When Silence Says It All: The Power of Touch in Intimate Relationships
Love is one of the most powerful—and confusing—emotions we can feel. It overlaps the boundaries of friendship and family relationships, touches our most enjoyable activities, and reaches around the globe. It’s something that transcends language barriers, age and social barriers, and sometimes even time.
It’s also difficult to put into words. Saying, “I love you” can mean something deep and profound to some people, but to others, it sounds as trite as “I love French fries.” For others, the words can be difficult to say, those who prefer to let the feeling show through in their actions and subtle messages. Love can be touching sentiment, or it can shine during the touchy-feely moments, but it can’t be bought, manufactured, or mistaken when you do feel it.
So how do you bridge the gap between what you feel and the message you want to give? How do you put such a powerful (often frighteningly so) emotion into real communication? How can we properly encapsulate such an ethereal, transcendent feeling?
Expression is Effort
It starts by trying. You try to find the right words, or gestures, or moments. Maybe it’s just a feeling you know when someone specific is with you, or you feel it most keenly in the midst of an intimate encounter that leaves much said in the breathless unsaid.
As important as it can be to find that intimacy and express it, it can also be very challenging with such an overwhelming (and sometimes volatile) emotion. Here are some ideas for helping you to say how you feel, even when you aren’t saying anything at all.
Remember as you read this that there is no perfect science here. Relationships are dynamic and unique things. What works for you and your partner may not work for another couple, and vice versa. Some people are very touchy-feely, while others reserve touching for the most important moments—but enjoy it all the more because of it.
In the heat of your passionate encounters, it may be intuitive for you to listen to how your partner responds as you touch their body, but this is equally important in nonsexual moments, too. Above all, it’s showing that you want to touch someone in a way that speaks to them, and speaks for you.
Minor shows of affection throughout the day are often major in their effect. It keeps the joy of simply being close to, of touching, your lover alive. You haven’t gotten bored, or fallen into sheer routine. The right touch demonstrates an active desire for intimacy that remains strong even on the difficult days, or as the months and years pass.
This is why the most successful long-term relationships manage to keep the spark alive long after less complete relationships burn out. What’s the difference?
These partners always keep trying.
Do the Five Love Languages Work for You?
In 1992, author Gary Chapman released a book entitled The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. This book has become a classic for helping partners discover the best ways to express their love for each other.
In this book, Chapman outlines five ways that people express love. Verbal communication, or words of affirmation, is just one part of it. Partners can also express love through acts of service to each other, giving and receiving gifts, spending quality time with each other, and touch.
This book contains some questions to help determine the best love languages for you and your partner. As you practice and learn to ‘speak’ these love languages, you build the intimacy and trust in your relationship. To make it easier, there are tons of powerful apps like Love Nudge that can help you keep your most important relationship close and sweet.
The book really stresses that communication, in all its verbal and nonverbal forms, is paramount to true intimacy. It’s not just something you say, and just something you do. Rather, it’s both and more, a way of living. It’s impossible to build that level of intimacy and cultivate such a rich and powerful feeling with mere motions.
In many ways, the nonverbal communications are the most difficult, but often the most potent. When your heart races around your lover, when simple touching implies so much more, that’s when you know how to express the things that are most challenging to say.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Touch
In his paper Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy, Desmond Morris introduced 12 steps to building intimacy in a relationship, culminating in sexual union. Nine of those 12 steps involve touching.
Of course, touching needs to be taken in context. It can be taken just as powerfully in a negative way, such as touch that hurts or harasses. Touches like a pat on the butt in a sports game will most likely be interpreted differently in a corporate setting.
Between partners, consider the difference between tapping each other on the back and caressing or stroking each other on the back. The way you touch makes a difference, especially when you’re celebrating a success or consoling each other over private grief. It’s far more than a simple matter of “touchy-feely,” which might accompany a night spent watching a movie together on the couch or in bed that transitions into a more intimate touching.
If you’re looking to build intimacy through touch, there are a few different things you can try. Taking a massage class together or even using hot stone massages at home can help relieve stress and tension. You might also consider investing in Bond Touch bracelets that allow you to ‘feel’ a touch from your partner even when you’re on opposite sides of the Earth.
Your partner may enjoy just a simple back rub during the day. Not even necessarily a discrete massage, but simply standing beside a partner and rubbing their back, perhaps while standing in line at a movie or even in the supermarket checkout. Affection comes in many forms. Running your fingers through a partner’s hair is a potent relaxing feeling, but also shows a closeness formed of trust.
These types of intimate touches are unbelievably powerful in fostering bonds between you and your partner. Close contact is one of the most important methods of communication for social animals like humans.
What You Give Is What You Get—and Vice Versa
One of the best indicators of intimacy in a relationship is how well you and your partner respond to each other. If your partner touches you and you don’t reciprocate, chances are you’re hurting your relationship. Over time, most successful relationships reach a one-to-one ratio where they’re comfortable with the amount of touches they give and receive.
The giving and receiving can go beyond touch, though. As you look back at the five love languages, consider how you can give and receive more quality time, acts of service, and even physical presence to show your affection for each other.
Don’t just think about gifts or major (and often infrequent) gestures when it comes to giving. It’s things like giving your partner a shoulder rub even when you’re tired, or helping with cleaning up after dinner, often with a reassuring touch or several.
Wake up in the morning with your partner, even if you don’t have to, just to say goodbye. A quick kiss that might have otherwise been missed is a great way to show that you will always go that extra step for the one you love.
Emotion Through Motion
Sometimes, it’s all about the little things. If your partner is coming home from a challenging day at work, it’s one thing to listen. Try setting down the phone, the drink, the remote, whatever is in hand, and touching your partner’s shoulder, knee, neck. Greet them with a hug and a slow rub of the back.
This means more than just touching alone. It communicates that your partner’s presence, especially in a moment of need, is more important than a game, or a show, or a beer, or whatever page you were browsing on your phone. You’re showing that you will set aside something you were doing because you would rather be close to your partner, would rather touch than an object of fleeting importance.
Don’t shout from another room. Walk with someone as they go to kick off their shoes, or change into something more comfortable. It’s a dance, and it means desiring the presence of someone. Even in a long-standing relationship, there’s no need to let complacency replace contact. A little touch and the little motions mean much more than just going through the motions.
Look at it like this: you two are on a journey through this life together. The closest relationships can embody that intimacy even when you two are apart, and you’ll find that your thoughts are often recalling the touch of a partner even when they are not present. Those same thoughts build up a sense of longing that only strengthens when you renew it upon seeing your partner again.
Touch is more than just physical contact. It’s not just warm skin. It’s emotional assurance, intimacy realized through touching, and it often means the world to those who feel it.