Some men don’t like cuddling and hugging their partners, before, during, or after sex. A female reader asked us for answers on how to deal with it.
To be honest, it was hard for me to write this article. I am a straight man who loves all forms of physical affection from women—even tickling—but especially cuddling, hugging, holding, snuggling, and gentle, loving touch. So I had trouble imagining that some men might prefer not to cuddle or hug, regardless of their interest in sex. For me, affectionate touch is part and parcel of intimate bonding, but other men find it uninteresting at best and distasteful at worst. What to do then, if you’re a woman and your partner is a man who avoids what I’ll call “non-sexual intimacy”?
While I can’t relate personally to men who shy away from cuddling, I do have some experience with the problem. I was married to a woman who rejected most forms of touch but not sex, and it took me many painful years to form a healthy response. Rather than explore the variety of psychological and physiological conditions that might cause men to dislike non-sexual intimacy, I’m going to offer the wisdom I acquired, which I believe has universal application.
1. First and foremost, don’t take your partner’s feelings personally. It is your problem as a couple, but the problem is not you (though it can be hard to see it that way if your partner blames you). Unless you have deeper intimacy issues in your relationship or sex itself is not happening, your partner’s lack of interest in non-sexual intimacy has nothing to do with your attractiveness, your personality, or the quality of your touch. Don’t internalize what’s happening, and don’t decide you have to come up with a unilateral solution. It’s possible that being cuddled and hugged might have negative psychological associations for your partner—something he can explore in his own therapy—or it may just not be his thing. Whatever the reason, understand that it’s part of his current makeup and not something you’re causing or responsible for changing alone.
2. Don’t feel rejected. Your partner is saying, “I don’t want this,” but he’s not saying, “I don’t want you.” He is making a choice about how he prefers to relate physically, but he is not choosing to push you away. Because the issue is his, he would express it the same way with any other partner, and realizing this frees you from feelings of rejection and inadequacy. If he doesn’t like non-sexual intimacy, no amount of what you perceive as getting better at it is going to change his mind. Rest assured, you’re not failing at an essential component of intimate partnership. You’re dealing with a man whose preferences are different from your own. One of the hardest adjustments in any relationship is understanding and accepting that your partner may not enjoy something that you enjoy. It’s easier, of course, with things like taste in food and movies, but there is also taste in types of physical affection.
3. Don’t dismiss your partner’s feelings. The worst thing you can do to your partner is tell him he shouldn’t feel the way he does. The next worse thing you can do is suggest there’s something wrong with him, that he’s not normal, that he is sick and needs to be cured. He may indeed wish he could enjoy non-sexual intimacy but find it repulsive, or he may not like it at all and be fine with his preference. Either way, his feelings are real and need to be respected.
4. Don’t try to force it. You surely don’t wish to be forced into physical activity you haven’t chosen, and it’s the same for your partner with non-sexual intimacy. Surprising him with a hug or constantly cajoling him to cuddling will only make him feel uncomfortable and exacerbate the problem. Wrap your arms around the issue as a couple (see next point), but don’t wrap your arms around him if hugging isn’t his thing.
5. Make non-sexual intimacy a joint problem and get help together. If your relationship is healthy, your partner wants to please you, and he doesn’t want to disappoint. Couples therapy, in which you address the problem not as enemies but as members of the same team, can help both of you work through the suffering you’re feeling. There may be ways for your partner to create an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance, to make you feel embraced, without physically embracing. Or with work and time, he may be able to accept and return the type of affection you desire. If you can move from the stance of, “this is his fault” to “this is something we want to improve in our relationship,” you have a solid chance of preserving instead of allowing the issue to destroy your intimate bond.
6. Be patient. Changing any behavior—or working to the point of acceptance—takes time. Again, if the foundation of love is present, the two of you will be able to reach a point where you both feel your needs and choices are being respected. If there’s something blocking your partner from accepting non-sexual intimacy, it will take him time to identify and ultimately move past the obstacle. And if it’s just his way of being, it will take you time to accept that he doesn’t love you any less because he doesn’t want to hug and cuddle.
7. Decide if it’s a deal-breaker. If avoiding non-sexual intimacy is something your partner can’t change, you will ultimately have to figure out whether it’s something you can live with. Your decision will depend on—in order of importance—your own needs, your willingness to accommodate your partner’s needs, and your commitment to the relationship. If you need a big hug every day when you come home—or your partner returns—you may not be able to stay with a man who offers only a warm smile and a peck on the cheek. On the other hand, if your need is not overwhelming and everything else in your relationship is awesome, you may choose to overlook your partner’s preference, as you do with other choices that don’t align with yours.
For me, it’s essential to be with a truly, deeply loving and committed person. How partners express love differs, and it’s those differences that make us each unique. You don’t have to accept suffering, but embracing differences—even hugging and cuddling those difference—is what tolerance is all about. The choice, as always, is yours.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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