Are We Touching Each Other Enough?
Are you touching each other enough? No, not during sex. I’m talking about touching when we feel lonely, long to connect, and want to open. Yet, afraid of rejection, we hold back.
Over 30 years, and hundreds of couples, I see that words are never good enough. Communication and problem-solving are not good enough. The happiest are those who touch each other frequently. Those couples who sit on my couch and tilt their knees toward each other, lean in with their torso, look each other in the eyes, reach out and graze the other’s knee, touch the other’s arm, tuck an errant lock of hair behind the ear, groom the other, e.g. pick lint out of the other’s hair — their attention is to each other. It may be subtle, but at some base level, they are physical with each other.
During the session, happier couples almost seek out reasons to grope each other. Their love is palpable, their touch-filled energy electric. This is the stuff that builds intimate trust and loudly declares, “I care about you, you’re important to me, I want to give to you, I want to be close to you.” Touch says, “I’m willing to risk being vulnerable.”
When couples are distressed, tense, tempers high, there is only one goal: to soothe each other. What’s the single fastest, most effective way to do this? Drop the ego, reach out physically, and let your partner know you’re there. Skin to skin contact. Forget about rationally talking it through. If you’re open and allow yourself to be physically soothed or be soothing, this helps avoid the endless conversational looping around. Talking is good, but it will be more effective after you have both reached a point of being physically comforted.
In a famed study, a researcher studied how many times friends touched each other while sitting at a cafe. He collected data around the world. In Mexico City, couples touched each other 185 times. In Paris, 115 times. In London, 0 times. In Gainesville, Fla., twice. We are not a touch-oriented culture. For all our obsession with sex, in contrast to other cultures, Americans are sadly physically starved.
What is touch? Bare skin contact — it’s our first “language.” How do we first get emotional comfort? Our mother touches us — it’s our ultimate nourishment. Without it, we cannot thrive. This is our template forever. We carry it with us until death. By learning it’s possible to connect with someone outside ourselves, touch teaches us the difference between “I” and “other,” supplying our platform for secure attachments.
What’s the best way to connect with a baby? Lavishing touch: cradling and cuddling, stroking, caressing, tickling, nuzzling and kissing, rocking — we literally carry them because we know their lives depend on it. As infants, we clasp with our fingers and suckle with our lips. As children, we build on this: hugging with open arms, climbing on laps, snuggling during sleep. We’re comforted by someone holding us close, not by them holding us at arm’s length. Can you imagine a child crying, and our pushing her away? No! But as we get older, we back away from each other. Why? Afraid to put ourselves out there, scared we’ll be rejected, and nervous we’ll be judged, we’re cautious.
As adults we learn to suppress the ache within. We ache to be loved with physicality, to be hugged and cuddled. Primal and primitive, we never ‘outgrow’ touch. Why? Because we each carry an infant inside of us. This is the baby we once were, when we depended on touch to thrive. Without it, we would’ve withered and shrank. Our need to be touched does not die. We long for it, at times desperately.