Strengthen Your Marriage: The Power of Casual Touch

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Christian Sex and Marriage-It’s Complicated is a book based on years of interviews and research into the practical workings of marriages. Woven through hundreds of interviews and testimonies is this truth: To be fulfilled in your sex life and marriage, you must believe you are both loved and liked by your mate. One of my favorite chapters in the book is Chapter Seven-The Power of Casual Touch, because it offers simple ways to build that much needed belief. Below is the chapter in its entirety. You may find out more about Christian Sex and Marriage-It’s Complicated here: http://bit.ly/sexbookpg. You may purchase the book on Amazon: http://bit.ly/SexMarriagePB.

Christian Sex and Marriage-It’s Complicated 

Chapter Seven

The Power of Casual Touch

At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.

—Plato[i]

Jesus touched people. That is not a euphemism for connecting on an emotional or spiritual level. The God of the universe became a man and physically placed His hands on lepers, on the sick, and on sinners. Power, healing, and love emanated from His touch. But still, actual touch was not necessary; Jesus could have healed without physical contact. He touched because humans need to be touched.

We come out of the womb with touch as our primary language. The culture of our family, our spiritual beliefs, our society, and even our climate stymie that dialect. Americans touch less than the majority of the world. Those in colder climates touch less than those who live in warmer areas, and people of faith are more uncomfortable with touch than agnostics and atheists.[ii]

Fortunately, those are trends we can buck. Personal physical contact is life giving. We may be uncomfortable with it, but with effort our marriages can be made stronger and our intimacy deeper if we learn to practice the art of touch.

Helen’s Story

Sex means nothing to me. I don’t care if we never have sex again, but I’d wither up and die if he didn’t hold me.

Lisette’s Story

I used to hate seeing couples cuddle up in church. It seemed wrong to show so much affection in a worship service. Now, I wish my husband would put his arm around me and pull me close, wherever we are.

Aileen’s Story

Every time he touches me it means sex. Sometimes I wish he’d just hold me because he wants to hold me.

Cecily’s Story

I know he loves me. I’ve never doubted it in thirty plus years of marriage. He holds my hand, rubs my shoulders, just reaches out and touches me when he can. That says more to me than words.

Rhonda’s Story

I don’t want him to touch me in public. It feels like a show, because he doesn’t touch me at home. I cringe when he touches me.

Marci’s Story

I’m way more affectionate than he is. I want to touch and be touched. I’m less likely now, though, to take his hand or lean on him while we watch a movie. I don’t know if he’ll return the affection or pull away. Sometimes, it’s not worth the risk.

What Research Tells Us

Casual Touch is the Language of Love

We are not people who touch each other carelessly; every point of contact between us feels important, a rush of energy and relief.

Veronica Roth[iii]

Your body responds to touch. God created you that way. He gave you hundreds of thousands of microscopic easily stimulated nerve endings that send messages to your brain. The meaning of a touch translates to pleasure, pain, comfort, fear, anger, relief, love, affection, and a myriad of other emotions. Research studies illustrate a wide range of physical and psychological benefits that come from being touched, even by strangers. Much more valuable is touch from someone you love.

Casual touch is just that—casual. It is touch that can be done in public, in front of your children or your parents. Holding hands, rubbing shoulders, a touch of her face communicates love she can feel and the world can see.

Casual touch communicates affection. It is not surprising that couples that report being very satisfied in their relationship touch each other more often than those who feel unsatisfied. As important as it is to touch your mate with affection, it is more important to positively respond to their touch. Men and women both report a higher degree of emotional intimacy and satisfaction with the relationship when their spouse reciprocates affectionate touch.[iv]

The positive results of making, or bringing back, casual touch as part of your relationship are astounding.

A tender touch, as simple as running the tips of your fingers up his forearm, tells him that you care for him. An extra squeeze when you’re holding hands implies intimacy. Sitting close enough to rub shoulders tells her you like to be with her. A hand on his shoulder tells him your attention is focused on him.

The opposite is true, too. Failure to casually touch communicates desire for distance. It says you want to protect your space. It tells your spouse you are blocking some part of yourself from him.

That may not be your intention, but on some level, touch, lack of touch, or a negative response to touch sends a clear signal ranging between affection to dislike. You can speak romantic words, but if you do not reach out with casual touch or cringe when she does, your spouse may still doubt the depth of your attachment.

Casual Touch Builds Friendship

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.

Friedrich Nietzsche[v]

When you enjoy the person you are with, it comes more naturally to touch them. Touch, both giving and receiving, builds trust. Touch invites open communication. Touch celebrates unity.

Do you treat your spouse with the same level of joyful touch as you treat your close friends?

I Don’t Want to Touch or Be Touched

You are ice and fire

the touch of you burns my hands like snow.

Amy Lowell[vi]

An infant who does not receive ample loving touch is at a higher risk of behavioral, emotional, and social problems as he grows.[vii] A marriage that does not foster ample loving touch is also at higher risk of behavioral and emotional problems. Touch deprivation is an issue that marriage counselors see on a regular basis.

Touch is necessary. God designed us with an innate need to give and receive touch.   Our emotional and physical health suffers without it. For that reason, God often brings people together with a variance of perceived need; one partner has a high comfort level and acknowledged need for affectionate touch, and the other has a resistance to it. Beautiful healing and deeper intimacy can result for the spouse who is touch deprived, but without understanding, serious problems in the relationship can develop. Both partners suffer.

If you are the spouse who does not want to be touched, determining why casual touch is objectionable to you is the first step to enable change. In this area, a little change can vastly deepen your emotional intimacy and the quality of your marriage.

It Is Not My Nature to be Touchy-Feely

Our comfort level with casual touch is most affected by our childhood. Those who do not grow up viewing and participating in casual touch can have both a physical intimacy deficit and/or a skewed perception of the value of affectionate contact.[viii]

For others, boundaries of culture, past rejection, shyness, fear of overstepping your spouse’s boundaries, or dread of doing something wrong can be internalized and result in a distaste for casual touch.

In all of these cases, the resistance to affectionate touch is a learned behavior. You are designed by God to touch and be touched. With effort, a great deal of effort in some situations, learning to give and accept touch can also be learned. The key is to recognize the value of touch and take intentional steps to bring that to your marriage.

Begin with communication. Make a date to talk about your feelings. Tell your spouse that you are not comfortable with a lot of affectionate touching. Give the reasons, if you can. Assure him you desire to grow in this area. Ask him to initiate personal touch that does not lead to sex once a day. You commit to initiate one casual touch a day as well. Talk a lot and add to the frequency of your touches until it becomes natural to you. Revisit why you are uncomfortable and why touch is valuable as often as you need.

Be patient. Enjoy the success.

Casual Touch Always Leads to Sex

By far, the number one reason women give for resisting personal touch is their belief that their husbands use casual touch to maneuver them into bed. They believe sex, rather than affection, is the motivation. It is an accusation many husbands deny.

Selected Comments From the Wives

“I don’t want to be touched because I can’t afford to give up an hour to satisfy him when I’m trying to get dinner on the table.”

“He just wants sex. That’s why he does it.”

“I’m tired. I’d like to feel him hug me more, but I don’t have the energy for what comes next.”

To reject personal touch because the timing is not right for sexual intercourse does damage to both partners. One feels rejected, and the other feels used. Casual touch and foreplay touch differ, and both are vital for a healthy marital relationship.

Casual touch can be public. A hug in front of the kids, hand holding on a walk, a scalp massage during television watching, or giving your partner a gentle forearm squeeze at the dinner table are casual touches that show affection.

But casual touch can also be private, and foreplay touch can feel the same even though one partner’s intent is not sexual. Because the touches are similar, cues can be missed resulting in anger or frustration. How does one partner know what the other is thinking?

The only solution to this problem is communication.

First, and most importantly, agree with your spouse that casual touch is valuable, and you want to share that with each other. Next, acknowledge the significance of foreplay touch. Discuss the differences between the two types of touch in your relationship. Ask your partner to share his or her cues. How can you know what her touch means? How can you know if he is saying he loves you or he wants you?   For example, “A hug means, I love you, but when I add a kiss on your neck it means, I want you.”

Cues will change—you want them to change as your relationship grows. When you learn to watch for them, and your intimacy deepens, they become easier to read. At first, it may feel like spontaneity is lost when things are discussed in such detail. You are two people on a journey to become intimate in mind, body, spirit, and emotions. Talking and planning gets things going in the right direction. It keeps you from getting lost, or it gets you back on the right path. It doesn’t mean you can’t veer off later when you’re steady and on course.

Finally, share with each other how you want your partner to accept affectionate touch when they are not ready for sexual intimacy. Communicate your love and your desire, but acknowledge that sex cannot always happen. Learn how to be graceful and loving as you enjoy casual touch even if it can’t become more intimate at that time.

Trust builds when each of you takes an active role in initiating casual touch. Each partner needs to be touched. Each partner needs to touch.

I Have No Affection for My Spouse

Kaila’s Story

Married 28 years

We’ve been married a long time. I’m not attracted to him anymore. He’s hurt me too much. I don’t want to touch him, much less have sex with him.

Mia’s Story

Married 13 years

It’s not his fault. We’ve just grown apart. I don’t know what to do. I know I don’t want a divorce, but I don’t want him to touch me either.

Anne’s Story

Married 4 years

Everything he does drives me crazy. I don’t know why I married him.

Melina’s Story

Married 21 years

There’s too much resentment. Too much neglect. He’s a good man to other people, but he doesn’t pay attention to me. I don’t think of him fondly.

My heart breaks as I read and listen to stories of marriages on the brink of destruction. Sometimes, intense counseling is necessary to aid healing.   Check with your church and with people you trust to find a counselor who understands and supports your faith and is trained to help you in your situation.

When affection for your spouse disappears, it does not need to be lost forever. You have a powerful God who fills you with powerful love. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). You have the almighty God of the universe to fill you, sustain you, and love you as you are.

The focus here is on you. What can you do to rekindle your love and affection for your spouse? How committed are you to allow God to change your heart? Can you do the work needed without expectation that your partner will ever return your love? Because if you focus on changing your mate into something you want, nothing but frustration, anger, and pain awaits.

If you are willing to risk rejection, to give more than you thought possible, and to try day after day after day, casual touch is a powerful tool to spark a dying love.

Research studies across the board demonstrate that affectionate touching is essential for emotional development; it also eases physical pain, slows the heart rate, drops blood pressure, and speeds up recovery from illness. In other words, touch has the power to heal.[ix]

Affectionate touch heals physically. It heals emotionally. And it heals relationally. Casual touch says I love you, and you are important to me. Most importantly in this case, casual affectionate touch begins to build a love bridge that reaches from you to your spouse.

When you make the conscious and deliberate step to act out an emotion you once felt, your heart begins to feel again. Not the first time, not the second, and maybe not the third. But if you desire to love your spouse, and you demonstrate that love before you feel it, amazing things can happen. There is power in demonstrating love without feeling the emotional tie. By choosing to love, by using your mind to consciously decide to demonstrate affection, affection grows. Love grows.

If possible, ask your spouse to hold you every morning and every night—just a thirty-second hug. Asking brings your spouse onto the love bridge. It helps build the affection for him or her, too. If you cannot ask, you must step forward and do. Hug. Hold. Be physically close for thirty seconds.

Reach for his hand whenever you can. Put your arm around her as you walk or sit. Two, three, four times a day initiate affectionate touch. Come back and try again later if your partner pulls away. Let him or her know you need to touch and be touched. You will not give up on your relationship.

What do you have to lose? It does not compare to what you have to gain.

I Get Busy and Forget to Touch

Everyone gets wrapped up in life. Work, kids, chores, errands, church, and friends pull us into a crazy business we can only handle by complete focus. If casual touch doesn’t come naturally, or if it isn’t part of the routine, it gets forgotten.

So make it part of your routine.

Sure, it means more when it’s spontaneous. The goal is that when he sees you he’s so motivated by love and affection that he can’t keep from giving you a hug.   Sometimes it takes work to reach your goals.

Set a reminder on your phone. It beeps, you find him, and you hug him.

Send an email: “I forgot to hug you this morning. I owe you two hugs tonight. Love you!”

Experiment with different types of casual massage. Write it in your day planner as you would for a professional massage.

Challenge each other in competitions with the winner receiving a ten-minute massage. If you are sports fans, bet a foot massage on the game you are watching. If you cheer for the same team, bet on how many points will be made, or strikeouts, or whatever seems fun. If you are into movies, bet a massage on how many cars will crash, or how long it will take before you laugh. Anything! Betting massages insures you will be touching each other. It adds intimacy to whatever you do. Have fun with it!

Prayer, patience, commitment, and love work together to build affection. Choose to love your mate. Choose to demonstrate your love with casual touch.

How Do I Touch You? Let Me Count the Ways

When it comes to casual touch, it is best to trust your instincts. If you think about touching your spouse, do it. Catch his or her eye and smile; just a second adds power to your message of love.

Hold hands whenever possible.

Hug each other. Hold on a few seconds too long.

Play footsies under your dinner table.

Put your head in his lap as you watch a movie or the news.

Pull her head to your lap and give her a scalp massage. Cup her head with both hands and slowly move your fingers in circles. Ask her how it feels. Does she want it softer or harder? You can also gently pull strands of hair. Move across her scalp as you pull.

Use your fingernails as you stroke up his forearm.

Give her a hand massage. Use lotion and your thumb to give steady pressure.

Use his electric razor to shave his face. Have him lie down in bed. Use gentle strokes to put him to sleep.

Massage her feet. Use lotion. Press your thumbs in circles across her arch. Run your fingertips along the base of her toes. Rub her heal across the palm of your hand. Just touch, smooth, and pamper her.

Giving your spouse a full body massage does a lot of wonderful things for your relationship. If you make this a regular part of your life, you might want to purchase a fairly cheap portable massage table. If not, the sofa or bed works, but can be hard on the body of the giver. Start with gentle pressure. You are giving and receiving touch, not trying to release knots. Smooth, long, confident strokes feel good. Use lotion, and try to avoid jerky movements. Women tend to carry tension in the muscles around their neck. Do not squeeze too tightly. Ask how the pressure feels and adjust. Men tend to carry their tension in their lower back. Use your thumbs and push up and down along the spine (one thumb on each side), then use the heel of your hand to press from the spine toward the hip in the lower back.

The buttocks hold large muscles. You can roll your fist across them, or use the palm of your hand to go deeper. Again, ask how your pressure feels and adjust.

When massaging the legs and arms, begin at the extremities (feet or hands) and move toward the heart. Long, firm, gentle strokes feel good and are comforting.

One of the most relaxing massages is one done on the face. Begin with your fingertips at the center of your spouse’s forehead. Bring your hands down to his or her temples, one hand on each side. Move your fingertips in circular motions over the temples. Repeat several times. Press one finger on each side of the bridge of the nose. Move your fingers, pressing over the sinus area. Use your fingertips to rub circles over the joint of the jaw, and then gently massage the outer part of the ears. Finish with a scalp massage.

On Your Own

Look in the mirror and remind yourself of these facts every day:

God knows my every fault, and He loves me deeply.

I am worthy to be loved.

I am a masterpiece created by the God who invented beauty.

God blessed me with talents, some of which I have not yet discovered.

God has forgiven me. I must forgive myself.

It is right to love myself. I see value in who I am.

I am a work in progress. I like where I am going.

Evaluate yourself:

In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul says, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” Do you believe your love for your spouse can increase? What can you do to help your love grow?

Affectionate love and sexual love go together in good marriages. Which type of love is strongest in you? Which type of love is strongest in your marriage? Do you see the value in working on each type of love? Why or why not? What strategies do you have for working on affectionate love? On sexual love?

What keeps you from casually touching your spouse more often? Can you change that?

Count how many times you casually touch your spouse in one day. Add to it the next day.

Sometime this week, say these things to your spouse:

You are worthy to be loved.

I am worthy to be loved.

I need to touch you. I need you to touch me.

Can I give you a massage?

I think about you when you are gone.

I’m glad we’re friends as well as lovers.

I need your affection.

You make me happy.

I love you. I’m glad I married you. I’d marry you again tomorrow.

Open Communication

Conversation Starters

What is the most sensitive part of your body to touch?

What do I do that that tells you I love you?

If we were in a room full of people and couldn’t have sex, what five things could I do to show you I want you, I need you, and I love you?

Did you see/feel a lot of affection when you were growing up?

How can we model affection for our children?

Just an Idea

Take a walk. Hold hands the entire time.

While watching television, exchange scalp and neck massages. One partner sits on the floor in front of the other. Switch half way through the show.

Do a mundane chore together (washing dishes, folding laundry, etc). Casually touch often throughout the time you work.

Bet a fifteen-minute back massage on the next sporting event you watch together.

Footnotes

[i] Plato. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2014. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/plato394857.html, retrieved 11/5/14.

[ii] Rick Chillot, The Power of Touch, Psychology Today,

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201302/the-power-touch, retrieved 11/2/14.

[iii] Veronica Roth, Allegiant, Katherine Tegen Books, October, 2013.

[iv] Rick Chillot, The Power of Touch, Psychology Today,

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201302/the-power-touch, retrieved 11/2/14.

[v] Friedrich Nietzsche. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2014. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/friedrichn109784.html, retrieved 11/14/14.

[vi] Amy Lowell, Opal, Selected Poems of Amy Lowell, by Amy Lowell, Melissa Bradshaw, ‪Rutgers University Press, 2002.

[vii] Katherine Harmon, How Important Is Physical Contact with Your Infant? Scientific American, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/infant-touch/, retrieved 11/13/14.

[viii] Doug Weiss, Don’t Allow Touch Deprivation to Creep Into Your Marriage, Charisma Magazine: New man

http://www.charismamag.com/life/men/6746-married-faithful-mad, retrieved 11/13/14.

[ix] The Healing Power of Touch Delivers both Emotional and Physical Recovery, Insiders Health,

http://www.insidershealth.com/article/the_healing_power_of_touch_delivers_both_emotional_and_physical_recovery/4438, retrieved 11/14/14.

 

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