There is a considerable amount of research on touch. We need it. We are healthier and happier, and live longer, more satisfying lives when we receive it and give it. This is an incredibly important area that I work at with couples. And I am not just talking about sexual touch, the touching of the sensitive sexual parts of the body. I am talking right now about the importance of whole body touch.

As much as we need touch, it can be very difficult for couples to talk about their affection needs. For some women, they would like more touch, but they sometimes begin to feel that touch has become connected only to sexuality. "You only touch me when you want sex" is something I commonly hear. On the other hand, husbands whose wives have withdrawn touch because they do not want to have sex often share that they feel incredibly lonely and apart. Although I am expressing this in a stereotypical pattern, these things can be felt by either spouse.

Couples often dislike certain types of touch and often either tell their spouse in an irritated tone that shows distaste or do not tell their spouse at all. Many couples have been kissing and holding hands for years and one has never told the other "I really don't enjoy kissing like that" or "can we hold hands like this instead." Another important aspect of touch is that our needs change according to our emotional state and to the meanings that touch has for us. For some, touch may have been very connected to physical or sexual abuse, and relearning touch in a safe relationship may be very important. For others, when they are in emotional distress, they may prefer certain kinds of touch. Some want to be held when they are upset or sad. Others do not want to be touched at all in that vulnerable state, but may be open to a light hand on the shoulder or knee at the right time that says "I am here" and "I care." Also, when there have been violations in a relationship or when there have been a pattern of hurts, touch can become highly problematic.

When I work with couples, this is an area I focus on both in session and in homework exercises: from simply holding hands, to simple caresses, to relearning how to hug and hold, and learning to talk openly and vulnerably through that. We need touch. Sometimes we also need help in figuring why we feel like we do, what we need, how to ask for and communicate that to our spouse, and how to give them what they need. And the reality is, for many couples and individuals, in order to truly enjoy touch and be filled by it, we need to work through some difficult areas in our relationship.