General Question

tedibear's avatar

How do you get past wanting what you can't have or can't be?

Asked by tedibear (18013points) February 5th, 2010

I’m going to try very hard to be concise and not whiny. We’ll see how that goes.

I am married to a man who does not give compliments. Ever. He’ll do it for employees at work because he has to tell them they have done something well. Or when he’s in a social situation where he feels obligated. (“That chicken was good,” or things like that.) I’ve talked to his mom about it and she said his dad is the same way and that she just learned to live with it. I asked her how and she said it just sort of happened over time. Yay. Big help.

I tried to talk to him about it way in the past, but have always backed down in the discussion because I feel like I’m being a whiner. He will say nice things about some things that I cook, but that’s it. And he does thank me when I do stuff for him, so I don’t think that he takes me for granted. In ten years, he has told me one time that I looked nice. That was at his brother’s wedding (and I was wearing make-up six inches thick) and his comment was, “You look nice.” That’s it. Ever. Unless I’m supposed to count the two times that he has said that an outfit looked nice. Not that it looked nice on me, just that it looked nice.

I’ve lost 70 pounds, and while I’ve got at least 30 more to go, he has never said one word about what I’ve done. Although I have a theory about that, so I’m not quite as ticked about that one. I just spent an unholy amount of money on make-up at the Bobbi Brown counter, learned how to use it, and nothing from him. I’ve achieved a 3.9 GPA and am close to graduating – nothing. Not one word.

So here’s the question: How do I get over needing to hear him say something nice about me? I don’t know if it’s fair to try to have the conversation with him again. (Although it has been a long time.) I do know that it’s unfair to ask him to change this when I’ve known that this is something he doesn’t do. I didn’t marry him to try to change him. I need to change me and my expectations. I know why, now I need to know how. I am never going to be thin enough, pretty enough or smart enough for him to find it in himself to say anything nice, so how do I get past this?

For the record: Yes, I have a therapist who is trying to help me work on my self-esteem. Yes, I know that this is my issue and not his. He is who he is. What I need here are strategies of how to do this that don’t involve self-affirmation exercises. My apologies if this sounds like whining. I’m really just trying to figure out how to quite being upset about it.

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69 Answers

JessicaisinLove's avatar

You will get there it just takes time.

Blackberry's avatar

Everyone knows women need compliments like food and water. I don’t really agree with it, but that’s what women need to function, so every man should know how to cater to women and vice versa, what your husband does is unacceptable, at least to me. Though some guys express love in different ways, so if he takes care of the kids and doesn’t beat you….just be happy for that lol.

janbb's avatar

I think I’ve written to you about this before. I am in a similar relationship and have been for many years. It has bothered me to a greater or lesser degree at various points. I have not been able to change my husband much; what I have learned is to get the compliments and the affirmation from friends and colleagues. But it is a painful issue.

DrBill's avatar

You say you didn’t marry him to change him, but you are wanting him to change?

This is a rather common “guy thing” The “thing” you should be after is being happy with yourself. Just like in the movie Shallow Hal If a guy is in love, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh, nothing matters except that you’re there.

Guys have a history of being poor communicators which the ones we love, and the less we care about someone the easer it is to communicate with them (because if we say it wrong, we don’t care)

TheJoker's avatar

I do find it interesting how you say it’s unfair for him to have to change for you, because he was the type of person that never gave compliments, even before the two of you met. But weren’t you the type pf person that needed the odd compliment, even before the two of you met? Yet you think it’s fair for him to expect you to change now.
In reality you both need to make an effort here, he needs to stop being insensitive to your needs, & you need to have lower expectations of him…. However, it all depends on both of your inclinations.

summerlover's avatar

I’m not sure to say how to get there…but when you do, it is a feeling of freedom. I think we waste so much time worrying about what other people think, wanting to make them happy…It is a feeling of peace to be happy with yourself, to tell yourself you are doing a good job, or fix something you think you are messing up. Really, in the end, being true to yourself is what matters….you will never be able to change other people they are responsible for that…but you can give up those expectations and treat yourself well, congratulate yourself and realize that you can’t control many things but thats ok and it is the same for everyone else…

slick44's avatar

I personally dont think its all you. I dont blame you, everyone needs to feel good about themselves, especially from your spouse. Do you trully love this man, or are you just settling? you are a wonderfull woman and deserve to be treated as such. Stop doing things for him. tell him how he makes you feel, thats not whinning. He should care about your feelings if he loves you.

zephyr826's avatar

It’s difficult. My father has never once told me that I looked nice, not even on my wedding day. I never understood why, and it really frustrated me. Finally my mom and I determined that it was because his older sister was always complemented on her appearance (she was homecoming queen, Miss Tomato Queen, etc.) and treated like a princess because of it. My father believed that she became a frivolous woman because of this, so he has never complimented his daughters on their appearance. It took some getting used to.
When I met my now-husband, I was sure to let him know that I needed an occasional compliment, and he’s always been great about mentioning when I look nice and giving me other compliments. I think you should explain to you husband that this is something you need. . I know you’re concerned that you’ll seem whiny, but if you can’t whine to your spouse, who can you whine to? Since he loves you, he should want to do things that make you feel better. Don’t back down on this.

john65pennington's avatar

Honestly, you hit the nail on the head, when you said his father was the same way and his mother just accepted and went on with their life together. i know what you are looking for and i seriously doubt you will ever receive it from your husband. i have a neighbor thats this way with giving hugs. his wife wants them, her hubby never supplies her. it may be just a gene in his chemical makeup and you probably will never change that. you have done your part to warrant his compliments….it shows. your only choice is to do like his mother…..either accept him “as is” or file for a divorce. sorry to say this to you, but there are people out there that are not capable of passing a compliment on another person. he did this with fellow employees and i am shocked he even did this. i do not consider your complaint as a whiney person. you really only have one of two choices here: stay and endure no compliments or a divorce. your hubby will never change. its like an alcoholic gene in a person. its in his character makeup.

Janka's avatar

How does he react if you compliment him?

josie's avatar

The problem is that you are absent any pride. The cure is to accept that pride is NOT a sin. It is an essential virtue. Your accomplishments, which are substantial, have no personal value to you. You have allowed a situation to develop where you require somebody else to evaluate them. It is no different than charity. Some people do it quietly, and feel good about themselves. Others have to have their name on it, because only the recongnition of others gives them a sense of importance. It is normal to live in a social context, but you are really not fundamentally squared away unless you have the equipment to live on your own and recognize that your value is to yourself and your own existence. Once you do that, you can interact with others in a healthy manner. When the oxygen mask comes down on the airplane, healthy adults use it first, not because they are panicked or greedy, but because they have to be capable of caring for the children and the old people. If they give it to the kids first, everybody dies. Same in life. You come first. And the key to this is developing a healthy sense of personal pride. Pride in NOT a sin. It is a virtue.

CMaz's avatar

“How do I get over needing to hear him say something nice about me?”
By dumping the Douche Bag.

Sounds to me HE is the one and you are letting him, put you in a position of can’t have or can’t be.

slick44's avatar

Dump that zero, and find you a hero!

tedibear's avatar

@DrBill – “If a guy is in love, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh, nothing matters except that you’re there.” I’m not sure I buy that theory. It sounds really nice though and I will ponder it. Also, you say that I want to change him. No, the make-up thing was my last effort (of a few) at trying to elicit a response from him. I wasn’t trying to change him, I was trying to make myself better to a point where he would think I was finally good enough to react.

@Janka – His reaction to compliments from me is no response. It’s because he doesn’t value them. And I’m aware that this is another reason he doesn’t give them. I’ve read and re-read and re-re-read “The Five Love Languages” and I’ve figured out what works to make him feel loved. But until he reads it, he’s never going to get what I need. And he’s not going to read it. I asked. He said, “I can’t be put into a box by something like that. I’m different in different situations.”

@TheJoker – “Yet you think it’s fair for him to expect you to change now.” He doesn’t really have any expectation of me changing in this respect. He, I think, just expects that if something’s wrong I’ll tell him. Otherwise, he thinks things are fine. Problem is, when I tell him and it has something to do with him, he either gets defensive or he shuts down and doesn’t respond. Hardly makes it worth telling him if there can’t be a productive conversation. I can manage these conversations now without crying, but he can’t without shutting down.

@josie – While I am absent self-pride, I don’t think pride is a sin. If someone does well in school or has a talent, etc., I find nothing wrong in that person being proud of themselves. I got an A+ in my the toughest class I had to take in school and was very proud of that. I had to almost shove my grades in his face and then got, “Oh, cool.” That’s it.

@janbb – I think we have had this discussion, or a version of it. Affirmation from friends or family is nice. I would ditch that in a second to have it from him. What I hate is that I’m wrong for wanting it.

For those of you who have said dump him, I have to say that this appreciation issue I have is really the biggest problem I have in my marriage. He’s a good provider, but I’m quite capable of supporting myself. He’s both smart and practical – is able to fix most anything in our house and smart enough to know when he can’t. He has been working on being more conversational when we’re together. We work and play well together, we have many of the same values. I could go on, but the point is that except for this thing that makes me feel unvaluable (is that even a word??) it’s not a bad marriage. And I don’t think that my issue is a reason to dump him.

What I need – beyond the self-esteem work that I’m doing – is to figure out how to not care about this any more. How do I shut down wanting something from him that he isn’t going to give?

CMaz's avatar

“I have to say that this appreciation issue I have is really the biggest problem I have in my marriage. He’s a good provider,”

THAT is an excuse you seem to want to find acceptance with.

marinelife's avatar

I don’t see why you can’t talk about it to him that it would mean a lot to you if he verbally acknowledged something nice about you.

My husband was the same way. He told me he was thinking of me all the time, and he noticed stuff, but he did not say it. When I told him i wanted him to say that so i could know it, he was surprised, but willing.

This is in addition to doing the work you are doing on your self esteem and on having it matter to you that you have succeeded (did you reward yourself or acknowledge yourself?).

He does not compliment me as much as I would like, but he does do it more.

CMaz's avatar

“I don’t see why you can’t talk about it to him ”

Because he is a BIG DOUCHE.

zephyr826's avatar

I don’t think the OP should bail on her marriage because of one issue, major though it may be. But I agree with @marinelife that maybe all that is needed is a calm discussion of your needs. He loves you – he’ll make the effort.

Judi's avatar

You need to read the book 5 Languages of Love. . Obviously, one of your “love languages” is “Words of Affirmation.” It is not his. It sounds like his is “Acts of Service.”
If the two of you understand how each of you communicates love you can communicate it in the language each of you understands.
I’ll bet that when you take the time to write him a long love letter he just says, “that’s nice” right?
That’s because words don’t matter as much to him as they do to you. Maybe if you learn to understand HIS love language, you will hear his communication more clearly and be less frustrated. If you can get him involved in reading the book, maybe he can understand why YOU need to hear those words and will be more willing to offer them.

CMaz's avatar

“I don’t think the OP should bail on her marriage because of one issue,”

It is never ONE issue. It is part of an apparent problem/s.

tedibear's avatar

@Judi – I have read the book at least 3 times. (See my response above to @Janka.) His love language is Acts of Service. I make a conscious effort to do things that will either:
1. Take a burden off him that he really dislikes. For example, I make phone calls to various places because he hates talking on the phone and is uncomfortable with strangers.
2. Save him time. Like going to the dry cleaner or picking up something for him when I’m out.
3. Show him that I appreciate him. Like making a meal that I know he likes or try to help him when he’s working on something.
To me, acts of service is doing things to help that other person.

As for him reading the book, I asked, he won’t. I do think, however, that he needs one more shot at hearing me say this without backing down or wimping out in the conversation. It may not work but at least I will have been fair and square with him.

CMaz's avatar

4. Licking his boots.

Judi's avatar

@tedibear39 ; wow. It’s tough. If he understood WHY you need to hear it and heard it from someone beside you…... sigh. Sorry you’re going through this. life sucks sometimes.

Silhouette's avatar

It is just as unfair to try to change you as it is to try to change him. It’s not a “want” you have, it’s a “need”. What’s wrong with expecting your mate to meet one of your basic needs? Do you try to meet his? Why do you do it? That’s right, to show him you care, so he’ll know you want him to feel valued. Why are you looking for a cure for wanting the same consideration? Are you the only one in therapy?

marinelife's avatar

@ChazMaz You certainly seem to be exercised by this question. Is there a reason?

CMaz's avatar

1. I do not like abusive pompous ass men.
2. It drives me crazy when abused women do their best to justify the situation.
I have seen too many good women have their lives thrown away because of this nonsense.

I feel for @tedibear39 . I really do. No solution will be an easy one. But hopefully you want an honest solution. Not just an excuse to stay in the same old crap.

janbb's avatar

@ChazMaz There is a big difference between an abusive man and one who cannot give compliments. My husband is a wonderful “act of service” person; he just is hard on himself and not able to stroke others much. That does not mean he is an “abusive pompous ass” man. Like tedibear, I would like or need more affirmation from him, but it does not mean we don’t have a good marriage.

CMaz's avatar

@janbb – I will take your word for that. :-)

JLeslie's avatar

I think a similar question was asked before? Was it by you? That means to me that after months, because I think the questions was months ago, it has still not become any better for you. Does he by any chance have Aspergers?

tedibear's avatar

@Judi – You’re correct, he needs to understand why. Which is why I think that I need to say it to him once, very clearly in as few but very effective words as possible. That’s what I’ve never been able to do. As an engineer, that’s the kind of communication he needs.

@ChazMaz – Actually, i appreciate your comments. This is a one-shot view of him. He is neither abusive or pompous. He is quiet, extremely sensitive to people & things and has lousy self-esteem. (At least in some areas.)

@JLeslie – I can’t remember if I asked it or chimed in on someone else’s question. I really think this lingers for me because I’ve not stood up and done something constructive about it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Elaine Aron or her work with HSP’s , but this is him to a “T.”

CMaz's avatar

“extremely sensitive to people & things”

But not you? Ok.

Janka's avatar

I haven’t read the languages of love, but as long as neither party is abusive, if the husband in question has some way of showing his love, should the wife not be happy that the husband loves her and shows it? Is there a point in demanding he shows it in a particular way that does not come naturally to him?

Or is the problem that he does not really show any love and/or appreciation, in any way – which would be different from “never giving compliments”?

nikipedia's avatar

You are saying the words that you do not expect him to change, and then you detail the things he has failed to compliment you on. That sounds an awful lot like secretly, deep down, you think you can get him to change.

I agree with your analysis that this issue is really about you, not about him. But again, it sounds like you are saying this and you don’t really believe it. This is the line that really stuck out to me:

I am never going to be thin enough, pretty enough or smart enough for him to find it in himself to say anything nice

You secretly think if you can just do the right thing, all of a sudden he will start complimenting you. You think that is failure to compliment you is because he doesn’t think you’re thin, pretty, or smart.

So I can see two possibilities here. Either:
(1) He really doesn’t give compliments. He does think you’re attractive and intelligent, and he genuinely values you, but compliments are not in his nature and they never will be.
(2) He doesn’t think you’re attractive and intelligent, and he doesn’t value you. If he did, he would compliment you.

How you approach these two situations is very different, but I think you need to figure out which one is going on first. If he really does value you, and he really does show it in his own way, stop indulging your self-loathing and really stop expecting him to change instead of just saying that you don’t expect him to change.

But if he really doesn’t value you, that’s a much deeper problem.

JLeslie's avatar

@tedibear39 So, are you looking for him to change, or just for you to be able to accept it? Which thing do you really want?

Is he really not noticing you, or he thinks you are too needy? I realize the link you provided implies he is unable to take it all in (and also sounds a little like Asperger’s). My husband is like this about weight and a clean house, but not other things. If I lose 10 pounds, but am not down to the thin he thinks look best he will not say anything. Nothing counts until you get to the goal. Similar about cleaning the house, he prefers everything put away pin-neat. I am not that neat and organized. When I clean up everything, but maybe a have a small pile of papers left to go through, he will notice the one pile of papers, and none of the work I have done. Well, he is a little better now, he will say, “wow, you cleaned up…but what about this pile of papers?” Ugh. But on many many things he is very complimentary, it is very specific with him.

If it really is overwhelming for him, mentally overwhelming, then I guess you have to accept he is “limited.” If he were in a wheelchair and could not reach the top cabinet you would have to accept that limitation, it is not much different with mental limitations. But, if he does it for others at work, he is able to do it. I think he is just modeling after his father. Maybe his mom should tell him how awful it was being in a marriage like that, to shake him up a little. He might be thinking, “my mom didn’t mind, why do you?”

tedibear's avatar

@ChazMaz – his is extreme. I’m sensitive to people and things, but his is beyond the average person.

@nikipedia – I asked my therapist about whether he thought my husband would give compliments to a different significant other. He said that he doubted it very much. I want to believe that. It’s just hard. I still don’t think it’s about wanting him to change. It’s about wishing – wishing to find that right combination that will make him so happy and thrilled to be around me that he would finally find me worth responding to in a positive way.

JLeslie's avatar

@tedibear39 I think your therapist is right, because I think your husband thinks this is normal for a marriage due to what he observed as a child. The thing is it is his normal, not yours.

janbb's avatar

@tedibear39 I feel like a broken record, but if he can’t do it, he can’t. You have to decide how much you need it or whether you can get that need met elsewhere. I, too, would love it if my husband was turning handsprings over me, but he isn’t. I have gotten a strong sense of my worthiness and attractiveness from friends, colleagues and even Fluther. You can certainly continue to try to get it from your husband but at a certain point, you will have to accept him for who he is and decide what to do about you. I speak with a great deal of compassion for you. Being in therapy is a good place to start.

Trillian's avatar

Ok, but @tedibear39 . You’ve read the book and have been doing what it takes to fill up his tank/account. After this long he should be willing to make some deposits in yours. Is he unwilling? Because I can tell you that it’s the same way in the business world. Right up there with more pay is employee recognition. Employees who feel valued are more productive and have higher morale. It’s not unreasonable to want that occasional stroke that says he notices and appreciates you and the things you do, or how you look. That you went out of your way do make him happy.
So the real question is; What are yo willing to settle for? Is he perfectly aware that you need something from him that you’re not getting? If he is aware and still indifferent then you have a choice of living with it or leaving. It sounds like you’re opting to live with it.
Let me just point out that this is a conflict situation. You have perceived different goals. The fact that he is unwilling to engage with you is an avoidance tactic. The fact that you are willing to live without something so important is called “accommodation”. The problem with accommodation is that the only one who knows it’s happening is the one doing it. The other/s are unaware of the sacrifice and therefor take it for granted. This lays a groundwork for subsequent resentment and is unhealthy for you and ultimately for the relationship. This could be where the beginnings are for that quiet person who just “snaps” and stabs her husband with a fork. You hear it on the news and people all say “But she was so nice and never said two words together….”
So the question remains; What do you want to do? Think carefully, and good luck.

Silhouette's avatar


“extremely sensitive to people & things”

But not you? Ok.


CMaz's avatar

I said “But not you? Ok”

I meant to say but not sensitive to you and your feelings? Ok…

tedibear's avatar

@Janka – that’s kind of the point of the book. We all want to be shown love, but we recognize it best in a language that we understand best. I’m not demanding that he do anything. I would like him to show his love in the language that I best respond to. I think that in his mind (and I can’t really say that I know this) he shows his love through being a good provider, staying in this particular job until I finish school and go back to work full time and taking care of home maintenance. Do I view that as showing love? Yes. This brings me to the question of why it’s wrong to want to hear – more than once every ten years – that love in my primary language instead of his. (That’s a general question, not necessarily directed at you personally.)

If he is unable to do this or even make the effort, then I have to learn how to get over it. I’ve never been a person who can just stop giving a crap, so this is a tough thing for me. I always thought that one’s spouse or S.O. was the person who would see the best in you and tell you so. It’s trying to get past that idea and into a new thought process that I’m struggling with.

@janbb – you don’t sound like a broken record to me. I may ask you to tape that so I can put it under my pillow and carry it around all day and just listen to it. And yes, I feel your compassion, right through my screen and I thank you for it. Hoping that’s not too sappy.

@Trillian – Is he unwilling? He was unwilling to read the book. Is he unwilling to try to give me something that I want once he knows what it is? I can’t answer that because I don’t know if I’ve given him a legitimate chance by telling him that this is what’s wrong without crying or backing down. I don’t want to be seen as needy, so I’ve always backed down from that conversation once I’ve started it.

@ChazMaz – ah, now I get it. He’s very aware when something is bothering me, sometimes before I know it consciously. He just doesn’t know how to handle those kinds of feelings and he shuts down. I’ve even asked him if he knows what he looks like when this happens or even that he’s doing it. He says no. I’m not sure how you don’t know that you’re shutting down inside…

CMaz's avatar

“He just doesn’t know how to handle those kinds of feelings”
Sounds like a LAZY BOY to me. And you let him get away with it.

With all due respect. All I am hearing is you making excuses for his behavior. Or should I say lack of it.

Especially when he is capable of expressing himself to others.
But you know what? He is expressing himself to you, very clearly.
That you are not that important. That you are doing just fine without him having to make any effort to show appreciation toward you.

I call that a tool.

Him, being a “good” provider is materialistic and has nothing to do with it.

JLeslie's avatar

I say if you have not told him then you are partly to blame. Who cares if you cry, except that you kind of answered my question about whether he sees it as needy, at least you are assuming that is what he will think. Maybe seeing you upset will show him how much it means to you. And be specific. Don’t just say to him, “I wish you would compliment me more.” Or maybe use the words acknowledge my accomplishment more instead of compliment. Because he seems unable to guess the right thing to do.

Do you have some couple friends where he can observe how other couples interact, or are you ever around other people, so he can see others complimenting you or asking him about you and some of your great accomplishments?

If he is unwilling to talk about it or unwilling to read about it then he either doesn’t give a shit, or feels very insecure about being criticized I would guess.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t believe in the idea that people can’t change – I believe that you should get acknowledged for the positive things you do in your life – this should have nothing to do with you being a woman and him being a man and therefore somehow unable (I don’t believe men are inherently incapable of communicating) to say nice things to you, but this should have everything to do with mutual respect and support of each other and each other’s goals. It wouldn’t matter to me how his father did it or whatever – if I asked my partner to pay more attention, he would and I would do the same for him – that’s what a relationship is about – you don’t have to change each other but you can change some of your actions for each other out of love and understanding. Again, people of all gender expressions need affirmation and attention and inspiration in their lives – our life partners should be able to provide us with all of the above or they shouldn’t be our life partners – if you believe that you do affirm his accomplishments and you do compliment him, he should be able to reciprocate. It should not be an impossible task for him to manage to say nice things to his wife, for crying out loud.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Blackberry you said “so if he takes care of the kids and doesn’t beat you….just be happy for that lol.” – please, you can’t be serious…this is what some women are supposed to be happy with – that’s a pathetic reflection on our society and I hope things will change.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Have a conversation where you sit down and ask him his opinion on some important things to you. You’re not trying to change him, you’re checking in for some feedback, no big deal. Tell him you don’t expect him to pop out with compliments (who wants empty ones you have to fish for anyway?) but now and then you like to know where his mind is at, even on things he may see as normal such as you enjoying to cook well, look nice, improve and take care of yourself. It won’t kill him to tell you his mind and it will make you feel immensely better. Do it. I’m sure he’d rather you not keep troubling things to yourself.

tedibear's avatar

Oh wise Flutherites, I have another question for you. I am planning – weather permitting – to go visit some friends next weekend. What do you think of me writing him a clear, concise, to the point letter stating what I need in this regard and leaving it for him to read and ponder for the not quite two days that I will be gone? He’s not good at reacting emotionally off-the-cuff, except for anger, so it might give him some needed time to think about it.

As well, many, many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. (And I see you up there crafting your response @Dr_Lawrence , so thank you ahead of time!)

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

It is too bad he doesn’t give compliments.

How does he show that he respects you, values you, and loves you.

If the answer is, “He doesn’t show any of those things.” then what is it about him that brings you joy and makes you delighted to be married to him?

If your marriage brings you no joy and no delights, then what do you thinks you should do about that?

You seem to have been remaking yourself in so many ways over the past years. I hope you did those things for yourself.

janbb's avatar

The idea of writing a letter is a good one but how will you feel if you leave it with him and go away for two days? I can imagine your anxiety about his reaction spoiling your time with your friends. You might want to do it when there is a shorter time lapse before you get his response.

JLeslie's avatar

I will let other, more knowing people, respond to whether to leave a letter or not. What I will suggest though is whether it is during a conversation or a letter, word it with a lot of “I” and avoid the word “you.” Make sure you are not accusing him of anything, but rather stating how you feel, and what you need. Maybe start with how much you love him, and that you look forward to having a conversation with him, and you don’t want him to worry for a second about your committment to him. If part of this type of conversation triggers insecurities within him, you want him to feel reassured that talking openly with you about this is not a deal breaker in any way.

CMaz's avatar

I say print this whole thing out and give it to him to read.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tedibear39 I don’t think a letter is the best way to express this issue

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

@tedibear39: write the letter but don’t give it to him. You take it with you and read it over a few times to really dial in on what’s most important to have a face-to-face conversation with him. If I got a letter like that then I’d feel it was more of an admonishment. You need to see his face and hear his voice when he responds to your questions, paper, email and phone just aren’t the equivalent. At this point, you really need affirmation from him, you need to believe in his love and appreciation- get the whole treatment. His eyes, his voice, his face and his hands/arms, sit and talk together.

Jeruba's avatar

What’s killing you there is your expectations—your expectations, and the gap between them and reality. You can’t do anything about him, but you can do something about your expectations.

Begin by distinguishing firmly between “hope” and “expectation.”

Learn this fact: you are married to a man who doesn’t pay compliments. Can you live with that or not? That’s a question for you.

And—you can also settle for prompting. You don’t just want compliments. You want spontaneous compliments. That appears to be more than he can deliver. The reasons don’t matter. It’s not about love: “If you loved me, you’d—.” There is nothing that belongs in that blank. There is no behavior that is incompatible with love. He loves you, and you are making it something conditional, but it isn’t.

Prompting a compliment might go something like this.

This is not to say that you don’t want or need the compliments. It’s only to agree with you that you can’t change his behavior. Maybe you need to think about what the compliments really mean to you and see if you can get that—or are already getting it—in some other way. Perhaps you need to understand his language.

Trillian's avatar

@ChazMaz has a point. Communication is largely non-verbal. He has not come out and said….but then, he doesn’t need to say it. He has communicated it. Go ahead and lay it all out for him, in fairness he heeds the opportunity to yea or nay. you sounding whiny does not enter into it. You’re perfectly capable of saying “I need something from you that I’m not getting. Are you willing to give it to me? I realize I may not have made clear what my needs are. This is not working for me.”
Good luck lovey.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Jeruba do you really think something like giving compliments is behavior that can’t be changed – in that can a person who doesn’t give compliments really not be able to learn to give compliments – I don’t know why, to me, it doesn’t seem so difficult a task to grasp. Love is unconditional but it can also move mountains and for the person you love, one can learn new skills.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I was an “acts of service/love” type until I realized that my lady had a self-image problem and needed my verbal affirmations; so I learned, probably to the point of overdoing it. She opened to it like a flower though. Guys can change if they’re shown the direction and it doesn’t involve a fundamental change of being.

Jeruba's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir, certainly I do think a person can learn to do what doesn’t come naturally. Most of what we learn throughout our lives, from eating with utensils and using the toilet onward, is something that doesn’t come naturally. Ability to learn isn’t the real issue. If @tedibear39‘s husband saw sufficient need or reason, he could train himself to deliver compliments from time to time, by some device or another. I can think of several ways.

But it wouldn’t ever be motivated by a spontaneous urge to compliment—by a genuine feeling of admiration and regard that translates into a spoken message. (This is not to say that he doesn’t feel it. We’re talking about behavior.) I don’t think @tedibear39 just wants him to say the words, nor even just to say them and mean them. She wants him to think of saying them all on his own, and mean them, and then say them. She can’t control that. And she can’t control the presence or absence in him of a desire to learn.

Maybe she has not already done her best to make him see how important this is to her, but I think she is saying that she has. Maybe if he really understood that she regards it as essential, he would make the effort, but I don’t think he can understand it because obviously it does not have any importance to him.

So in the end she wants something she can’t have, and that’s what she asked for help with. Whether it’s great or small (and some great things may look very small), the question is whether she can live without it and not whether she can make him give it to her.

Here is a story that I remember reading in a book about marital crisis. A woman was bothered by her husband’s habit of drinking a glass of milk at bedtime and leaving the glass unrinsed on the kitchen counter. She requested many times that he rinse it, and he didn’t. She reminded him often. She didn’t demand that he wash it, only that he run a little water in it so it would be easier to clean. For reasons of his own, he simply did not comply.

She began to badger him. He did this every night without fail, and she just could not get him to budge from his habit. She then started asking him to just leave the glass in the sink instead of on the counter so that the first thing she saw in the morning was not his glass all sticky with milk residue. Impervious to her insistence no matter how she put it, he continued steadfastly in his habit of leaving the used glass on the counter unrinsed.

They ended up in marital counseling. The woman explained the situation to the therapist. It was clear to the therapist that this woman believed if only she could persuade her husband of how much this small thing meant to her, he would comply. With the therapist’s help, the woman put her case before her husband in the most passionate and extreme terms she possibly could. The husband appeared unmoved.

The therapist asked the husband: “Did you understand what she said to you?”

“Yes,” said the man.

“Do you understand how important this is to her?”

“Yes,” said the man.

“And will you change your behavior?”

“No,” said the man.

The therapist turned to the woman and said, “He is not ever going to rinse his glass. The only thing for you to do is decide whether you can live with that or not.”

The woman divorced her husband.

Now, you may say that there had to be a whole lot more going on than that, and you are undoubtedly right, there was. But the point remains: this was the man she was married to. What to do about that fact was the only thing the woman could actually control.

The easiest thing by far is to size things up realistically and adjust your own expectations accordingly.

tedibear's avatar

@Jeruba – many thanks for your response. I’m aware that my expectations are the problem and that, like the woman and the glass, that I’m the one who needs to change those expectations or decide what’s next. You are right that I want the compliments to be spontaneous. That comes from wanting to be good enough for him to feel like I’m worth saying those things to unprompted. It may or may not be in his nature; possibly not. He may or may not choose to do something about it. I don’t really know. I fear not. I fear it so much that I’m scared to bring it up to him. As for his language, when you have time, read up a ways in the thread and you will see that I’ve read the book, done the homework and shown the love as best I can when having to make my own decision as to his love language. Your last comment – to size things up and adjust my expectations accordingly. Well yes, that’s what I need to figure out how to do. How exactly do I make that mental adjustment once and for all in my head? That’s the whole point of this question. How do I do that?

@JLeslie – Yes, I believe that I have never been concise and explicit regarding my need. And yes, that part of it is completely on my shoulders. Which is why I need to work out precisely what I need to say. You mentioned something about him possibly being sensitive to criticism. Yes, at home but not at work. That’s professional and part of the learning experience at work. Oh, you asked if there were situations where he would here others give me a compliment. Almost a month ago we went to dinner with his parents. I’m not sure how it came up, but his mom commented about how well I did to not just lose weight, but to keep it off while studying pastry arts. His father spoke up to and said that it was amazing. He sat there drinking his coffee.

@Dr_Lawrence – Yes, school and weight loss have been for me. I’m studying something that I want to, so that’s certainly for me. As for the weight loss, I was tired of struggling up stairs, tired of buying not-so-cute clothes, tired of looking like hell and worried about the heart problems that run in my family.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@tedibear39 I am so pleased for you that your motivation came from inside you.

You must learn to give yourself credit for the things you do. It does not really matter then, whether you husband does so spontaneously.

If you are happy with him and your life together, them nothing needs to change.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Jeruba I do agree that he might never spontaneously find things to compliment but the very act of trying will help the OP and perhaps it won’t feel like such a huge deal and she can stop focusing on it so much.

Jeruba's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir, I agree with you. And I am not defending his inaction. I am only saying that she can’t accomplish that. She can’t compel or persuade. She can only propose. Then it’s up to him to take the steps, and he’s not the one who’s here asking us “How do I do that?”

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Jeruba s answer was outstanding as usual. In our relationship we both made major and minor adaptations to our behaviour and habits. I learned to verbalize compliments and actually internalized it into a spontaneous behaviour. Meghan learned to accomodate the limitations of my Aspergers Syndrome and willingly became my “social interpreter”’ We kept our lines of communication open and honest. Constructive critcism for the sake of our loving relationship.

tedibear's avatar


We had “the talk” last night and I will not bore you with all of the details. I told him that I need compliments and why it was important, as well as telling him that I knew I had backed away from the conversation in the past. He gets it now. I truly don’t believe that he knew before. Clear and direct was quite effective. There was defintely some around and around before both of us got what the other was saying. But we got there. He gets it, is going to work on it and I understand where he was coming from. (It was the “of course I think you’re great; I’m here, aren’t I?” syndrome.)

And, I learned something interesting and important about him. He finds compliments to be offensive. Example I gave him was when he looked at my grades and just said, “Oh cool.” Told him that it hurt because he couldn’t say that he was proud of me or that I had done a good job. He told me that if someone does that to him on something that he considers minor (like a good grade on a test, etc.) that the compliment feels like a punch to the gut. He feels that if the expectation is that he would do it well, he shouldn’t be complimented on it. And that the person giving the compliment is being phony or fake. If it’s something particularly difficult then a compliment is okay. But not too effusive. The focus should be on that the project was well done or the plane was saved, not on the person who did the work. I told him that I would try to remember that because my goal is to never make him feel punched in the gut. His response, “You don’t have to do that. It’s how you are, I know that and it’s okay.” Being me, I pushed the issue a bit and asked if it felt like I was punching him when I did it, and he said “not really.” Which might or might not be true, but I was too tired to push any more!

Thank you again, Fluther, for helping me to work this out. FLUTHER ROCKS!!

janbb's avatar

@tedibear39 Good work! He does sound like he’s trying and is a keeper.

CMaz's avatar

When you were done talking.
Did you have some good sex?

tedibear's avatar

@ChazMaz – bwahahahahahhahaha! Yes.

Centaur's avatar

Ways to feel contented with your life:

*There will always be people greater and lesser than yourself.

*Be thankful for what you have… you could have a lot less!

*No two people are the same… everyone is unique.

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