Respected family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Research consistently affirms the value of touch in the life of a growing child. Touch communicates that the child is valued, wanted, safe, and loved. The same is true for adults. We never outgrow our need for physical connection.
More than anything else, touch has a way of bringing us comfort. A hand on our knee that tells us the other is there for us, an arm around us when we’re afraid, a hand grasped when we’re navigating through a crowd all assure us of the caring presence of another.
Hugging, as well as other forms of physical touch, also has physiological benefits. It actually lowers our blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels thereby reducing stress. Hugging also increases our level of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that makes us feel loyal and bonded to another. It makes people feel secure and trusting toward each other. Touch is fundamental to human bonding and health.
In marriage, we have the delightful opportunity to give touch to our mate. Holding hands, hugging, massaging, kissing, and embracing all communicate, “You are important to me, you are loved, and I care.” Here are a few tips to increase the physical touch in your relationship:
- Sit down with your spouse and write down the top five ways you each like to receive touch. Perhaps your mate enjoys a warm hug, holding hands, or a back rub. Maybe what feels good to you is an arm around your waist, a foot massage, or cuddling on the sofa. Write out your preferences and share them with each other. Then, commit yourself to offering your mate one item on their list each day.
- Chances are one or both of you less comfortable with certain forms of touch that your mate enjoys. Experiment. Coach yourself to relax and be receptive. If you are uncomfortable with physical touch, it is likely you grew up in a home without much affectionate contact. This will be a growth area for you. Rather than rebuffing touch because of the discomfort, coach yourself to receive touch as a signal that you are loved and valued by your mate. Share with your mate what is most comfortable to you, then stretch to those areas that are less comfortable. This will help you grow physically closer to your spouse and enjoy all those physiological benefits!
- Although sexual intercourse is a form of touch, physically connecting with your mate involves much more. Because you and your spouse have different levels of sexual libido, it is important that every experience of touch and physical closeness not lead to intercourse. Set aside specific times where you enjoy massaging, holding, caressing with an agreement to not move to intercourse. Without a destination your are free to explore the terrain and discover new areas of pleasure.
- To get the most physiological benefit, extend the time you physically connect. Rather than a peck on the lips, slow down and let yourself enjoy a ten second kiss. Cuddle up on the couch and enjoy a five minute hug. So often, our moments of physical connection are pressured and brief. Change it up. Then, notice the stress relief and feelings of closeness that result from slowing down and savoring touch.
For more on stimulating your “bonding hormones”, check out this blog post by Cliff and Joyce Penner.