It was a nice anniversary celebration. Your partner took you to the restaurant where you had your first date a year ago. They gifted you with those cute sea turtle earrings because you’re obsessed with sea turtles. The dessert was great. You were happy.
But why is it that you don’t feel butterflies until nearly midnight when you’re both cuddling together in your pajamas while watching TV?
It’s likely because your love language is physical touch. You appreciate all the other romantic gestures, but your heart really goes pitter-patter when you feel totally relaxed in their arms.
There are five love languages:
- words of affirmation
- quality time
- giving and receiving gifts
- acts of service
- physical touch
For people who speak “physical touch” as their primary love language, physical affection through hugs, kisses, sex, cuddling, and other touch are the fuel that fills their tank and keeps relationships strong.
If you or your partner have a strong need for physical touch, it’s important to communicate your needs and figure out what fills each of your tanks, even if you don’t naturally speak the same language.
Physical touch, according to science, doesn’t just feel good to you, but it’s also good for you.
Benefits of getting physical
- Touching builds a stronger bond in relationships. (The hormone oxytocin is a helluva “drug.”)
- In one study, researchers showed that physical touch helps alleviate loneliness, lessens feelings of neglect, and improves heart rate.
- In another study, holding hands with a partner mitigated pupil dilation (a stress response) during a short stress-provoking activity. Evidence that touching reduces stress has implications for reducing many health risks.
- Researchers have also found that pain is reduced in women who hold their partner’s hand. Social support through physical touch could be an intentional tool to help people cope with childbirth and other painful experiences.
- Slow, gentle touch stimulates specialized nerve fibers that pick up touch signals and soothe feelings of rejection.
- Long-term touch deprivation can lead to loneliness, anxiety, depression, and stress.
Physical touch may be a person’s primary love language, meaning they absolutely need it in regular doses to feel fulfilled in a relationship. It may also be a person’s secondary love language, serving as a support for their primary love language.
All touch is not created equal. Whether a specific touch is romantic or not usually comes down to who is doing the touching and how it makes you feel.
Touch from someone you have romantic feelings for in a way that’s meant to strengthen your emotional bond or excite you sexually is romantic! Touch between you and someone you have a platonic emotional bond with is not romantic.
Touch for the sake of something practical like a medical test is nonromantic. Here are some examples:
|Romantic touch||Nonromantic touch|
|Your partner puts a hand on your shoulder while you wait in line.||A stranger taps you on the shoulder to say “Excuse me.”|
|Your date holds your hand while you’re on a walk.||An aesthetician holds your hand while giving you a manicure.|
|Your partner kisses your cheek.||You kiss your nephew’s wee baby cheek.|
|A crush strokes your back at the bar.||A chiropractor adjusts your back to relieve pain.|
Of course, all touch must be consensual. Touch that makes a person uncomfortable or crosses the romantic/nonromantic line is inappropriate and can potentially cause or resurface trauma.
Do you think you’re the touchy-feely type? Take a quiz like this one to figure out what your primary love language is. Is touch your primary love language or is it secondary to another language?
Once you know physical touch is an important love language for you, think about what “dialect” you speak. Do you crave hugs and kisses from everyone in your life? Do you need frequent sex to feel connected to your partner?
Other ways to express physical touch as a love language
- public displays of affection
- comforting or casual touch during conversation
- dancing with your partner
- working out with your partner
- playing sports with your partner
Touching any part of the body can communicate love, but everyone will have individual preference about what feels best to them.
If you thrive on touch, it may be hard to understand a person who is uncomfortable being touched. For people who grew up in a family or culture that did not express affection through touch, it might be tough to get used to.
Also, people who have suffered trauma or abuse could have an even harder time expressing or receiving touch.
Physical touch is an especially tough need to meet if you’re single, in a long distance relationship, or quarantining away from your touch buddy. There are ways you can fake it until you get back (in touch) with someone.
- Try sleeping with a body pillow (or giant stuffed animal?) to feel like your cuddle buddy is closer.
- Invest in a massager, because who isn’t tense from hunching over their makeshift desk for months?
- Adopt a pet for safe, unlimited snuggles.
- Engage your body in other ways like yoga, exercise videos, or a warm, sensory-stimulating bath.
Discovering your love languages together is an opportunity to communicate and stretch your relationship skills to make sure both of your needs are met.
Here are some ways you can practice speaking your touch-loving partner’s language:
- Hold hands while you walk or sit quietly together. If your love language is quality time, this will fill both your tanks.
- If your love language is gift giving, choose gifts that gratify your partner’s tactile needs. Try a soft blanket, a neck massager, or cozy socks.
- To build your touching habit, give frequent, random hugs or back rubs throughout the day.
- Experiment with massaging different areas of the body to find common ground for your both to enjoy.
- Try PDA to remind your partner your focus is on them when there’s a lot going on around you.
It’s also important how you receive physical affection from your partner.
Being touched may not come naturally to you because you have sensory differences, are on the autism spectrum, or just didn’t experience a lot of touch in your life before. You may react negatively to touch because of traumas in your past.
It’s still possible to have a fulfilling physical relationship by communicating with your partner and experimenting to get comfortable with touch.
Let your partner know that as you get used to being touched, your reactions are not a rejection of them or their affection, just something you need more practice with.
A relationship counselor can help tackle problems that are too deep to work through on your own.
If physical touch is your love language, you really need it to have a solid romantic relationship. Even if you and your partner don’t have matching love languages, you can still learn to fill each other’s tanks. Let your partner know what you need to feel loved and make an intentional effort to provide what they need.
Anna Lee Beyer writes about mental health, parenting, and books. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.