Do you tell someone you love them all the time, give them gifts, and constantly express how much you appreciate them? Yet, despite all that, they complain about how you shy away from displays of affection, that you don’t hold their hand, and don’t kiss them or hug them enough? It’s clear that their preferred language of love may be the 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. There are many different types but if your partner is constantly looking for warm hugs or some kind of physical closeness, it is clear that you love someone whose love language is physical touch.
It’s Dr. Gary Chapman who introduced the world to the concept of the five primary love languages, out of which, today, we look at the language of physical touch. We spoke to 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.
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 in romantic relationships. He categorizes them into five types of love languages that are quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, physical touch, and words of affirmation.
He suggests that every person has their dominant way to ‘give’ affection. It is in the same expression, or language, that this person also likes to ‘receive’ love from others, and the kind of cues they gravitate toward. When people speak in different languages of love, the expression of love is hampered and can be confusing. Learning about your person’s primary love language becomes imperative in that case, to better understand how they are communicating love to you and what they expect from you as well.
Dr. Bhonsle describes this 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 adds, “It works like a companion piece for saying things like I love you, I care for you, I miss you, and I wish you were here.”
Understanding the physical touch love language
Physical touch is one of the primary forms of communication of love in childhood. This is why it is one of the more common love languages. “In the world of children,” says Dr. Bhonsle, “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, and grasps it almost instinctively.”
- Learning the meaning of different love languages helps us identify when someone expresses their affection to us in a manner closest to them
- If we can recognize their gestures and their attempt to build a physical connection, we can feel their love
- When we don’t understand various love languages, 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 show it, 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 a relationship
Physical touch was the primary form of communication in infanthood for most of us, and to learn it is an important chapter in the pursuit of having a joyful and secure relationship with the people who are important to us. We should be able to express love to them in their language as well as be able to recognize and receive their love when they express it to us. Dr. Bhonsle says, “You have to cultivate traits 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 understanding another’s love languages does not 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, learning the different ways of showing love is not considered the top skill that it should be.”
Related Reading: 45 Questions To Ask Your Husband For A Heart-To-Heart Conversation
How To Use Physical Touch Love Language In Your Relationship?
If physical contact isn’t your love language, but your partner’s is, you are probably wondering how you can learn the ropes of their primary love language to make them happy. In this case, while you do have to make a conscious effort in the relationship to give and receive physical affection, Dr. Bhonsle also suggests 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.” His point is that love is a language, and you can learn it. They might like holding hands when you to go for walks, or enjoy getting a back rub after a long, stressful day.
If your partner prizes physical contact over everything else as their preferred way of expressing love, they more often than not express it in several ways we are about to list. Likewise, if you wish to express your love to them, read these examples of intimate affection in a relationship that you can try. Moreover, there also some ways that are not intimate as such, but can create closeness and bonding in your relationship.
Related Reading: 40 Relationship Affirmations To Use For Your Love Life
- Sexual touch: Sex in itself is a physical act of love, so initiate sex more often if you want to improve physical contact in your relationship. 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: This includes physical expressions such as an unexpected touch on the partner’s arm, 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?)
- Greeting with a touch: This includes hugging and kissing when you greet them before asking them about their day. This can make your partner even happier when it involves public displays like kissing their forehead when you met them at a coffee shop or a bar
- Maintaining touch when conversing: Touching the upper arm, tucking a strand of hair behind the ear, and patting the shoulder are other types of physical touch in relationships. Consider caressing your partner’s hand or stroking your fingers through your partner’s hair
- Physical forms of recreation: Massages, grooming sessions, applying lotion on the back, brushing hair, bath, contact sports, and dancing are some of the non-sexual touches that can pump up that feel good hormone
Our general advice to you is to observe what your partner likes when it comes to physical gestures. And if you’re in doubt, simply ask them. 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, so be mindful of their comfort level as well.
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 love.
Physical Touch In Long-distance Relationships
It is abundantly clear that this love language requires the contact of skin, and body-to-body closeness. 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 one of the concerns in long-distance relationships: Infidelity. There’s a need to address that first. He points out, “A lot of cases of cheating in a long-distance relationship happen because a partner simply misses being touched or wants some kind of sexual intimacy.”
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?
“So, cultivate some patience. Some patience and some scheduling will be required if you want to see the relationship through and you are committed to each other. Being able to physically touch your partner when physically distant from them is impossible, so the foundation needs to be even stronger.”
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 acts. It is possible that even though you could take out the time, you do not have the means to travel back and forth frequently.
Till the time you and your partner figure out a plan for your long-distance relationship, there are several ways to make a long distance relationship work. More specifically, there are things you could do to compensate for the lack of touch. You may not be able to see your partner, but it doesn’t hurt to get a body pillow and imagine you’re cuddling your partner every night. 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. Even a giant stuffed animal or a blanket works. Treat these as physical reminders of you
- Verbalize touch: Talk about the touch that you would make if they were near you, during your calls and video chats. Talk about how you would hold them or kiss them. Treat these as verbal reminders of your touch
- Express the actions of touch visually: Blowing kisses or planting a kiss on the screen on a video call may seem silly but it could help them imagine the real thing. Treat these as visual reminders of you touching them
Related Reading: 15 Real Reasons Your Wife Avoids Intimacy
Case in point, be creative and practice some self-reflection to truly understand what your relationship needs. Try to remind your partner, and be reminded yourself, of the touch that you shared when you were physically together. This memory and visualization will help you two hold the fort until the time you can actually be back together again.
- There are various ways people like to receive and show love in a relationship, and consensual physical touch is one of them
- If your partner likes physical contact, you should try to initiate more sex with them, hug them more, touch them more, give them back rubs, hold their hand, etc.
- In a long-distance relationship, try to verbalize physical touch, and share experiences such as exchanging clothing to create closeness
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.”
This article was updated in August 2023.
Physical touch by itself doesn’t make you fall in love. A love language entails our primary ways of communicating love to our significant others. For example, if your primary ways of expressing and receiving love are 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 this 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 people will have different love languages. Any man can have any love language and create a healthy relationship.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all reply to this query. Every individual is unique in their needs and desires. It is best to ask the person what kind of affection they like. If their preferred way of receiving love is through physical affection, observe and learn, and make mental notes. You can also simply ask how they like to be touched.