Lack of physical touch may negatively impact relationships


One of the most common complaints from my married male clients is that their bedroom is dead. In other words, they are no longer engaging in “relations” with their spouse.

While the absence of coitus can cause stress and tension in marriage, it’s often a symptom of a deeper issue. The real problem may be trickier to identify — skin hunger.

“Distressed couples often fall out of the habit of touching. We know that couples who don’t touch each other for a long time suffer from touch deprivation. If adults are not touched on a regular basis they can get more irritable. Persistent touch deprivation can lead to anger, anxiety, depression, and irritability.” —  Sara Schwarzbaum, Ed.D, LMFT, LCPC

Touch is the only sense that humans cannot live without. It’s essential for survival. Our brains are hardwired to seek touch when we’re born because it’s crucial for development. Without it, we wouldn’t survive.

“The benefits start from the moment we’re born. A review of research, conducted by Tiffany Field, a leader in the field of touch, found that preterm newborns who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for 5–10 days gained 47 percent more weight than premature infants who’d received standard medical treatment.” — Dacher Keltner, Ph.D.

While most people are aware of the importance of touch in infancy, they don’t realize that adults need it just as much. Research has shown that touch is just as important for adults as for babies.

One of the most critical functions of touch is that it helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Touch can have an immediate calming effect on the nervous system, and it can help lower blood pressure and heart rate. Touch also releases oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.” Oxytocin is associated with feelings of happiness, love, and bonding.

“There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response, and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.” — Dacher Keltner, Ph.D.

So, if you’re not getting enough touch in your life, it’s no wonder that you’re feeling stressed out. And, if you’re not touching your spouse, it’s no wonder that your relationship is suffering.

Touch deprivation can also cause a host of physical and mental problems. It can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other issues.

If you think you might be suffering from touch deprivation, there are five things you can do to get more touch in your life.

1. Make a point to hug your spouse every day. Even if you’re not feeling particularly affectionate, physically touching your spouse can help reduce stress and increase feelings of love and connection.

2. Spend time cuddling regularly. This doesn’t have to be sexual. Simply holding each other close can help reduce stress and promote intimacy.

3. Try massage therapy. Massage can help to reduce stress, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. It’s a great way to increase physical intimacy.

4. Take a bath together. This is a great way to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Plus, it allows you to be physically close without being sexual.

5. Get a pet. Pets provide companionship and can be a great source of comfort. They also need to be touched, so you’ll get the benefits of touch as well.

“If you haven’t touched or been touched in a long time, this will not be easy. The more time you have avoided touching or being touched, the less natural or more forced this will feel. This is normal.” — Sara Schwarzbaum, Ed.D, LMFT, LCPC

There are many other ways to increase physical intimacy in your life. The important thing is to make an effort to seek out more opportunities for “non-relation” physical contact with your spouse. If you can do that, you’ll likely find that your relationship will improve, your stress levels will decrease, and your happiness will increase.

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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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