It’s the most misinterpreted love language, and it may be harder for you to understand if it’s not also your own.
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, pastor, counselor, and author of The Five Love Languages, people prefer to give and receive affection/love in one of five ways:
- Words of Affirmation (receiving compliments or other verbal appreciations)
- Acts of Service (carrying something for someone or doing something for them)
- Receiving Gifts (physical items or even food)
- Quality Time (spending time together)
- Physical touch (hugs, cuddling, kissing, romantic intimacy, etc.)
The purpose of Dr. Chapman’s theory is simple: if we know how our partner prefers to give and receive love, we can better help them feel loved.
If you and your partner have different love languages, you can find yourself in a bind if you don’t know what your partner’s love language is. You or your partner may end up feeling neglected and unloved.
Let’s say you prefer to receive compliments, but your partner prefers to receive acts of service. Gift of the Magi-style, you keep telling them how great their butt looks like while they just want you to carry in the damn groceries every once in a while. You are DYING to hear a “thank you” once in a while from them while they keep taking your car through the car wash.
Both you and your partner are showing your love to the other, but it’s not translating. You’re speaking a different language. See the problem?
Beyond showing your partner that you love them, you may also need to know some things about their love language for the why of it. “Physical Touch” is the most misinterpreted love language, and it may be harder for you to understand if it’s not also your own.
1. You might think they’re flirting with other people.
When I’m around other people, I want to touch them. Touch is how I connect with another person, how I acknowledge to them that I’m listening or that I care. “Love” doesn’t have to just be romantic; it can be about just being a person relating to another person.
Touch, when meeting someone can be as easy as shaking someone’s hand or hugging them, but it can also be continual. If I’m chatting with someone and I sense I don’t have their attention or they’ve made me laugh, I might place my hand on their arm.
Sometimes my touching someone else has triggered my more insecure partners.
One of my partners lit into me because I’d touched a man’s arm twice.I’d known this man for a few years, and he was the husband of my friend. I was “obviously” expressing interest in him, my partner told me. I’d “crossed” the touch barrier. The “touch barrier” being a term to describe the untold boundary between two people that once crossed can lead to…other forms of physical touch.
My partner’s reaction was very much about him and not me. He had been cheated on in his most recent previous relationship, so he was hyperaware about anything that might seem like pre-cheating.
Regardless of his issues, it still made for a not fun evening, and it took him some time to come to terms with hey, I’m just being a nice human and this is how I show it. It did also help that I reserved some specific types of public touches just for him (such as my hand on his waist or side).
2. It’s more than just romantic intimacy.
You might think “physical touch” would equate to your partner enjoying lots and lots of romantic intimacy, but physical touch is much more than that. Romantic intimacy alone is not going to fill up your physical touch partner’s “love tank” (as Dr. Chapman calls it). It’s much more about intimacy.
You could fulfill your partner’s needs by holding their hand, laying your head on their shoulder, hugging, kissing, giving light massages, or even giving them a quick shoulder or hand squeeze. It doesn’t have to be excessive enough to make other people uncomfortable, but it does have to be recurrent.
3. They want you to touch them. All the time.
If “touch” is not your love language, it REALLY may feel like too much. Think of having your hand on another person all of the time, and you have a pretty decent idea. Whenever my husband is touching me, I feel calm and centered, so the more often he can and does, the better.
Whenever we are walking somewhere, I want my husband to hold my hand, or touch my back or shoulder. We hold hands in the car or he puts his hand on my neck. I want frequent hugs, back rubs, and massages. Cuddle sessions while we watch TV or talk. I want him to hold my face while he kisses me, and bring on the make-out sessions.
While it may feel like too much, those little touches add up to make for you a very happy and satisfied romantic partner.
4. When they’re upset or you’ve just had a fight, touch them.
Touch equals love, assurance, and care to us. It’s that simple. When we’re stressed or tired or upset or at odds with you or someone else that we care deeply about, we need assurance, and we get it through your touch on our bodies.
Whenever I am struggling, I seek out my husband to get a good long hug. He’s my anchor, and even if he’s the person I’m mad at, I still want and need his touch to know that he still loves and cares about me.
5. Don’t withhold touch.
When I was single, I got my touch needs met by having a core group of friends who hugged whenever we saw one another. It wasn’t perfect, but when I was feeling sad or lonely or neglected, I’d text or make a phone call and set up plans. I knew as soon as we saw each other, we’d hug, and I felt safe in those relationships.
But I’ve also been in romantic relationships where a partner would withhold physical contact from me every time he was angry. It felt, every time, abusive and purposefully neglectful.
One of my exes would punish me by withholding touch from me for days. He’d recoil if I tried to hug him or touch his arm, and he’d sometimes take a few steps out of his way just to make sure our bodies wouldn’t brush against each other in the event we were walking past one another. As someone who feels loved and cared for when I am touched, I felt…hated and reviled by him.
If that’s not how you want to make your partner feel, then don’t be cruel. It would be reasonable for you to need an hour or two to take a breather, but not days. If this is a pattern for you and your partner, it’s not healthy and it’d be time for you to consider seeing a couples’ therapist.
While “Physical Touch” can be the most misinterpreted love language, it can also be the easiest. What could be more simple than reaching out to hold someone’s hand? It doesn’t require coming up with a thoughtful gift or taking time out of your day to plan something special. It just requires you to reach out and touch the person you love.