Intimate love — 08 March 2012
Utilize the magical power of touch

The search for understanding the mystery of marital bliss delves into: communication skills, mutual trust and respect, teamwork, physical and emotional attraction and compatibility. Non-sexual touch has recently sprung to prominence as an additional area of inquiry.

New body of evidence about the neurochemical effects of skin-to-skin contact suggests that touch is essential for infant and child development, promotes healing in adults and cements bonding between partners.

The psychoanalysts Renee Spitz and John Bowlby who observed orphaned children’s development in World War II, discovered that infants who were otherwise fed and cared for failed to thrive when deprived of physical contact.

Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine recently discovered that “premature infants who were massaged for 15 minutes three times a day gained weight 47 percent faster than others who were left alone in their incubators.”  She also stressed, ”Body contact is very beneficial between parents and children right up to adolescence.”

Touching a loved one who is in physical pain has been documented to alleviate suffering and improve healing. Neurobiological studies discovered that touch reduces the level of cortisol, the “stress hormone” and activates the release of oxytocin, the “trust and attachment hormone”.

Our culture accepts various forms of touch as appropriate emotional expressions such as: a greeting handshake is viewed as a friendly gesture, hugging a person whom we care about as a form of connection, using pats on the back as male encouragement and support, using “high five” slaps as pleasure about successful teamwork and touching others to console them in grief as compassionate, caring support when no words apply.

Yet, it seems that couples beyond their infatuation stage use touch less frequently than may be helpful to their personal happiness. Dr. Christopher Oveis of Harvard University studied the frequency and length of touching between couples as they discussed difficult periods in their union. His early findings suggest that, “Couples who touch more are reporting more satisfaction in the relationship.” It is unclear whether satisfaction led to more touching or vice versa, but in love, physical touch is imperative to happiness.

Individuals who are uncomfortable with verbal appreciations may choose to use touch to convey their warmth and support. The use of a light touch on the hand, back, arm or a friendly, non-sexual hug can convey appreciation and deep caring. It is a very effective way to express and experience a tender connection without words.

Use Touch to connect with others:

¨     Remember that touch preceded words in helping you as an infant know that you were safe, loved and protected. It promoted your healthy physical and emotional development and taught you to trust others.

¨     Consider non-sexual touch as a language of bonding, healing, consoling and compassionate relating.

¨     Touch your spouse, babies, children and loved ones often with authentic warmth. It will enrich all of you and cement your individual security and mutual love.


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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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