Do you tell someone you love them all the time, give them gifts, tell them you appreciate them? Yet, they complain about how you shy from displays of affection, that you don’t hold their hand and kiss them or hug them enough? Their preferred language of love may be physical touch love language.
Let’s put it another way. Do you think it is wise to speak Chinese to an Italian, and expect to have your message conveyed? That is what happens when we speak in a love language that is different from the one our partner understands! This is the premise of Dr. Gary Chapman’s five love languages, out of which, today, we look at the language of physical touch.
We got in touch with Psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, to understand this form of expression of love. We asked him what physical touch means and how important it is to someone who speaks this language. He also talked to us about the importance of learning your partner’s love language.
Is Physical Touch A Love Language?
Do you or your partner, or even a friend in your life, often like holding hands, grazing shoulders when walking together, tucking the other’s hair behind their ear, sitting closely so that knees touch, giving warm hugs, and so on? Quite possibly, physical touch love language is their chosen language of love.
These physical interactions or expressions are their way of communicating their affection to you. It is their language of love. When thinking of the question, “Is physical touch a love language?”, we might be coming from a place of an unfair assumption that physical touch means sexual touch. While sexual touch is a part of physical touch love language, it is not limited to it.
In fact, Dr. Bhonsle begins talking about the importance of physical touch as being one of the primary forms of communication of love in childhood, and the primary mode of communication in infanthood. “In the world of children,” he says, “It is often the primary form of affection. It is also the first experience a child has with the world. If you put your finger in a one-day-old baby’s hand, the baby immediately holds on to it, grasps it, almost instinctively.”
A child with the physical touch love language will like to jump into their parent’s lap or receive a pat on the back. In contrast to say a child with the love language of words of affirmation who would appreciate a verbal compliment more.
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What Is Physical Touch Love Language?
In his book, The 5 Love Languages –The Secret To Love That Lasts, Dr. Gary Chapman elaborates on the ways people express and receive love. He categorizes them into five types of love languages – Quality Time, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Physical Touch, and Words of Affirmation.
He suggests that every person has their dominant way of expressing the love they gravitate toward. It is in the same expression, or language, that this person also likes to receive love from others. When people speak in different languages of love, the expression of love is hampered. Learning about the love language of your significant others becomes imperative then.
Dr. Bhonsle describes physical touch love language as “a nonverbal way of demonstrating care, affection and attention to someone. Because physical touch conveys a sense of well-being and companionship in ways that sometimes words can’t. It is almost a mnemonic for transmitting warmth,” he says. “It works like a companion piece for saying things like “I love you”, “I care for you”, “I miss you”, “I wish you were here”.”
Learning the love language physical touch
Learning about this love language helps us observe and identify when someone expresses their affection to us in this manner. If we can recognize their gestures, we can feel their love. When we don’t understand someone’s language of love, their gestures go unnoticed and we complain that they either don’t love us or don’t show us their love enough.
Similarly, when you love someone very dearly but you still hear complaints that you don’t, it is possible that they are not able to recognize your love. Since you are inclined to express your love in your own love language and not theirs, they fail to receive it.
This is why learning your partner’s language of love is one of the ways to improve communication in your relationship. It is an important chapter in the constant pursuit of having a joyful and healthy relationship with the people who are important to us. So that you can express love to them in their language as well as be able to recognize and receive their love when they express it to you.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “You have to cultivate things that make you more palatable to people who are important to you. It’s like if you love someone who doesn’t have English as their first language, you may have to learn their native tongue to be able to communicate more meaningfully to each other.”
But what if it doesn’t come naturally to you? Dr. Bhonsle advises making the effort to learn it. “If it doesn’t come intuitively, you have to develop it like any other skill, like cycling, swimming, skating. Unfortunately, in the kind of society all human beings live in, it’s not considered a top skill when it should be.”
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What are some examples of physical touch love language?
If physical touch isn’t your love language, but your partner’s is, you are probably wondering how you can learn the ropes. In this case, Dr. Bhonsle advises being intuitive and organic before anything else. “You can’t give your partner a survey form to fill out because that would be inorganic and weird. But you could be a good observer and have conversations and make mental notes of what your partner is usually open to or resistant to.” Love is a language, and you can learn it.
If you would like a few examples regardless, we have you covered. If your partner has the physical touch love language as their preferred way of expressing love, they most often than not express it in several ways we are about to list. Likewise, if you wish to express your love to them, the following ways of expression might help them receive your love more easily.
- Greeting with a touch: Hugging and kissing when you greet them before asking them about their day
- Maintaining touch when conversing: Touching the upper arm or tucking a strand of hair behind the ear, patting the shoulder
- Physical forms of recreation: Massages, grooming sessions, applying lotion on the back, brushing hair, bath, contact sports, dancing
- Sexual touch: Sex in itself is a physical act of love, so initiate sex more often. Additionally, kissing more often in the act, maintaining eye contact, touching other body parts, entangling fingers, hugging, lying together in bed post-coitus, and sustaining contact long after, can make the act more fulfilling for someone with this love language
- The moments in between: Unexpected touch, like, neck kissing, taking care of that hard-to-reach zipper or button, rubbing their back when they are sick, giving a foot rub after a long day, making sure your feet touch theirs in bed, holding hands during a walk. (Catch the drift?)
Observe what your partner likes. Ask them if in doubt. Observe their reaction when you touch them in a certain way. Knowing that someone’s love language is physical touch doesn’t give anyone the right to touch them in a way they don’t approve of.
Care must be taken to not assume that your partner would appreciate all kinds of touch. Similarly, physical touch in relationships should not be seen as a free pass to initiate sexual touch. Sexual touch is just a small part of this tactile way of expressing of love.
Physical Touch In Long-distance Relationships
It is abundantly clear that physical touch love language requires the contact of skin, body-to-body. But what about when two people are physically not present together. What happens when you or your dear half, lives in a different city, away from you?
Dr. Bhonsle addresses the core of this paradoxical question. “Physical touch in a long-distance relationship is what is called a practical or a logistical problem. You can’t take a flight to another time zone every time you want to give or receive a hug. It all boils down to creating a workable schedule.”
He further probes into the core issue in long-distance relationships and the need to address that before figuring a way around the problem of being able to physically touch your partner when physically distant from them. Taking our attention to its importance he points out, “a lot of cases of cheating in a long-distance relationship happen because a partner simply misses being touched.”
He says, “Usually a lot of long-distance relationships suffer when they have no end in sight. When there is no deadline tied to the distance. A long-distance relationship has to be indexed in certain practicality, of being under the same roof eventually. It is a desirable practicality, after all, why are you in a relationship if not to share each other’s company.”
He advises, “Cultivate some patience. Some patience and some scheduling will be required if you want to see the relationship through and you are committed to the relationship.”
Related Reading: 17 Signs There Is Someone Else In Your Partner’s Life
Solutions for physical touch in long-distance relationships
Having said that, it is possible that you have an end in sight but you still miss exchanging love with your partner through physical touch. It is possible that even if you could take out the time, you do not have the means to fly back and forth frequently. Till the time you and your partner figure out a plan for your long-distance relationship, there are several love hacks for long distance relationships. More specifically, there are things you could do to compensate for the lack of touch. It won’t be as good as the real thing but it might work for you anyway.
- Share tactile experiences: Exchange a piece of your clothing that smells like you. You could gift them a massage or send something that they can hold in their hands and think of home. Treat these as physical reminders of you
- Verbalize touch: Talk about the touch that you would make if they were near you. Talk about how you would hold them or kiss them. Treat these as verbal reminders of your touch
- Visually express the actions of touch: Actions like blowing kisses or planting a kiss on the screen on a video call may seem silly but it could help them imagine it like it were real. Treat these as visual reminders of you touching them
Case in point, be creative. The point is to try to remind your partner and be reminded of the touch that you had when you two were, in fact, physically together with each other. This memory and visualization will help you two hold the fort until the time you can actually be back together again.
Having said all of the above, it is important to note that when talking about touch do not take any step outside the domain of the consent of the other person. The role of consent is unparalleled, even more so in the case of something like physical touch in relationships. Dr. Bhonsle says, “Physical touch is a way of giving the other person an opportunity to interact and engage with you, and vice versa but in a non-threatening and consensual way.”
Physical touch by itself doesn’t make you fall in love. Love languages are our ways of communicating love to our significant others. If your primary way of expressing and receiving love is through physical touch and words of affirmation, you will appreciate it more when someone shows you their love through initiating physical touch with you and expressing to you in words how much you mean to them. It is important to improve communication so that you can learn each other’s love language.
Anyone can identify with physical touch love language. Anyone can identify with the inclination to give and receive love through physical affection. It has nothing to do with the sex and/or gender of the person. Different men will have different love languages. Any man can have any love language.
There isn’t a one size fits all reply for this query. Every individual is unique in their needs and desires. It is best to ask the person themself what kind of affection they like. If their preferred way of receiving love is through physical affection, observe and learn, make mental notes. You can also simply ask how they like to be touched.
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