Affection: Elixir for Couples
How often do you snuggle, kiss or keep in close physical contact with your cat, your dog, your toddler or your young grandchild just for the sheer pleasure of it? How often do you use cute insider names, or say, “I love you” to your pets, young children or grandkids? Now, be honest, when was the last time you did these same kind of things with your spouse? Do you give these signs of unbridled affection to your spouse with the same frequency and abandon that you devote to your pets or young children? If you are like most married couples, then your affection ratio of pets to spouse is skewed way in favor of the family dog or cat. You might even be the kind of person who justifies this behavior by believing that public displays of affection are childish or only best directed toward young children and pets. Or, you might confuse affection with sexual foreplay and believe that it should be reserved for the bedroom. It is also possible that you just feel uncomfortable giving affection to adults, believing that you are just not the touchy feely kind of guy or gal. Each of these perspectives on affection is mistaken because they undermine your relationship.
Affectionate touch, such as hugs, snuggling, holding hands, kissing or just staying in close physical contact accomplishes many things, besides just feeling good. It lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate and helps our body return to a resting state so that we can recover from stress. It gives out a loud social signal that says, “I claim you as my own, my most cherished other.” It also says, “I love you and I don’t care who sees it.” Many couples are able to begin their relationship by offering and receiving affectionate touch and words, but by the time many couples have children they devolve to the point in which touch is relegated to sexual contact and affectionate talk is reserved for the dog. I have heard many men complain that their wives stopped giving them affectionate touch as soon as the first baby was born. I have heard many women complain that their husbands only want to touch them in order to have sex. Think about it. What would happen if you lavished the same amount of praise and attention on your spouse as your pet or your infant?
Making your marriage a priority means that you set the stage for your marriage to become a fountain of mutual good mental, physical and spiritual health that in turn promotes good mental, physical and spiritual life in others. The simple act of affectionate touch helps to restore both you and your spouse’s emotional and physical well-being. The simple act of verbal affection reinforces your emotional bond, reassuring your spouse of your love, your kindness and that fact that the two of you have something special and unique, your marriage. It also helps you recover more quickly from conflict because it demonstrates to your spouse that you are still an emotional safety zone apart from any disagreements or disappointments between the two of you. It gives a loud unspoken signal that all is well, in the same way that God continually beckons us and reassures us despite our failures. It is, in other words, a small measure of grace that you can provide every day to the one you love most.
Here are some suggestions to help you improve, or restore, the affection in your marriage:
- Guys need to make sure that you hug, pat, kiss, squeeze and snuggle your wives at times other than those leading up to foreplay. Women who only receive your loving touch when you make love, end up getting the wrong impression. Wives accidentally think that your only interest in them is as a sexual partner. Smart husbands realize that lots of physical and verbal affection makes their wife feel so emotionally safe and secure that she is likely to be much more interested in sex. This is a win-win situation!
- Women need to remember that men like affection too! Don’t be afraid to touch, kiss, hug and snuggle your husband. This works much better than buying him the red heart-patterned boxers.
- Hold your spouse’s hand. Handholding is not just for adolescents in love.
- If you feel shy about expressing physical affection, start with hugs and kisses whenever you leave one another or greet one another. Try sitting really close so that you are touching while watching television, movies or listening to the sermon in church.
- Make it your goal to tell your spouse that you love them every day, several times a day. Try texting, post-its or emails just to let your spouse know how much you love them.
- Be affectionate even when you are in the middle of a conflict and regardless of any fights you have had. Your goal is to convince your husband or wife that you love them even when you are angry, disappointed or just worn out from a long day.
- Write each other little affectionate love letters. Committing your affection to print allows your spouse to re-read and repeatedly savor the way that you enjoy their presence.
Karen Cassiday, Ph.D., A.C.T. is a Light of Christ member with 25 years of experience in clinical psychology. To read her full biography, click here.
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