A year ago I wrote “Why A Mother Doesn’t Want To Be Touched.” In it, I discussed how my wife sometimes gets “touched out.” We had three small children (8, 5, and 11 months) at that time, and after having them cling to her all day, she wanted nothing but to sit alone without anyone tugging at her body.
This placed us at an impasse, because sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to hug and kiss my wife. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex. In my 20s, it did. But now, in my 30s, sometimes I just want to hold my wife — not a long embrace, just a moment or two of holding each other.
I recall being really confused by the way Mel would sometimes pull away from me after she’d had a long day with the kids. I was the man she loved, right? We’d been together for over a decade — I should be the one person she is 100% comfortable with. And for the longest time, I wondered if the way she rejected my touch after a long day with the kids was a sign that our marriage was drifting apart. My divorcing friends often say, “We just fell out of love,” as if it’s some organic thing, and I am often left wondering what “falling out of love” really looks like and if it happens to look like your wife not wanting to be touched.
It wasn’t until Mel said this that I got it:
“It’s not you,” she said. “It’s just…I love the kids. I love you. But all three of them were sick, and I couldn’t do anything without the baby clawing at my leg whining, so I held her all day. And Norah, she just wanted to be snuggled.” She let out a breath. Then she went on, trying to describe how booger-y, drool-y, puke-y children tugging at her body all day makes her want to crawl inside a bubble.
“In the evening, after a long day with the kids, I just want a moment, an hour or so, to not be touched. To just spread out, and not worry about someone pawing at me. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that these days with the kids feel like sensory overload.”
This whole conversation was a light bulb moment for me as a father and husband. Never in my life had I felt something like sensory overload. I couldn’t imagine having someone touch me so much that I didn’t want to be touched by anyone, even the person I love the most, my wife.
But the funny thing is, it took me a while to really respond to it. In the year since, Mel and I had several moments when I came home after she’d had a long day with clingy kids, and I went to give her a short hug and kiss, nothing huge, and she pulled away. And like before, I immediately took it personally. It always takes me a moment to step back and think about the conversation we had and realize that she’d had a long day, and although I wanted to hold her, I needed to wait. I needed to give her that touch-free moment.
And I suppose this is the real reason they say men are from Mars and women are from Venus. So much of figuring out the person you love is done by letting them know your wants and desires, by speaking up when you are stressed or confused or touched out, trying to help them understand, and trying to find a compromise. And in this case, the compromise is understanding that sometimes a mother needs a little space.
To be honest, I don’t know if I will ever fully understand what a mother goes through when she’s touched out. I was a stay-at-home dad for a while, and even with the kids clinging to me, I never felt touched out. It’s something that I can’t personally understand, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t empathize and try to help my wife with something that is very real to her.
So I’ve taken those steps back, tried to give her space when she needed it, and tried to herd the children away from her when I can see that she could clearly use a touch-free moment.
If I were to describe my love language, it would be touch. I feel a confidence and connection from Mel’s touch that I never experienced from anyone before her. And I will admit, not being able to always, 100% of the time, freely touch my wife was difficult for me. This isn’t to say that I cling to her like the children, but I do like to hold her after a long day, even if it’s just for a moment.
But what I noticed from giving my wife the space that she needed is that she often found her way into my arms. She reached out to me in ways that she used to before we had children, and I will be honest, it felt wonderful.
Men are supposed to make the first move — to lean in for the kiss, to ask for the number, that sort of thing — but sometimes it feels good to be on the receiving end. Before kids, Mel often leaned in for the kiss, but after kids, it felt like we’d lost that. I’d wondered if it was us falling out of love, but now I realize that it was just the strain of having children tug and pull and grab at my wife every moment of the day when what she needed was a moment to reset. Not a long moment. Not days or weeks, but just an hour or so after a rough day. Nothing huge, but enough to for her to feel like her old self again.