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Gifts Instead of Words? Different Ways of Expressing Your Love to Your Mate - Relationship Advice

Updated on August 22, 2010

Dear Veronica,

I'm a big fan of your advice column. You're the Dear Abbey of the internet! I am hoping you will consider my question for your column. I am very frustrated and I need some help. My husband never tells me he loves me. He never says he's sorry. He is just a very poor communicator and I feel like I'm at my wits end with it.

If I tell him I want to have a conversation about something, he looks nervous and wants to avoid it. He would rather go do something with me like take a walk or watch a movie. If I say NO I want to talk, he agrees but basically he just listens. I know he's paying attention because I can see it in things he does later. However he just doesn't talk in return. I don't know how to get him to say what he's feeling.

I know one of the things you always say is if he was this way when you were dating then he will be this way and it shouldn't be a big surprise. He didn't talk when we dated either but I thought he just didn't feel close yet or that he didn't feel like he could open up. I thought as we got closer that would change. So that's my bad I guess. But he was always the type to bring me flowers for no reason. Even now, he will pick up a seashell on the beach and save it all day to give me at night at dinner. He buys me jewelry, sometimes it's not expensive but it's meaningful, like he knows I love ladybugs, and he will bring me little ladybug pins, or leave me cards with lady bugs on them. So I really feel I had reason to believe he was trying to get there and be able to say the words. I feel like that's a step toward communicating.

Just to give you some background we have been married 2 years. I am 28 and he is 31. We have a good relationship other than this. This is the only thing we fight about pretty much. Well it's not really fights, it's more like me getting upset and him just trying to get away from it. Also I want to give you some examples. When we were first dating we were both broke college students and neither of us could afford cable and we used to rent box sets of old tv shows because it was alot of hours for the least money. We watched Laverne and Shirley and we both thought they were hysterical. Fast forward years later we were having one of our fights. I was telling him you never tell me you love me, you never tell me how you feel about me and I was really upset. I reminded him of when we were dating and falling in love and how special that time was to me. Soon after he comes home with a big tall black stuffed cat with a long neck that looks like the one from the show and he puts a card on it that says Boo Boo Kitty. It looked like Shirley's Boo Boo Kitty from the show. So I know he is listening when I speak, but he just refuses to say anything back. Another example, in the middle of this long night we spent repairing a broken window in a storm, we were taping up plastic and cleaning up glass and mopping up water and I said just once I was in the mood for Snickers bar. The next night he left me one in my purse. He's always doing stuff like that. So I know he's listening and hearing me. He pays attention. He just doesn't TALK!!! It's like he's right there sometimes and I think he will actually finally tell me how he feels about me or about us, and then nothing!

How do I get him to communicate!!


Dear Kelly,

Oh Honey. He's communicating loud and clear.

The problem here isn't his. It's yours. You want him to be able to find words to express how he feels and what he's thinking and remembering and cherishing. But the thing is, he doesn't use words. He's using every other way possible. Doing things for you, listening to you, giving you gifts where words have failed him but the sentiment is so strong it jumps out, clearly, for all to see. He listens and he responds and he makes everything obvious in such a beautiful way. Slipping a candy bar he knows you want into your purse. Hunting down a Boo Boo Kitty? Are you kidding me?

Kelly, I have a list a mile long of women that would absolutely shit themselves with glee to get their hands on a man that expressive.

Kelly, your email is written like you're speaking. There are alot of tells in that. It sounds like you are sitting right next to me and just chatting away. It is obvious that you are very good at it. You speak comfortably. Clearly. Easily. You find your words and you let them go. You sound as if you engage in some pretty deep conversations. You are able to verbalize your feelings, and encourage others to do the same. And that's awesome. That's a gift that you have.

Maybe you are a teacher. Or a speaker of some sort. Maybe you read a lot, or write a lot. Maybe you are a supervisor at work because you know how to speak to people. Maybe you're a counselor? Or some kind of receptionist, or even a sales person. You're probably that friend that others turn to when they need a good conversation. When they have something to say. Or when they want to hear what you have to say. Your ability to speak and to value other people's speaking is certainly a skill that will aid you in many ways as you build friendships and walk your career path.

But Kelly, this talent of yours has left you short sighted. There are other talents. There are other ways to express yourself. I'm a writer, I speak your language. But that doesn't mean Picasso said less, or Mozart wasn't expressing more.

Your dear husband is expressing wordless volumes to you. They are magnificent, and genuine, and very personal. He's not just throwing tokens at you to placate you. He's picking out lady bugs, and symbols of moments you've spent together. He pays attention, and he lets you see it and feel it in a tangible way.

You need to learn how to hear him. How to listen. And that means hearing him in his language, not just the lack of your own.

You kind of hit it when you said how you know I've written that you can't expect people to change for you: that the person they are is the person they are. That's either going to work for you or it's not. You said he was like this when you were dating. What you're missing is, he's been speaking this language all along. Instead of waiting for him to speak your language, you have to start hearing his.

He says so much with a seashell he carries all day so he can hand it to you later. God, are you kidding me? Don't you hear what that says? It says, "I held on to today. I carried it, close to me, this time that I spent with you. And I want to share that with you. And I want you to hold on to it too."

Now, here's a mind blowing thought for you. Is he somewhere right now, waiting for you to show him how you feel? Is he thinking to himself, she goes on and on and on, blah blah blah, words words words. But when will she SHOW me. With actions. With something I can see and touch. With something real.

When was the last time you slipped his favorite snack into his car so he'd find it the next day and know you thought of him, and that you listen, ... and that you know what he likes, ... and that you wanted him to be happy. When was the last time you gave him a card or flowers for no reason. When was the last time you gave him a "The Big Ragoo" coffee mug to celebrate falling in love and spending all that time with him. Have you ever held a pine cone all day long from a nice walk you shared, so you could give it to him later, to say thank you for this perfect day.

Kelly it's OK if you don't show your love in acts and gifts if that's not natural for you, the way your husband seems to have a knack for. Just as it's OK that your loving husband doesn't find words like you do. Listen to each other, and appreciate each other for expressing in your own unique ways the very special bond the two of you share. Namaste, you lucky lady.


Submit a Comment

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY

    Thanks World-Traveler!

  • World-Traveler profile image


    8 years ago from USA

    This information will be useful to many people that have mates or companions that will not or cannot communicate. This is a very helpful topic.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY

    Thanks Marisa. It's always nice when science backs me up ;)

  • Marisa Wright profile image

    Kate Swanson 

    8 years ago from Sydney

    Veronica, there are actually pscychology studies which have established that there are several distinct styles of expressing love. If two people with dramatically different styles get together, it can lead to the relationship breaking down even though they love each other.

    Some people express love in words; some people express love with touch; others express it in material ways (gifts); and so on.

    My husband isn't into verbal expression either, but once I explained my need to hear the words, he has learned to change. He still won't say loving things, but he will text me little messages or give me a card saying something nice instead of a gift.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Kelly--one more thing too. I'm not saying that you have to, but if your husband is open to it, you may want to consider some sort of marital/couples therapy. My bf actually suggested it because he wanted to find a way to better verbalize difficult emotions. When he first suggested it, it had me a little concerned---like, "oh, why do you want to do that? Is something wrong that I don't know about or you aren't telling me?" But then he said, "no, it's just that I come from a conservative, mid-western upbringing and we didn't talk about a lot of emotions a lot, so I don't really know how to do it and I want to better be able to do it so that you can better understand how I'm feeling and I can better understand some of my more confusing feelings." I feel very blessed for being with such a brave, brilliant man. I know it took me a lot of learning the hard way to get even close to this sort of emotional intelligence. That may be another tool that you and your husband can use to bridge your communication gap.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Great hub, Veronica. You so nailed it. I just wanted to add a little something that helped me with this very issue a few years back. I read a book about this a while back and I think it really helped. It's called the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I bet others have written about it too, but from what I remember, it broke down communication into 5 basic categories. I think they were talking, touching, gift giving, service and a fifth one I can't remember now. But the idea is exactly what Veronica is getting at---finding a shared way to communicate, especially if your spouse's primary "love language" is different than yours.

    For example, I'm really touchy-feely. I like a lot of touch in my relationship. Not necessarily sexual, but just comforting---big on hugs, holding hands, etc. That makes me feel very loved and helps me communicate things that are sometimes too hard to put into words for me. But if I were with someone that didn't like touch, it could make me feel very unloved or unappreciated, especially if he was trying to show his appreciation and love through other things---like gifts or service (doing chores or other things to help out)---that I couldn't see or "hear".

    If you're interested Kelly, I'd definitely check it out. It's not rocket science or anything, it's all rather very simple and obvious but it took me reading it to have that "aha" moment--to connect all the dots that were there the whole time. To be able to see the communication coming from my bf in ways that weren't my primary mode of communication---exactly as Veronica is pointing out to you. Plus, you can do these little tests as a couple so you can better see how you naturally communicate such things. It's helped me better verbalize difficult emotions and learn to see/hear my bf's mode of communication, so it may help you too.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY

    Thanks Lisa, thanks Brittany.

    Yeah, I'm very moved by this man's thoughtfulness, too. I think he's awesome.

  • Lala_Lisa profile image


    8 years ago

    OMG this is so beautiful!! I welled up with tears at how amazing this guy and his gifts are. You're right, they aren't just any old jewelry or something. They are so personal, the speak volumes like you said. I hope Kelly reads this and appreciates how incredible this man is. I can't believe anyone would comment saying they guess these gifts are an action. Wow, that is just so rude, insensitive and cold. Kelly don't listen to that. Your man is communicating so clearly with you! Anyone who reads this would agree, anyone with a heart that is. I'm o happy for you that you have such a wonderful man who expresses himself so clearly to you!! Good luck to you!!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    To cindyvine, you "guess" giving gifts, like the ones discussed in this article, is an action of love? You guess?? did you bother to read it? Holding a seashell all day to give to her at night or hunting down a stuffed cat that symbolizes the time they spent dating, you "guess" that's an action?

    I guess that you're a pretty hard person to please. I guess that you just don't get it.

    Veronica this is an amazing article and I cried when I read about these awesome gifts and listening to the different ways people say they love you. I actually read the article before commenting, so I don't have to "guess" how I feel about it, and I feel it's incredible, and you're so right, Kelly is very lucky to have this man.

  • cindyvine profile image

    Cindy Vine 

    8 years ago from Cape Town

    Some people really struggle to verbalise their feelings and show it by actions rather than words. I guess giving a gift is an action.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY



    Well that is a wonderful compliment to you. He cares about your feelings and thoughts, and obviously values your opinion. This is a way of saying that you are partners, and that you matter even in the smallest details of his life. Namaste.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Good post! My boyfriend has never been good with expressing his love verbally, even when I prompt him to. But, he always asks my preference when making the smallest decisions.


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