Closing the book, I blinked back tears. It was the fourth marriage book I’d read and once again, I felt excluded from the conversation. Most of what I read made the necessary generalizations about gender to teach important marital concepts, but those generalizations didn’t fit my personality.
I found myself wondering: What’s wrong with me? Am I less of woman – and less of a wife – because I don’t crave romance?
When You’re Not Romantic
I’m a very practical person. In my marriage, my husband is the romantic one. He’s the kind who brings home flowers, writes poems, and naturally shows affection. I, on the other hand, have to remind myself to be physically affectionate. I don’t find romantic plotlines appealing. I’m not bent toward big shows of emotion. Our departure from the marriage-book “norm” has been a source of disappointment and confusion for us both, but mostly for me.
I haven’t been married very long (almost five years) so I’m grateful I noticed this struggle early on. Through godly mentorship, prayer, and marriage books that speak to ALL types of individuals and relationships, the emotional intimacy in my marriage has greatly improved! But there were several things that had to happen for me to get here. I’m now much more comfortable both initiating and responding to romantic gestures. If you’re a woman who also struggles in this area, here are a few things that helped me cultivate emotional intimacy when it didn’t come naturally.
Acknowledge any fears – especially fear of intimacy.
Through my first year of marriage, I had a strong (and very negative) gut-level reaction to public displays of affection. I didn’t know why. I just knew I was not comfortable with romantic gestures, particularly in front of other people. Many hurt feelings later, I started researching the root cause of this aversion. I discovered that people who resent physical touch often struggle with a fear of intimacy. Their fear of rejection is so woven into their personality, they avoid affection completely. It’s a defense mechanism.
Learning this was hard, but it gave me a starting point. I asked strong, godly women to pray over me and began praying to be free from this fear. I talked to my husband about it. Working through my fears helped me accept my husband’s romance without feeling threatened, inadequate, or pressured by it. Communicating my story to him gave him clarity of perspective. Our relationship grew in grace and I grew in confidence.
Pay attention to his efforts.
As I worked through my fear of intimacy (which is a continual journey), I started paying closer attention to my husband’s romantic efforts. Too often, we assign motives to our husbands’ actions – motives that might not even be real! Instead of deciding “what he was thinking” when he gave me flowers or hugged me, I now try to see them as gestures of his friendship. Romance helps him feel connected to me; like we have something special. And though I would feel just as special working on a household task together, paying attention to his efforts adds value to him. I’m learning to speak his love language and recognize when he’s talking without words.
Understand that emotion is not a sign of weakness.
This is perhaps the biggest learning curve for those who aren’t romantically inclined. If you’re not an emotional person, seeing someone get emotional can be embarrassing. It can even be perceived as a lack of self-control. But emotions themselves are not sinful. You can be emotional, yet not dictated by emotion. A strong person can express emotion without being controlled by it.
Avoiding emotion altogether does not make someone strong. It actually takes a measure of strength to embrace emotion, particularly romantic affection. In marriage, emotion requires vulnerability and intimacy. Godly self-expression to our spouses is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of trust.
If you’re anything like me, this will be a journey for you. Learning to face fear, acknowledge efforts that don’t look like our love languages, and express emotion are all very challenging. As I pressed into the challenge, I was reminded of how I love to be challenged in other areas of my life. I love to be productive and create beautiful things. Why not use romance to productively beautify my marriage – even when it doesn’t come naturally?
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For further reading:
100 Ways to Love Your Husband by Lisa Jacobson
Love and Sex by Nancy Houston