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When She Just Wants to Snuggle and He Wants More

How to establish clear relationship boundaries for differing intimacy desires.

Key points

  • If a man expects every instance of physical intimacy to lead to something more, he may become frustrated.
  • Some men may struggle to understand or prioritize emotional intimacy over physical intimacy.
  • Setting boundaries could involve open communication about each person's expectations and desires.

A counseling client of mine, Rocco (not his actual name), playfully boasted to me that he is a "sensitive guy." I asked him what he was specifically referring to and he mentioned, "I try not to pressure Charlotte (his fiancee) too much for sex." Rocco added, "Charlotte is hot and I just can't help how much I want to be close to her in that way."

Rocco and I discussed the meaning of consent. While he understood the meaning of consent in sexual relationships, it became clear that he was struggling with some thoughts that made it challenging for him to accept snuggling, and no more, at times.

One-Way Sexual Pressure and Two-Way Relationship Tension

As it unfolded that Rocco and Charlotte had relationship tension over their discrepant expectations for sexual intimacy, I referred them to another therapist for couples therapy while I continued my work with Rocco.

Rocco is not the only relationship partner facing this dilemma. While men may come to mind as the ones who wittingly or unwittingly pressure for more than snuggling, it is important that I mention that women may also have a desire for sexual behaviors over snuggling. In same-gender relationships, this dynamic of one partner wanting more of a sexual connection than the other occurs as well.

That being said, the remainder of this post will explore three thoughts that may make it challenging for men to accept when their female partners want physical affection without it being of a sexual nature.

Expectations of Physical Intimacy. Some men might struggle to understand when women only want to snuggle because they associate physical closeness with sexual desire. If a man expects every instance of physical intimacy to lead to something more, he may feel frustrated or confused when his partner just wants to snuggle. This expectation can stem from societal norms, past experiences, or personal desires for intimacy.

Pressure to Perform Masculinity. Society often pressures men to be assertive and sexually aggressive. Men may feel insecure or emasculated if their partner's desire for snuggling 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 closeness without sexual expectations.

Difficulty Understanding Emotional 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 emotional needs, they may overlook the importance of non-sexual forms of connection, such as snuggling. This lack of awareness or understanding can lead to misunderstandings or feelings of neglect in the relationship.

3 Ways to Promote (No More Than) Snuggling

Following are three pieces of advice for men to be more supportive and accommodating to female partners seeking physical intimacy in the form of snuggling—and no more than that.

Be Present and Attentive. Sometimes, your partner just wants to snuggle to feel close and connected. It's essential to be present in the moment and give your partner your full attention. For example, imagine Jack and Emily, a young couple in their mid-20s. After a long day at work, Emily just wants to unwind and feel comforted by snuggling on the couch. Jack puts away his phone, listens to her day, and wraps his arms around her, making her feel loved and appreciated.

Respect Boundaries. Respect your partner's boundaries and signals. If she's not in the mood for anything more than snuggling, honor that, and don't pressure her for anything else. Consider Mike and Sarah, a couple in their 40s with kids. After putting the kids to bed, Sarah expresses that she's exhausted and just wants to snuggle on the couch while watching a movie. Mike understands and refrains from initiating anything more intimate, allowing Sarah to relax without feeling pressured.

Express Affection. Use snuggling as an opportunity to express your affection and love for your partner. Simple gestures like gentle caresses, kisses on the forehead, or whispered compliments can make the experience more meaningful. Imagine David and Lisa, a couple in their 60s enjoying retirement. They've been together for decades, and sometimes all they need is to snuggle together on the porch swing, reminiscing about their life together. David wraps his arm around Lisa, telling her how much he cherishes her presence, reinforcing their bond through simple affectionate gestures.

Balancing Needs With Communication

In this post, we have looked at how "she" may enjoy physical affection and closeness, represented by "snuggles," while "he" desires something more substantial or meaningful in the relationship. This misalignment of needs can lead to dissatisfaction or conflict if not addressed.

Setting boundaries could involve open communication about each person's expectations and desires in the relationship. It might mean discussing the balance between physical intimacy and emotional connection and finding compromises that meet both partners' needs. For example, they could agree on designated times for snuggling and also set aside time for deeper conversations or activities that fulfill the emotional needs of both parties. It's about respecting each other's preferences while ensuring that both partners feel fulfilled and valued in the relationship.

By following these pieces of advice, men can create a nurturing and supportive environment for their partners during moments when all they want is to snuggle. For more involved concerns as a couple, it is always recommended to see a qualified mental health professional.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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