True Intimacy Comes From One Particular Kind Of Touching

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True Intimacy Comes From One Particular Kind Of Touching

If you want your relationship to be healthier, with more intimacy and sex, you'll need to learn how to touch your partner the right way. 

A client, Ashlee, revealed a dynamic between her and her partner, Rick. Their relationship lacked physical affection and intimacy.

"He did try a little something the other night. But I was not in the mood after he didn't touch me at all when we were out with friends," she explained.

They came to my office looking for a solution.

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Touch and skin ship are imperative for human beings and their relationships with others. How we receive and give touch is influenced by our childhood.

But, many couples in a relationship lose this fundamental connection with each other. However, you can learn how to integrate intimate touch back into your relationship, safely.

Ashlee and Rick lived together for four years, but things were strained between them, particularly in the area of intimacy.

Ashlee was a bright and vibrant 29-year-old with a sweet face and stylishly cut brunette hair. She was a gifted fashion designer and created a successful life for herself in Los Angeles after moving from New York to pursue her relationship with Rick. Rick was from New Jersey and worked as a director.

They were both ambitious.

Ashlee was the only one in Rick's life that supported his move out west to pursue his dream to work in the entertainment industry.

"She really believed in me when others did not," he shared. 

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They met at Rick's brother's wedding and found themselves locked in conversation way past the end of the official bridal party.

For years, Ashlee pleaded with Rick to be more physically affectionate. She felt thirsty for his touch, which was absent from their daily interactions. The lack of physical affection underlined her growing fear that she was more of Rick's mother than his lover.

Such a thought made it difficult for her to be attracted to Rick because she felt forced into a maternal role. She felt like a "nag" as she repeatedly asked him to follow through with the tasks he offered to complete.

As an attractive but touch-starved young woman, she resented feeling like a mother to her partner. As a result, her sexual arousal declined. Her interest in sex waned because it was the only type of physical connection that Rick offered. This turned her off even more. She asked for more physical intimacy out of the bedroom but to no avail.

Rick would not rub her back or hold her hand or play with her hair as she wished and so a wedge grew between them.

When I asked Rick why he did not touch Ashlee, he took a moment to reflect.

"I feel forced to touch Ashlee. It feels like a demand, and then I don't want to touch her," he said after a pause. He felt coerced rather than inspired by desire. "An act of touch feels unauthentic if it is a command," he added.

He also harbored resentments that they did not have sexual intercourse in a year.

These resentments were mixed with confusion and self-doubt as he mauled over why Ashlee was no longer attracted to him. He wondered why they no longer had a fun and active sex life like when they first met. They were at an impasse.

Touch is essential to form healthy relationships and for survival

If infants do not receive attentive human contact, they will die. This finding was discovered in the 1940s by Rene Spitz, who examined the importance of social interactions for child development.

"There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress…a simple touch can trigger the release of oxytocin, a.k.a. 'the love hormone'," informs Dacher Keltner, a Berkley professor and Co-Director of the Greater Good Science Center.

Research shows that pregnant women massaged by their partners experienced less pain, depression, anger, and anxiety. Their relationships also improved.

The sense of touch is fundamental to our well-being and our relationships. And yet many couples go without any type of touching or caressing.

Dr. Keltner points out that touch is less frequent in Western European cultures. It's common for kids never to see their parents hugging, holding hands, or kissing. For many, they don't remember ever seeing their parents embrace.

That was the case for Rick.

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To his recollection, he never witnessed his parents being physically affectionate with one another. He couldn't remember them ever kissing. His parents were also not physically affectionate towards him. There were no hugs or supportive pats on the back. His family of origin lacked the ability to communicate closeness without words.

Now this behavioral modeling was forging distance between him and the woman he loved.

Leading psychotherapists, Esther Perel and Terry Real hypothesize that the only area where boys are encouraged to touch is in sexual intercourse. This limited activity is often the only time when it is culturally appropriate for an adult male in the United States to explore and enjoy physical touch.

This limited lane of experience robs men of deeper intimacy, which affects their overall health and physical well-being. Men fall victim to suicide, gun violence, and addiction at alarming rates.

Touch is an essential remedy for human beings

Rick was disconnected from the pleasure of touch.

His own desire needed awakening. He did not have a reference point for intimate touch and didn't realize what he was missing.

As touch is imperative for human development, I knew Rick was experiencing a deficit. To stimulate his desire to touch, I introduced a simple hand caress exercise between the two of them.

While sitting next to each other on the couch, they took turns holding and stroking each other's hands. They were instructed to focus on their own pleasure and explore their partner's hand following their own curiosity.

After leading them through the exercise, I invited them to share with me their experiences. Rick worried that his arm was too heavy and was cumbersome on Ashlee's leg.

"I like the weight of your arm. I feel secure and safe," Ashlee admitted.

By checking in and confiding their impressions, they learned more about each other's preferences and also more about themselves. We did the exercise again, and afterward, I noticed that Rick was continuing to touch Ashlee, no longer prompted.

When I asked him about it, he responded, "Well, I guess I like it."

"Oh really, like it how?" I asked.

"I guess it feels comforting," Rick said while gently gliding his fingertips along her arm.

The exercise invoked the pleasure of touch in Rick.

Now, they have a new language of communication between them that consists of foot massages, hugs, and back rubs.

Rick understood how his childhood was impacting his current relationship. He was able to stretch and touch Ashlee in the way she desired. In the process, he regained his innate ability to receive pleasure through touch.

Incorporate more touch in your relationship to lessen anxiety, pain, and depression while improving your overall well-being and relationship. Hug, hold hands, snuggle on the sofa, and discover the power of touch.

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Thea Harvey is a licensed marriage and family therapist, yoga and meditation teacher, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and pleasure activist. She co-founded Harvey Center for Relationships with her husband with the mission to help couples experience safety and ecstasy in their relationship.