Updated: May 7, 2020
Affection is one heart turning towards the heart of another. Affection is the wordless expression of deep appreciation. Affection is positive energy directed towards a partner in a physical and emotional package. Affection is a touch, caress, hug, or look that affirms to your partner that you feel they are attractive, desired and lovable. Affection says “I care.”, "I am here.”, “I understand.” ,“I want you.” “I need you.” all without uttering a word.
This article focuses on how repression (the act of squashing emotion and desire) occurs in couples who want to have an affectionate love relationship. My hope is that this article will help you understand repression better and help you remove this silent killer from your love. At the end of this article, I’ll offer you advice to increase affection in your love relationship.
What is Repression
Repression is a love killer. Repression is the quiet seething that occurs after a couple has given up on happiness together. Couples choose repression when they lose hope of breaking free of their status quo. Repression can occur at any stage within a relationship’s life cycle. There are couple’s celebrating their silver and gold anniversary, who have simply made peace with their drab, loveless existence together. Sometimes these affection-less relationships are viewed as “successful” from the outside, but in reality they are examples of what repressed love looks like, and not models of love we want to copy.
Here’s A Simple Example Of Repressed Affection
Imagine you are at home on a Saturday. You glance across the room at your partner and notice you feel an attraction you haven’t felt for a while. Your conscious mind rummages through options for how to express your simmering turn-on. Then you hear a voice starting to speak. The voice is loud and forceful and determines you are wasting time. It dismisses your pleasant thoughts of connection and discourages you from putting your attention on your partner. The voice wants you to be productive, it even suggests a list of productive things that you could do. The list, of course, distracts you, but doesn’t turn off the feelings of attraction you are feeling. So the voice brings up old images to flood your memory with good -ole reasons to be angry at your partner. Now your soft feelings of attraction have become brittle, and shatter. They are replaced with a burning sensation in your chest, and a feeling that your partner doesn’t really deserve your appreciation right now.
This example is a pretty spot on example of how repression looks in action. When repression of positive feelings, like affection, occurs relationship satisfaction is lost and the flow of love between partners is cut off.
Repressing Affection Is Never Healthy
Suppression of a strong “negative emotion” gives a partner time to find their words before they say the wrong thing, in the wrong way. This is healthy. In this case, repression can keep a partner from “flying off the handle” and creating a negative relationship experience. On the other hand, repression of affection, is always about controlling the emotional response of a partner or controlling the behavior of a partner, but never about controlling one's own emotional response.
A Partner will withhold affection as a punishment for behaviors and feelings, they perceive as “unwanted”, and reward behaviors and feelings they see as acceptable.
For example, a partner may decide to withhold affection if their partner is not complying with their wishes around a large purchase. Instead of talking things through, and respecting their partner’s differing opinion, they stop the flow of affection as a punishment for disagreement. If you’re not certain whether your partner has tried to control you through the repression of affection ask yourself “Do I fear losing affection if I make a decision that my partner doesn’t agree with?”. If your answer is “yes”, then your partner is being controlling.
Can there ever be too much affection? I would argue no. One counter argument might be people who smother others. “Certainly they should suppress their affection.” one might say. Well, “smothering” is the toxic version of appreciation, and not at all affection. People who smother others must work on trusting love, not affection.
All partners love affection in all situations. Even a love avoidant loves affection. To a love avoidant, receiving affection is like accepting money from a bank. If a love avoidant accepts affection, their fear is they will have to repay affection received with interest. This is why a love avoidant avoids love. Give a love avoidant affection with any expectations of reciprocation and they won’t flee. But this is a topic for another article.
Low Affection Partnerships
Partnerships that are low in affection, often have one, or both partners, who are hyper focused on being productive. Partners with this efficiency mindset want to “get on” with things and desire to “get somewhere” in the relationship. People with an efficient mindset run towards the future with expectant hope and run away from their “ineffective” past.
I’ll be frank here. Efficient love doesn't last long. Efficiency is result oriented and love is about process, not results. Think of affection as a gift you give to your partner. You don’t expect a return on a gift, do you? The pleasure of gifting, is in the giving. So it is with affection.
Affection Has Positive Long Term Effects
Affection is the substance that makes committed love run smoothly on a day to day basis. When affection is missing, love literally dries up from the friction of work, kids, bills, and financial concerns. Without affection the embers of love cool in the heart, causing the reservoir of love that a couple drinks from to freeze over.
Affection Doesn’t Just Leave, It’s Removed
When a relationship lacks affection, then one or both partners are actively, but maybe not consciously, turning away from it. Affection doesn’t just dry up and disappear, it’s turned off. Repressing affection is the worst outcome that can happen in committed love. Affection will flow naturally, unless it’s flow is forced off. If your relationship lacks the affection you want, check yourself to see if you are harboring disgust or contempt at your partner, and if you turned off the easy flow of affection in your relationship.
How The Loss Of Affection Plays Out In Relationship
The desire for affection is never ever lost, it doesn’t just disappear. Even when we are angry at our partner, we want affection. We want to know this is not the end of love, that we will survive this spot.
What is really happening when we repress affection is that we become engaged in a battle against our own reality. Let’s say you decide you want to withhold sexual affection. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel any sexual desire and attraction. What it means is that you are going to avoid acting on it. To avoid your own desire you will need to suppress the sensations that follow the desire. Most people stop the flow of affection by making their desires unimportant (ie not productive) or by making one result of sexual desire, sex, a shameful, bad and unwanted thing.
Making sex “bad” helps you fight against the reality of desire in your body by ”changing your mind” about what sex means to you. Repression of affection, is where this fight against reality begins.
Note: When a partner stops the flow of sexual affection in their relationship, their partner can still feel their sexual desire. What they can’t do is make out the music of it, which is frustrating.
The Effect Of A Lack Of Affection
A lack of affection produces negative health effects like loneliness, stress, depression and a feeling of social isolation on partners. A lack of affection gives rise to feelings of alienation and abandonment and a phenomenon known as “skin hunger”. The feelings of rejection associated with a loss of affection, often leads to resentment and a quiet rage between couples.
We have a physical and emotional need for affection. Affection is an expectation in committed love, so when affection is absent in a relationship, partners can develop neurotic and even toxic coping mechanisms to compensate for the insecurity they feel within the relationship. For example, denying sexual desire, being clingy, being argumentative, and being controlling are just a few ways insecurity can play out in a relationship.
Note: If you find it hard to be affectionate (because of pent up anger or resentment) you may find it hard to fix this until you let go of the anger and resentment. (To clear resentment from a relationship, see my article on resentment here).
How To Reverse Repressed Affection
The simple answer is express your love energy more often. But how? Here are a few tips to kick start affection and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a routine to help put positive feelings into your relationship bank account.
Play A Game
Wrestling is a great way to relieve sexual tension and stress, while getting a healthy dose of physical touch. Physical play is a chance to be close without necessarily being sexual and triggering a fear of intimacy. A quick roll on the bed or sofa is a great way to feel each other up, and have a laugh with your clothes on. It's safe and quick and who knows it could lead to something more.
Taking a shower together can be a wordless experience of affection. If you want to go this route, rubbing and scrubbing each other's soapy bodies can be fun, relaxing and arousing. And at the end of it, you’ve saved water!
Giving a massage takes skill and hand stamina, so this is not something every partner can partake in. But for those who enjoy their partner’s touch, massage is a safe way to get your “skin hunger” needs met. Massage can be as pedestrian as a close on experience or as hot and kinky as a “happy ending” experience. Add candles and a nice scent and you have the makings for a romantic event. Or keep it simple and rub each other's backs on the sofa. This will produce feelings of safety and security, like receiving an extended warm hug.
Get Naked For A Day
Being naked is liberating. Nakedness is also fun, especially in the privacy of your own home. A couple suffering from affection deprivation can simply strip down and spend an entire day in the buff. It’s hard to be angry when your ass is hanging out. Nakedness is known to increase arousal and affection. Being naked will also give you the chance to get over any inhibitions you may have about your body. Surprisingly, being naked together and exposed, drops emotional walls and defenses between couples. Nakedness allows for a connection that’s deeper than skin deep. Try it and see for yourself.
You will note that none of these examples are novel or original. They are good remedies for a loss of affection though. It doesn’t take rocket science to increase love and affection, just a willingness to play and be exposed.
You’ll also notice I don’t have any exercises mentally putting you in a more affectionate mindset. That is done on purpose. Affection is about physical presence and getting out of your own head. The exercises above will force you to confront the voices of fear, disgust, anger and resistance that you feel about giving and receiving affection. Try them and allow the voice to speak inside of you but not control you. Modify the exercises to meet your relationships needs. The main idea is to get out of your head and into your body.
Repression of emotions, whether negative or positive can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction in a relationship. Specifically, repression of affection is never a good thing. Affection isn’t lost, it’s turned off or removed from a relationship. Even partners who feel hurt and angry at one another still want both love and affection. A loss of affection is a sign of deeper problems like anger and resentment. If you are experiencing resentment, seek help to get out of it. You can’t restore affection without first clearing resentment. At Home Couples Retreat is designed to help couples clear anger and resentment and express affection as a loving team.
Read my article on resentment here. Get an Inventory of the level of love, affection, anger and resentment present in your relationship, by taking a Relationship Inventory here. Let me know your tip for creating more affection in your relationship.