SO not cute, by the way =))

    It’s not unromantic, it’s not selfish – it’s learning how to love your partner in the best possible way you can.

    • Cleo

      “My husband was picking weeds out of the back yard and called me outside. He said to me, “Would you help me with this? I know it’s picking weeds, but we can talk about your day and I’d love the company.” He was letting me know that he feels loved when we do things together…. even if it is getting dirty in the garden (which is SO not cute, by the way =))”

      Aw! So romantic! Cuteness be damned…this is really sweet!

  • TH

    Ouch. That line about “Know what’s selfish? Stewing in a corner every time he slips up, but stubbornly refusing to share what only you know because, “He should just know.”” .. yeah, that hits uncomfortably close to home right now.

    My partner and I are struggling through some issues we’ve ignored for years now and it sucks and it hurts like hell. And a lot of it probably could have been avoided if both of us had been better about expressing problems when they occurred and giving the other person a chance to fix it.

    I just hope we aren’t too late.

    • Not Sarah

      I hope you aren’t too :( But I’m sorry if you are.

    • Brenda

      Sending good thoughts for you :)

      • KEA1

        GAH! Count me among the many who accidentally hit “report” while trying to hit “exactly!” So sorry about that!

        • Not Sarah

          Suggestion to staff: maybe the thing to hit exactly should be a little bigger so it’s slightly less finicky to hit?

          • kc

            Or alternately that “reply” and “report this comment” could have their places swapped – or that the date/time could be on the right and the reply/report could be on the left? (I keep seeing these “oops, meant to hit Exactly” comments, and it seems like it maybe could be fixable depending on the plugin and/or whether you have access to the code)(if you have access to the code, but not know-how, maybe email me, since it might be a quick fix?)

  • I could be the poster child for how NOT to handle these types of situations. I do believe the crowning glory came the day my husband brought me home a pint of ice cream–in a flavor I would NEVER eat and while I was dieting. Let’s just say he ended up eating it and leave it at that.

    Crimeny….did not handle that well.

    We’re getting better–after seven years together. But I had to own my part. He is super easy to please. Pick up a freaking candy bar at the checkout and bring it home and he’s in hog heaven. I, on the other hand, am picky, particular, persnickety and any other “p” word that indicates that not just any old gift will do.

    Took me a long time to see that it wasn’t just him being obtuse!

    Story in point: We had to give up having a Christmas tree for the past few years because we were traveling and not in one place for the holidays. Hubby is Jewish, so doesn’t care one way or the other about a Christmas tree, but I was Jonesing for some tradition. I was bound and determined to get us a Christmas tree this past Christmas and “do it up right.” But it was not to be. We were in a tiny corner of the world in Mexico and a reasonably-priced tree that didn’t either deplete the (already bare) forests down there or was made in China was not to be had. (Believe me, I LOOKED.) And it was too late to order one from the States.

    So, for another year, a tree was not to be. Okay–whatever. Next year. Hopefully. After January 1, I never mentioned it again.

    Fast forward to yesterday. Hubby slipped me a beautiful Christmas ornament all wrapped in colorful tissue, along with a note saying. “Just helping you prepare, because this year, come hell or high water, there WILL be a Christmas tree.” (Note: we are back in the States.)

    Oh yeah…they’re trainable.

    • I may have just said AAAAAWWWWW right out loud. Well done, Maureen’s husband. Well done.

  • Sabee

    Splendid advice!

    When I was dating my ex, I never felt loved. I eventually realized that it was because he, in fact, didn’t love me, but even though that relationship is over, it did teach me something.

    I now know how I want to be treated. I know what makes me feel loved and how I express love to others. And I understand that it’s important to talk to your partner if they’re not “getting it”. Because they may think you hung the moon, but if they aren’t expressing love in a way you recognize, a relationship can feel very lonely. And I’m definitely guilty of assuming that people should just know. Self, stop that!

  • Leanne

    Thanks for this one Liz, it came at the perfect time for me in my marriage. Looks like it’s time to start talking more effectively (and not fighting/defending/assuming/ignoring) and work it out over a cocktail or two. Again. and again and again until we get it right. It’s worth it.

    • Jackie

      So incredibly worth it.

  • Lauren

    The most dead useful stuff I heard at marriage counseling was along these same lines. Ask for what you want. Don’t assume they’ll figure it out. If you ask, and they ignore you or don’t try what you’ve asked for (second chances notwithstanding), then you have a problem. But not asking is the first problem.

  • I’ve found my husband is a lot better at reading my mind when I think out loud.

    If I think to myself out loud, “I’d like candle light tonight,” it’s amazing how often he figures out I want some candle light wooing that night and I get the candle light wooing. Same thing when I think out loud to myself “I’m thirsty/hungry” and he randomly decides to ask me what he can get me to eat/drink. It’s kind of spooky. :)

    It doesn’t work so well when I don’t do my thinking out loud.

    • kc

      (I read this and laughed out loud. My husband inquired what was so funny (he had heard me from the other end of the apartment), and I explained the rough outline of the thread and then read him the comment. *He* also literally laughed out loud. Well played, and thank you. :-) )

  • april

    First of all, “exactly” to just about every comment that’s already been posted.

    Second, my own story about the power of asking for what you want. My now-fiance, then boyfriend of 5 years, and I had a very serious/unromantic conversation about getting married (he was about to move away for a 2-year masters program, and we were tackling the question of ‘well, what happens next for us?’). I believe his exact words, sitting on our living room floor after a game of tipsy scrabble were “Well, I mean, would you want to get married?” I said, “Of course!” but after a couple minutes of reflection added “But you have to propose for real at some point. This doesn’t count.” So a couple of months later, I got the romantic proposal I wanted — beach, moonlight, him on one knee holding my hand (no ring though, since I told him not to bother, and I meant it). It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it was still a very special moment, and one I am 100% sure would not have happened without a little prompting.

  • Kelsey

    Liz, your pieces are always thoughtful and applicable, but you really nailed this one. Great relationship advice- thank you!

  • Achernar

    Another excellent book that sounds along the same lines as Love languages is the one by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny called ‘how to improve your marriage without talking about it’. I read it on a whim, and suddenly it was like stepping into a completely different world. I thought I was pretty good at understanding men, that I was a compassionate, caring, understanding easy to get along with person…..well yeah, if you’re a woman! The whole key really does seem to be working out how to get that empathy to really see the situation from the other persons perspective, which can be harder than it sounds. The whole book made me just go yeeeowwch, really, living with me must be hard sometimes. Squirm, squirm.
    Getting the connection going, so you can talk openly and easily is key, it has helped me so much, without my boyfriend even knowing I’m doing it. Hey, we just survived a 5380km road trip!!
    Thanks Liz, for the timely reminder about how important not assuming things is…