When She Just Wants to Cuddle and He Wants More

How to Establish Clear Relationship Boundaries for Differing Intimacy Desires.

A counseling client of mine, Rocco (alias), proudly told me he's a "sensitive guy." When I inquired further, he explained, "I try not to pressure Charlotte (his fiancée) too much for sex." Rocco elaborated, "Charlotte is attractive, and I can't help but want to be physically close to her."

Rocco and I discussed the importance of consent. While he grasped its significance, he struggled with certain thoughts that made it challenging for him to accept cuddling, and nothing more, sometimes.

One-Way Sexual Pressure and Two-Way Relationship Tension

As it became apparent that Rocco and Charlotte experienced relationship tension over their differing expectations for physical intimacy, I referred them to another therapist for couples counseling while continuing my work with Rocco.

Rocco isn't the only one facing this issue. While men may come to mind as the ones pressuring for more than cuddling, it's important to note that women may also desire sexual intimacy over cuddling. In same-sex relationships, this dynamic of one partner desiring more sexual connection than the other occurs as well.

That said, the remainder of this post will explore three considerations that might make it challenging for men to accept when their female partners seek physical affection without it being sexual.

Expectations for Physical Closeness. Some men might struggle to understand when women simply want to cuddle because they associate physical closeness with sexual desire. If a man expects every instance of physical closeness to lead to something more, he might feel frustrated or confused when his partner just wants to cuddle. This feeling may arise from societal expectations, previous encounters, or a longing for closeness.

Pressure to Perform Masculinity. Society often pressures men to be assertive and physically aggressive. Men may feel insecure or emasculated if their partner's desire for cuddling is perceived as a rejection of their masculinity or sexual prowess. This pressure to conform to traditional gender roles can hinder their ability to empathize with their partner's need for emotional intimacy without sexual expectations.

Difficulty Recognizing Personal Needs. Some men may struggle to understand or prioritize emotional intimacy over physical intimacy. If they haven't been taught or encouraged to recognize and address a partner's emotions, they may overlook the importance of non-sexual forms of connection, such as cuddling. Not being aware or understanding can cause confusion or feeling ignored in a relationship.

3 Ways to Promote (Something like) Cuddling

Here are three suggestions for men to be more supportive and understanding to female partners seeking physical closeness through cuddling and something akin to that.

1. Be Present and Attentive

Sometimes, your partner simply wants to cuddle to feel close and connected. Being present in the moment and offering your partner your full attention is crucial. For example, consider Jack and Emily, a young couple in their mid-20's. After a long day at work, Emily just wants to unwind and feel comforted by cuddling on the couch. Jack sets aside his phone, attentively hears about her day, and embraces her warmly, expressing love and appreciation.

2. Respect Boundaries

Respect your partner's boundaries and cues. If she's not in the mood for anything beyond cuddling, respect that and don't pressure her for anything else. Think of Mike and Sarah, a couple in their 40s with children. After tending to the kids, Sarah expresses that she's exhausted and just wants to cuddle on the couch while watching a movie. Mike respects Sarah's boundaries by not pushing for further intimacy, giving her the space to unwind without any pressure.

3. Express Affection

Use cuddling as a meaningful opportunity to express your warmth and love for your partner. Simple gestures like gentle strokes, kisses on the forehead, or whispered compliments can make the experience more meaningful. Picture David and Lisa, a pair in their sixties, relishing retirement. They've been together for decades, and sometimes all they want is to cuddle together on the porch swing, reminiscing about their life together. David wraps his arm around Lisa, telling her how much he treasures her presence, strengthening their bond through simple gestures of affection.

Balancing Needs With Communication

Here, we've explored how "she" may enjoy physical affection and intimacy, symbolized by "cuddles," while "he" desires something more meaningful or significant in the relationship. This misalignment of needs can lead to frustration or conflict if not addressed.

Setting boundaries may involve open communication about each individual's expectations and desires in the relationship. It could mean discussing the balance between physical intimacy and emotional connection and finding compromises that address both partners' needs. For example, they could agree on designated times for cuddling and also set aside time for deeper conversations or activities that fulfill the emotional needs of both parties. It's important to honor each other's likes and dislikes while making sure both partners feel happy and appreciated in the relationship.

By following these suggestions, men can create a nurturing and supportive environment for their partners during moments when all they want is to cuddle. For more intricate concerns as a couple, seeking guidance from a qualified mental health professional is always recommended.

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