I feel like everyone and their brother has read that love languages book. There are so many things I like about the book, and many things I don't. I know...a controversial stance. To me, it's one dude's take on the ways people show and feel love: something marriage therapists (including myself) have been teasing out and addressing for decades.
When talking about the different ways each person feels loved, I joke with clients that I might write a book someday called, The Couples Therapist Who Doesn't Love Hugs. It's not that I dislike hugs, I just don't feel any more loved when I get them. My husband could hug me 450 times per day and I wouldn't feel any more loved.
And as a person who craves to feel deeply seen and understood, hugs feel especially incongruent when I've just woken up, when I have a mile-long to-do list, or when I'm in the middle of doing a complex task: "Don't you see me?"
Hugging in these moments makes as much sense to me as giving a drowning person a hug.
It's just not what I need.
My husband used to take this incredibly personally. He needs 2 less hours of sleep per night than I do and is the kind of person who can speak ENTIRE sentences the moment he wakes up. It takes me a good hour to not sound like a cavewoman.
What mornings used to look like:
Upon waking I would shuffle, hunch-backed in my furry robe and fluffy slippers through the kitchen and he would stand in my path to the coffee pot, moving towards me for my forced morning hug.
My heart would sink. Irritation would boil, "Can't he see I'm dying (I'm very dramatic in the mornings)? He must not care how I feel. HE wants a hug, so HE insists on it. His needs matter and not mine."
It took time for me to be able to put words around the nonverbal communication I picked up from his demand for hugs first thing. And so for years, instead of communicating with my words I'd muster an irritated grunt and push past him to make my coffee.
Things got ugly.
I became less and less physically affectionate and he became less willing to connect emotionally.
I'm not sure exactly how long our differences in this department went unaddressed, but it was AT LEAST 6 years.
SIX YEARS of miscommunication. Six years of him thinking me not wanting to hug him in the mornings meant that I didn't care about him, and six years of me thinking that his forced hugs in the mornings meant he didn't care to see me deeply.
I think what's tough about this one is that on paper, hugs are GOOD, right? And those of you who feel loved through physical affection are reading this and thinking, "Jeez! She's such a JERK."
But when my emotional and spiritual needs are not being met within a relationship...when I don't feel like the other person takes the time to deeply understand who I am and how I am, hugs feel like a cop out. Like, "WEEELLLLLLL, I don't have time for all that it takes to REALLY care about you SOOOOoooo, here's a quick and easy hug. Buh-bye!"
Hugs start to feel less like, "I LOVE YOU!" and more like, "You're not worth it."
We snapped one morning. Years of hurt feelings erupted into name calling and acting out.
I took some time to decode what was really going on, the non-verbal communication I *heard* during forced hugs, and what I needed instead. I also took a minute to try to see the situation from my husband's perspective...If physical affection is an important way he feels loved, then maybe he's feeling like I just don't care.
That wasn't true for me. I adored my husband.
I started the conversation hoping to help him feel more understood, "I wonder if me not wanting to hug in the mornings makes you wonder if I even love you?"
He was clear that this was accurate. He didn't feel like a priority.
I used every skill I had to communicate under the surface of the problem: it wasn't about hugging or not hugging...it was about not deeply understanding our differences and the years of miscommunication and misperception that ensued.
The bottom line was that I wanted him to get his needs met, and he wanted me to get my needs met, but we both were clear that because we felt love in different ways it was not going to come naturally for us to give the other person what they needed.
There is ZERO part of my husband that craves to feel deeply seen and understood. Zero. Not one single cell in his body.
I had been trying on a new way of being for at least the last decade which was centered around a belief that I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN HAPPINESS, but being responsible for getting my needs met had somehow slipped past me.
I was clear that if he needed hugs I wanted him to get them, but I was also clear that I could not want to give hugs in the morning. AND...I could not handle forced hugs. Something about that felt aggressive and made me angry. I've been known to use the term, "hug rape".
Fast-forward to now...I swear to you this is what 90% of our mornings look like:
I shuffle into the kitchen in my furry robe and fluffy slippers, my husband stands BESIDE my path to the coffee machine with his arms outstretched. Sometimes I shuffle into his chest and he hugs me while I stand there - a willing participant in being hugged, but not actively hugging, and sometimes I snarl and head right to the coffee machine. My husband might exclaim in a silly voice something like, "It's time for your huuuuuuug," or giggling, "I love your Grumpy Cat face in the mornings."
He might request a hug before he leaves, he might not, but knowing that I have a choice in the matter and that it's highly likely he won't take it personally and attach meaning to it that just isn't true for me (I don't love him, he's not important, etc.) has me resisting hugs a whole lot less. You guys, sometimes I even SPONTANEOUSLY give them now.
He really doesn't understand not being a morning person as much as I don't understand being one, but we are both now crystal clear that our differences have nothing to do with how much we love each other.
He's learned to say things like, "I need a hug," or "HUG TIIIIIMMME!!!"
I've had to learn to say things like, "I need more words than that," and "What did you hear me say?" which come in especially handy when I've poured out what's in my soul for 8 minutes and I'm looking at him wide-eyed in anticipation of his deeply heart-felt/lots of words response and he says something like, "Cool."
And, it's crazy, what I need is usually IN THERE SOMEWHERE it just doesn't occur to him to say it out loud.
Projecting the ways that we show love onto other people is really dangerous: If he REALLY cared he would listen, OR If she really cared she would hug me.
People pair because of their differences, but when misunderstood or taken personally it's what will drive you bonkers, create an emotional wedge, skew perceptions, and poison communications.
I think I'll go give him a hug now...