Q: I grew up in a family that ends every conversation with "I love you." We are very verbally affectionate with each other, including all of the men. As such, I learned that when you care about someone, you show it verbally and physically. In all of my past relationships, the men have had no problem saying "I love you" or "I care about you." Sometimes these things can be said too much and they end up not meaning as much. I've certainly been guilty of that in past relationships, and I know that ultimately it is actions that will show you someone's true feelings. At the same time, these verbal affirmations are something I've been used to since childhood.
My current boyfriend is not the verbal affirmation type. He grew up the complete opposite of me. His family never expressed feelings verbally. I don't think they've ever said "I love you" to each other; it is just understood. So he has no idea how to do it, and I think it makes him uncomfortable.
He is affectionate, caring, comforting, and an overall good guy. He is not cold physically and in his own way shows that he cares. I know he cares. Well, I think he does but he has never said it. I don't expect to ever hear "I love you" from him. Ever. I have touched on this subject a bit with him and he is very understanding. He sees my side and understands that every now and then I'd like to hear a verbal affirmation, but at the same time, he can't bring himself to do it. It just isn't him.
I've heard people say that women in my situation just need to accept the man for the way he is, be grateful that he treats you well, and learn to be OK with never hearing verbal affirmations. My question is NOT about changing him. That doesn't work and I have no plans to change or nag him. My question is: How do I change myself to not need these verbal affirmations? How do I learn to not feel insecure or unloved just because I don't hear it? It isn't a deal-breaker for me, but at the same time I need to adapt and sometimes it bothers me a lot, and I want to learn how to not be so needy in that way.
– Ms. Verbal, Boston
A: I don't want you to change too much, MV. It's nice that you want to adapt, but should you have to? You're not asking for constant validation. You just want to know how your partner feels about you. That's totally reasonable. And for the record, I believe that words are almost as important as actions. We should all expect validation through actions and words. We don't have to pick one or the other.
My advice is to explain to your boyfriend that verbal affirmations don't have to be big declarations of love. He might just say, "I've had a great afternoon with you." Or maybe, "Dinner was fun. Let's go to that place together again." He just has to talk. Or email. (Some people are better in writing.)
You're not needy or irrational, and you're self-aware enough to know that you might come from a place of over-validation. That means you have perspective. Something tells me that if you're feeling insecure, it’s not just about the missing words. My guess is that it's about his whole demeanor.
Your boyfriend should want you to feel safe in the relationship. If he's not working for that, there are bigger problems here. Please don't second-guess your needs.
Readers? Should she adapt? Is she asking for too much? Are actions always more important than words? What's happening here? Help.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.