Ask Kirsten: How do I get my emotional needs met?

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Dear Kirsten,

How do I get my boyfriend to realize that I have emotional needs? I tell him over and over that I need more from him emotionally, but he just nods and then doesn’t do it. I’ve read that the most important thing in successful relationships is when your significant other truly cares about what you care about and goes out of their way to make sure you’re happy. I feel like I’m doing that for him, but it just doesn’t feel reciprocated. We just feel like two people living life — not two people living life together.

Thanks, Overemotional

Hi there Overemotional,

First of all, I take issue with the word “overemotional.” Nothing to be ashamed of if you feel things strongly and have deep emotional needs. Your sensitivity is part of what makes you unique, so own your emotionality, girlfriend!

The fact is that your boyfriend probably adores you and wants to please you, but doesn’t know how to connect with you in a way that feels the most validating. He doesn’t understand how to communicate in your “Love Language,” which I’m guessing is “Words of Affirmation.” Let me explain. In 1995, Gary Chapman wrote the classic book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. In this timeless relationship manual, Gary explained that most of us express love in one or more of these five ways:

Words of Affirmation: compliments, small notes, greeting cards, chitchat and/or deep, meaningful conversations.

Physical Touch: hugs, kisses, sex, back rubs, cuddling and/or pats on the back (or butt!).

Acts of Service: chores, errands, crossing off things on the To Do list and/or helping out, with or without being asked.

Quality Time: doing anything together while you aren’t completely distracted or focused on something else. (Cutting off distractions is key when it comes to quality time. We live in a particularly distracted world these days, full of smart phones, social media, streaming TV and video games.)

Receiving Gifts: surprises and presents. (These can be small gestures like bringing home a small flower from the garden or a special hot sauce from the grocery store. Or they can be big, like a diamond necklace or a shiny new car.)

Here’s the problem. Most couples have differing love languages and miss the mark when trying to connect with each other on an intimate level. An example? You have deep emotional needs and crave Words of Affirmation and Quality Time. Your partner might look for affection in the forms of Physical Touch or Acts of Service. If you two aren’t making an effort to show each other love in your preferred languages, it can cause both of you to feel disconnected and disillusioned.

Most couples have differing love languages and miss the mark when trying to connect with each other on an intimate level.

Have you taken the “5 Love Languages” Quiz? Has your partner? Even if you have, I encourage both of you to head over to the 5LL website and take it again. After you have completed the simple quiz, compare notes and write down specific ways that you and your partner can express love in your preferred languages. Then, commit to doing at least two things off of your partner’s list every week.

My guess is that once your boyfriend understands that your emotional needs are not just whiney wishes, but actual manifestations of your preferred love language, he might just make a special effort to speak in your dialect and give you the touchy-feely, intimate communication that you crave. Don’t be surprised if heartfelt talks on the patio and sweet post-it notes on the fridge become part of your weekly routines!

Sincerely, Kirsten

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Ask Kirsten on As One Loves is published as a community service with the intention of addressing reader-submitted questions about relationship issues. Written by Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor, this column is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or actual psychotherapy. Always seek the advice of a licensed mental health professional, without delay and in person, regarding questions you may have about any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard other professional advice because of something you have read on AsOneLoves.com. Reader-submitted questions are anonymous to protect the questioner’s identity, chosen by the As One Loves team, and may be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and length.

Have you taken the Love Languages quiz? What was your result? Do you and your partner have trouble meeting each other’s emotional needs? Let’s have a conversation in the comments.

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Author: Kirsten Brunner

Kirsten Brunner is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has provided couples therapy and life coaching for 19 years. On her website, Baby Proofed Parents, Kirsten delivers relationship and emotional health advice to expectant and new parents. Kirsten is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and TODAY Parents. Her writing has also been featured in The Atlantic, Real Simple Magazine and Mamalode. She works with clients, in person and over Skype, with a specific focus on strengthening communication between couples. Kirsten lives in Austin, TX with her husband, two sons and her dog, Jake (Yup, she is definitely outnumbered.)

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