We've all heard communication is key to a thriving relationship and so we put extra effort into learning how to speak and listen to our partners with as much compassion and love as possible.
But the truth is that effective communication, the kind that really divorce-proofs a marriage, takes a whole lot more than paying attention to the words we use. Some researchers have said that non-verbal communication counts for 70-90% of the information expressed.
One of the best non-verbal means of communication for spouses to share is ... touch.
And one of the most pleasurable forms of touch is massage. Massage releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and reduces stress-related hormones like adrenocorticotropin. Massage also increases intimate connection. Skin-to-skin contact communicates a lot — even if the skin-to-skin contact is hand-to-hand or even hand to foot.
Massage is also pleasurable for both partners because it allows them each to focus on the shared goals of relaxation, connection and intimacy.
Several years ago, intrigued about the benefits of massage, I decided to earn my massage license. I've discovered first-hand that couples can share massages that aren't full body or require a massage table and yet are still incredible at increasing connection and intimacy. Some of the easiest massages for a couple to share focus on the hands, the scalp and the feet.
Because we use our hands for gripping and typing all day long, the first step of a good hand massage is to gently stretch the palm and fingers open. Start with your partner's right hand and stretch the palm and fingers open. Hold the stretch for about 5-10 seconds. Next, stretch each finger on your partner's right hand individually by gently pressing it away from the palm. Place a small amount of olive oil or other food-grade oil onto your spouse's right palm and use your thumbs to gently massage the oil into their palm and help the muscles to relax. When you've finished with the right hand, repeat the procedure for your partner's left hand.
Another wonderful part of the body to massage is the scalp. For a scalp massage, the goal is to gently move the skin of the scalp and not just move the hair around. You'll know you're doing a great job if you don't hear the hair on your partner's head making a lot of noise. Place your fingers firmly yet gently on your partner's scalp and move your fingers in small circles. You'll want to make 3-5 circles and then move your fingers to a new spot and repeat the 3-5 circles. Continue moving your fingers to a new spot and gently yet firmly massaging until you've covered their entire scalp.
One of my favorite places to receive massage is my feet. I'm on my feet a lot and give them a real workout every day and this is one of the best ways for my husband to help me unwind and for us to connect. For this massage, you'll want to have a little bit of olive oil or other food-grade oil for lubrication. Take your partner's right foot in your lap and apply just a little oil to the sole of their foot. Make a soft fist with your dominant hand and gently yet firmly rub your fist up and down the arch of your spouse's foot. You'll want to repeat this 5-7 times. Then move your thumbs in small circles over the ball of their right foot. When you've completed that, cup the heel of their right foot in your dominant hand and rub the heel of your hand over the heel of their foot 3-5 times. Next, stroke either side of their Achilles' tendon 3-5 times by gently holding it between your thumb and forefinger. Now wrap your hand around to the top of their foot and just pet it from their ankle to their toes 2-3 times. Repeat this procedure for their left foot.
The key to making these shared massages even more wonderful for your spouse is checking in with them for feedback as you go.
As you become more comfortable with sharing these mini-massages, you'll also build a deep connection and ability to communicate that helps you weather the inevitable storms of marriage and just may make your marriage divorce-proof.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.