“Nothing is as healing as the human touch.” – Bobby Fischer
I teach a class on sexual awakening, and what often surprises participants is the significant amount of time we spend on conscious and non-sexual touch.
My team learned how important non-sexual touch is when we taught couples a practice called mindful hugs. The idea is that couples stand up, support their weight, and loosely hug each other. No talking, just focusing on their breath and realizing how it feels to be cuddling their partner.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well she is. But she is also emotional. After about five minutes of attentive hugs, the partners put their foreheads together and talk. They talk about the feelings that arose for them, what fears they experienced, and whether something was annoying or sweet. We noticed the same pairs sitting close to each other, continuing to touch as the class progressed.
Another activity is the watchful gaze. During this activity, couples hold hands and are guided through meditation that involves looking deeply into each other’s eyes. They are reminded of the connections that got them to this point. When they look at each other, they are invited to see with new eyes. This meditation never ends without tears and new revelations.
Why is non-sexual touch so important
It sounds like a fairytale ending, but a non-sexual touch brings happiness, peace and physical health[i]. The non-sexual touch is a necessity that is often overlooked in our highly individualistic culture. We need to be hugged, hugged and kissed. We need to hold our hands, look deeply into someone’s eyes, and touch their arm. We must have a physical acknowledgment of our needs.
These claims are well documented in research studies[ii] [iii] that help us understand some of our own cultural problems. Something as easy as holding hands can lower blood pressure[iv]. No prescription needed for a hug that can reduce stress. Increased immunity and decreased cortisol can come from a gentle cuddle.
This is great news because touch has no harmful side effects. However, in a touch-averse culture like ours, we may struggle to embrace this easy fix. As Americans, we are very friendly and talkative, but we don’t always tend to get comfortable through touch. “Social and cultural trends in America for decades have focused on reducing touch,” explains Jay Skidmore, former chair of the Department of Psychology at Seattle Pacific University.
Field describes the larger cultural effects of lack of touch by noting that “…cultures that showed little physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence” but “those cultures that showed great physical affection toward their young children practically did not He had no adult violence.[v]”
How can touch cut the tension?
When there is tension in marital relationships, our natural reaction is to back off. But here’s where vigilance may help.
The next time you feel some tension between you and your partner, immerse yourself in your mind that is watching. Are you aware of all your senses? Sight, sound, taste, smell, and most importantly, touch. Note any thoughts or emotions that come up. Once you notice them, just turn your attention back to your physical sensations. Note if this process helps you reduce interaction.
While addressing stress with your partner, see if you can respond honestly with a compassionate touch. Put your hand on theirs and note if you have calmed down and if your partner has calmed down with this simple act. This may be an easy way to relieve stress. When couples work to relieve tension, they are more likely to be able to work out the problem or find common ground even with different viewpoints[vi].
Whether conscious, non-sexual touch is used to calm your heart in a moment of conflict or to create a warm connection, stick with this easy, free, and helpful tool. As you practice this approach to relationships, it will become more instinctive, and you will find that touch has the power to change your communication environment with others.