Intimate love — 11 December 2008
Touch your partner for greater health and happiness

Many partners who feel insufficiently close to their mates experience loneliness, isolation, helplessness and even despair about restoring their connection bond. They often suffer in silence, then attempt to talk to their partner, perhaps temporarily succeeding in improving their contact, before retreating to their unhappy detached co-existence.

They describe it as follows: “We are just like cordial housemates”, “We don’t fight, are nice to each other, but are not really happy”, “ We get everything done well, our work, home and children are fine, but we are not connected.”

This state of couplehood does not necessarily reflect loss of love, disinterest or detachment. It may be a natural phase of leveling the initial excitement and enthusiasm as the pair settles into life’s routines. Yet, their loss of emotional intimacy breeds great discontent, simmering resentments, helplessness and for some a quiet resignation mixed with deep grief.

A wonderful, simple tool to create greater closeness, intimacy, health and happiness for couples can be achieved by increasing physical, non-sexual touch between the mates. Many studies show that touch, caresses, hugs and holding hands are physically and emotionally healthy and increase couples’ happiness.

Dr. Matthew Hertenstein at DePauw University in Indiana reports, “Our study is the first to provide rigorous evidence showing that humans can reliably signal love, gratitude and sympathy with touch.” Accuracy rates ranged from 48 to 83 percent, comparable with studies of emotions expressed in faces and voices.

The healing impact of touch reported by more than 100 studies conducted at the Touch Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found, “faster growth rate in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased autoimmune disease symptoms, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes, and improved immune systems in people with cancer.”

Recent research at Bringham Young University of 34 married couples, ages 20 to 39 found that hugging, kissing, massaging and holding hands lowered blood pressure, decreased the stress hormones in the blood and elevated Oxytocin- a hormone believed to reduce stress and increase bonding.

Psychologically, women report feeling supported and protected when their men hold their hand. It is a sign of caring and bonded commitment. Some men are reluctant to hold their mate’s hands in public. They either resist the possible emotional impact it may convey to others and prefer to show their affection in private, or may view it as a compliance with their female partner’s demand, which may feel compromising to their autonomy.

Our culture understands and accepts hugging as a form of closeness and emotional support and caring between people. Physical contact even between men is delighted in at times of joy and celebration, such as winning an athletic competition. During grief, trauma and loss, people naturally huddle, hug, or caress each other as they silently release their sadness and quell their horror.

We unabashedly express physical delight in playing with our pets. We caress their backs and bellies, rejoice in their tail wagging and get more deeply bonded with them every day.

Parents freely hug and embrace their children on a regular basis as a sign of love, support, affection and happiness.

We need to bring the nonsexual physical touch into daily practice in our primary committed relationship as well.

• Appreciate the healing magic of touch for your partner and for your mutual connection.
• Realize the physiological benefits of reducing stress and increasing health for both of you as you touch, hug, kiss, massage or caress each other.
• Convey your love, support, appreciation, admiration, kindness and more through tender touch without having to find the best words to express these emotions.
• Holding your partner’s hand in public does not diminish your autonomy. It spells out your capacity for tenderness, which only empowers you.
• Practice touching each other daily. Use the nonverbal expression of warmth and caring as you witness your relationship connection dramatically improve.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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