Dear Neil: I have been married for 10 months. I have a wonderful husband who takes great care of me and my son. He is a very nice guy, and I am a very spoiled lady. Sometimes I feel like I have the perfect life with a man who is my best friend.
But I am a bit insecure, and I need a lot more of his attention. I need to be reassured about why he needs me and how much he loves me. Deep inside me I feel an emptiness when I'm not being shown love in the ways I want it - and to the degrees that I want it. But if I try telling him what I need, it ends up in a big argument.
It feels to me that he is not attracted to me because I never feel I'm getting enough affection. Therefore, if I stay with him, I fear that I will never feel complete. Can you help me?
- Spoiled Lady
Dear Spoiled Lady: You feel you have the perfect life with a wonderful man who takes care of you and your son, but you're not sure you want to stay with him?
Here are my thoughts about why.
First, you indeed sound insecure, and that is something you can improve over time. Insecurity is nothing more than feeling that you're not "good enough." It is about believing that you are incompetent or inadequate, and that you don't measure up. Most commonly, this comes from childhood, where you likely grew up feeling criticized, judged, disapproved of, rejected or abandoned.
You can assist yourself in feeling more secure and self-confident by doing several things. First, what do you like, love, respect, admire and approve of regarding yourself? Make as large a list as you can. Write down everything. You're going to want to refer back to this list over and over again. The first step in feeling more self-confident is to carefully and closely examine the arenas in which you genuinely acknowledge and approve of yourself - including your appearance, your skills as a mother, your social skills, career skills, your integrity, your honesty, your empathy or compassion, your style, your behavior, your spirit and so on.
Instead of asking your husband to prop up your sense of self-worth, do it yourself. Then you must take small steps in risking new behaviors, challenging the idea that you're not good enough. The goal is to build a belief in yourself so you are eventually able to give yourself the acceptance and approval you seek from others.
Second, it's okay to ask for what you want from your husband, but you may be asking him to be way more affectionate, expressive and verbal than he is comfortable with. Different people have different needs, tolerances and ways they express themselves, and you may be asking him for something that feels like a foreign language to him. If you want him to learn what it is you need and want, you're going to have to teach him. Then, like every good teacher, don't call him down for not doing things the way you would have preferred. Instead, praise him when he does it well.
But absolutely you get to ask him for what you want. If you want more affection and/or more attention, learn to ask for it in ways he understands, by teaching him what to say or do that will make you happy. If you want your 10 month marriage to work, and you're not looking to run away from it, help him get the job description of "husband" down pat.
Third, if you're chronically unhappy with what you have - and you're describing that you have things pretty nice - being unhappy with your husband may be a form of self-protection, by not permitting yourself to get terribly close to him. You may wonder why your husband is with you (no doubt he could do better than you), and therefore it would make sense for you to keep a part of your heart out of the relationship, so you won't be too devastated when he leaves you or tells you you're not good enough. In this way, you may be using your feelings of insecurity to maintain emotional distance in your marriage, because a closer relationship might be threatening or intimidating to you.
Don't look at throwing a valuable relationship away over things that can be repaired or finessed. Learn to master your job description of "wife" as well. Teach him what you need, but also learn to gain control over some of your more insecure needs yourself.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His column is in its 20th year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com, but he is not able to respond individually to queries.