Q: My husband asks for my undivided attention constantly. He wants me to “stroke” him by telling him all the ways he is so wonderful. He wants me to do this until he falls asleep at night, (every night) and in the evenings while I rub his feet. I feel drained and then guilty. Is this normal ?
A: Has he always needed so much reinforcement of your love for him? Did he start to do a whole lot more of this at a certain point, maybe after a major setback in your relationship or in some other part of his life? He certainly does seem to be very insecure.
He seems to be asking you to prove that you love him by listing everything you like about him. I don’t know if you’ll be showing him this letter, but here’s what I’d say to him directly: “People either love you as you are or they don’t. Any love that matters is for the *whole* person, not for the specific things you do or don’t do. When you ask your wife to tell you what she loves about you, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, because you are not perfect and never can be. So if she says you are intelligent you might wonder if she thinks you are ‘intelligent enough.’ And if she says you are good looking you can still wonder if you are better looking than some other man. People who need so much reassurance usually have a deep down feeling of worthlessness or shame or guilt. These are *your* problems to solve, through talking with a good therapist. If your wife works 24/7 at trying to convince you that everything you do is wonderful, it won’t be enough. There’s something deeper going on here, and I bet you’ve had these insecurities long before you even met your wife. It is SO painful to have so much self-doubt. Please get some good help. Know that you are worth it!”
What confuses me about your letter is that this is such a dependent relationship, and I know that dependency is always a two-way thing.
Have you become less dependent recently? Was your husband’s dependency OK with you in the past but it’s not so OK for you now? (And then maybe he escalated his demands?)
At some point, one partner in dependent relationships moves from being dependent into being more independent. Did this happen in your life recently?
I do think that you need to face that you have greatly reinforced your husband’s dependency in the past, and that there must have been some ways that you got your own dependency needs met by him in return. And since his insecurity is so strong, yours must also have been very strong.
I definitely think you will need to tell your husband that all of the verbal strokes he wants has to stop. If you love him, tell him that you do love him just the way he is and that it’s up to him to believe you or not – but you will never be able to convince him that your love is real by bombarding him with strokes for his behaviors. Tell him also that kisses and hugs and snuggling of all kinds (including foot rubs) will always show more love and acceptance than all the words in the world – but it’s up to him to *absorb* and *believe* your love. And tell him that if it doesn’t do this then that’s for him and his therapist to work out. There’s nothing more you can do about it.
Bottom line: Do *only* what you *want* to do that shows your love. If you rub his feet when you really don’t want to, the message he receives through your fingers is that you don’t want him! So it does neither of you any good.
Just do what you want, and face that it’s up to him to decide if he’s loved.