Man suffers from skin hunger after divorcing his wife


**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

My friend Dean is a software engineer. He spends his days hunched over his computer, and even when he’s not working on official business, he’s still working.

When he finally married his girlfriend of six years, Dean felt like his life was complete. He had the job of his dreams and the woman he loved by his side.

But within the first year of matrimony, things grew pretty stale. Dean’s wife suggested weekly date nights to spice things up, but most nights, Dean worked late.

Dean’s wife was well aware that he was an unapologetic workaholic before they wed. But he promised that he would slow down after they paid down some of their debt.

Dean’s work was stressful, but he could always find solace in the arms of his wife, no matter what challenges met him along the way. He loved how she would brush the stray hairs away from his eyes. And how she would reach for his hand on the rare occasion, they would go out.

Although plenty of clues indicated that things could be better between them, Dean was convinced that they were in it for the long haul. And he was utterly shocked when she finally asked for a divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. She didn’t want the house or alimony. All she wanted was her name.

After the divorce, Dean noticed how moody and agitated he felt. He chalked it up to the post-divorce blues. And so he busied himself with work and more work, just as he did when they were married.

Whenever I talk to Dean, he still mentions his wife. It’s 's been five years, and he still misses her like crazy. Of course, she has since moved on and is now remarried.

He told me that what he misses more than anything is being close to her. He says that he didn’t realize it while they were together, but her affection made him feel better. Her touch was an antidote for the anxious feelings that would creep into his head, and now his skin is hungry — all the time.

What is skin hunger?

Skin hunger (a.k.a. affection deprivation) is a deep, almost physical desire for contact with another person. It might be the longing to hug someone or even something as simple as having your arm touched by another.

A 2017 research study found that “social touch is a powerful force in human development, shaping social reward, attachment, cognitive, communication, and emotional regulation from infancy and throughout life.”

Signs and symptoms of touch starvation

Touch starvation (skin hunger )can manifest in various ways, both physical and emotional.

Physically, you may feel restless, fidgety, or even experience headaches or body aches.

Emotionally, you may feel lonely, anxious, depressed, or irritable. You may also crave human interaction and physical contact more than usual.

“Touch starvation refers to the longing for touch or physical contact from other living beings. It typically occurs when a person experiences little to no physical contact for a prolonged amount of time.” — Louise Morales-Brown, Medical News Today

How does touch deprivation impact our bodies?

“Not only does physical touch positively affect our emotional wellbeing, but a reassuring touch from another also has physiological benefits,” according to Psychology Today.

When we go without touch, our bodies produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to many health problems, including high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. Skin hunger may be a contributing factor in insomnia and chronic pain.

Practical tools to help combat skin hunger

If you find yourself suffering from skin hunger, here are a few things that might temporarily help alleviate the symptoms:

Self-massage or skin brushing — Gently rubbing or massaging your skin can help to ease the aches and pains associated with affection deprivation.

Spend time around animals — Animals are known to have a calming effect on humans. Spending time around animals can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Hug more often — Hugging family and friends is a great way to get the physical touch you need.

Join a cuddle party — Cuddle parties are social events where people gather together to cuddle. They’re a great way to get some non-sexual human touch in a safe and comfortable environment.

Weighted blanket — Weighted blankets are becoming an increasingly popular way to ease anxiety and promote relaxation. The pressure of the blanket has a calming effect on the nervous system, which can help to reduce the symptoms of affection deprivation.

Affection deprivation is a real and serious problem that can negatively affect our health. If you struggle with skin hunger, you can do a few things to ease the symptoms. Seek out human touch whenever possible, whether through hugging, cuddling, or massage. You can also try using a weighted blanket to help soothe and calm your nervous system temporarily.

*Name has been changed

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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