The Relationship Strategy That Will Save Your Marriage (And No, It's Not About Sex)

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couple hugging

When couples come to see me for relationship advice, with their first complaint being that they haven’t had sex in several months, there is palpable tension. They panic and search for reasons why. When sex is going well, it is 5 percent of the relationship. However, when sex isn’t going well, it may become 95 percent of the relationship.

A study reported in the Daily Mail suggested that more important than sex for a couple’s happiness and health is cuddling. Cuddling provides many benefits besides a sense of security and closeness. It also provides stimulus to our olfactory centers (the smell of our partner makes us feel loved) and our touch centers, and it helps to release oxytocin (the feel-good hormone that helps us feel love toward our partner).

Cuddling also provides another form of communication that sexual intercourse doesn’t. It allows us to feel closer without draining our energy. Sometimes the best communication happens when couples are holding one another.

RELATED: Why Cuddling Is The Most Underrated Human Activity

Many times, couples’ first homework assignment from me is to begin touching each other more and talking less. When sex isn’t going well, not only do you lose that physical connection but you lose the emotional connection too. Often you become more critical of your partner as well as irritable and annoyed.

The emotional connection is much more important than the sexual one because the emotional connection determines if the sexual one will happen, and how frequently.

Touching and cuddling are the best ways to restore and build an emotional connection. When couples touch, they let down their guard, and begin feeling love and acceptance toward their partner. If cuddling is continued, the feeling of love and connection leads to better communication and sex.

Women may fault men saying they don’t like to cuddle and jump too quickly to sexual intercourse. My practice, as well as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, suggests this is not true.

According to Kinsey’s research, among couples in committed relationships, tenderness may be more important to the man than the woman; regular kisses and cuddling lead to greater relationship satisfaction in men than in their partners, especially as they grow older.

When I talk to couples and ask them to list the number one problem in their relationships, it is men, not women saying the lack of intimacy. When I question further, they talk about missing the touching, caressing, and soft talking they once shared with their partner.

The time to begin cuddling is early in the relationship. If you have let that go with raising kids or demanding careers, you can still get it back. Adding a little bit of time into your day to hug or touch your spouse will add a closeness you may have felt was gone forever.

RELATED: The Science Of Snuggling: 7 Incredible Benefits Of Cuddling

You may not need to mention it to your partner. Sometimes they notice changes in you without you talking about makes it more special.

However, if you have a partner who feels like you only touch them when you want sex, then communicating with them about the benefits of cuddling may be a better option. Reassuring them that it is the intimacy and closeness that you want may be enough to convince them to cuddle.

Here are a few tips to help you get started with your “cuddle plan.”

  1. You can cuddle anywhere, which makes it convenient, but being captive together makes it more special. Places like airplanes or movie theatres are great places to begin cuddling.
  2. No one likes to cuddle on a hard surface, so make sure you have a “cuddle sofa,” or overstuffed chair where you both fit comfortably.
  3. No one likes to cuddle with a computer on their partner’s lap so get rid of laptops, cell phones, iPhones, and iPads.
  4. Smoking while cuddling is not wise. Getting burned or the smell of smoke on your face causes coughing and disgust.
  5. Talking softly while cuddling is desired.
  6. Kissing is not necessary but is nice while cuddling.
  7. Being a good listener while cuddling is also important, remember your partner will feel more secure and may want to tell you things they have not said before.
  8. Being gentle is part of cuddling.
  9. Cuddling has no objective other than to feel close to your partner, so don’t rush to finish.
  10. Cuddling is helping your partner and you to be healthier with lower blood pressure and respiration. Imagine your ability to heal.

A couple’s ability to cuddle, not to perform sex, is one of the best predictors of an emotionally/physically close, happy, and healthy relationship. 

RELATED: Cuddling: The Wonder Drug (That You Can Do In Public)

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC is a psychotherapist, author, speaker, and intimacy and sex counselor. For more information, visit her website.