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What To Do If You're Touch-Starved Within A Relationship

Posted Oct 30 2008 3:23pm

In keeping with our Valentines theme, we're going to look at getting touch needs met within a relationship.  Here are snippets from an article by emotional intimacy educator, Ellen Eatough, which describes a touch rut that couples may find themselves in. 

Many people in long-term relationships fall into a "touch trap". They get into a pattern of associating expressions of affection with sex, partly because early in the relationship, such expressions frequently did lead to sex, but also because in the predominately repressed American and northern European cultures touch and sex are so often linked in people's minds. As a result, many people are walking around starved for human touch, even if they are in an intimate relationship.

When it comes to intimate relationships, one partner is often more inclined to be affectionate than the other. Some people are very demonstrative of their affection and admiration with hugging, kissing and caressing at almost any time.

Others are only comfortable with kissing, holding hands or hugging when fully clothed (which is also beneficial) or are engaged in foreplay. When sex is not on the menu, these people are reluctant to be sensuous in bed, because it could trigger an expectation of sex when they are not really interested in it at the time.

The pattern that often develops is this:

One person (let's call them A) will initiate caresses and hugs, wanting to share love, affection and closeness, but not be interested in sex at that time. The other person (B) may perceive this as an invitation to have sexual relations. If B is too tired, or not in the mood for sex, he or she may pull away, missing an opportunity to share the touching and closeness that both would really enjoy (and the bonding and nurturing that the release of oxytocin will stimulate).

If B is in the mood for sex, the response will be sexual, which is fine if A is in the mood too. But if A really just wants to caress, kiss, cuddle and go to sleep feeling close, B may feel confused and rejected.

Eventually, both A and B are afraid to approach the other for physical expressions of affection, because it opens up an emotional can of worms.

So, what is the solution.  It's an easy one COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE and talk about your needs and wants.

I was in a group of 30 people ranging in age from their early 20s to late 60s.  We had a session where the women could ask the men anything they wanted.  And the question "how do you define good sex" emerged.

The men had a universal response, which was so refreshing!  So different to what the mass media pummels us with.  And the answer was TRUST and GOOD COMMUNICATION.  One very enlightened gentleman pointed out that for him sex can also be eye gazing or hand-holding or a myriad of other things that builds intimacy.

One lady mentioned an Indian ritual for newlyweds, where on day one the couple can talk, on day two they can hold hands while they talk and every day the intimacy builds a little more.  This is very similar to a technique that relationship counselors may offer to couples having sexual difficulties.  Take penetrative sex off the menu - go back to the basics of good communication and then build physical intimacy slowly.

So, if you'd like to put more affectionate touch back into your relationship - remember to COMMUNICATE this need to your partner and talk about different ways to explore doing this together!

Here are four suggestions:

1 - Take a massage workshop together and set aside regular time to give each other nurturing, relaxing massage.

2 - Designate TV or DVD watching time as "cuddle time"

3 - Come together to a Cuddle Party.  A great place to explore non-sexual touch and to practise communicating what you want in touch terms!

4 - Co-design your own Indian newlyweds ritual!!! 

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