The last of the Five Love Languages is Physical Touch. This one is in some ways very easy and in some ways very hard. It’s very easy because it’s pretty clear what we’re referring to when we say “physical touch.” But it can also be very hard because for many people, it’s simply not natural. Let’s explore further.
What it Looks Like
As with all the other Love Languages, Physical Touch is for some way the main thing they need to feel loved. Words are nice, gifts are delightful, but they don’t help such a person to feel truly connected and loved. To bond with a Touch person, then, you need to have physical contact. This does not by any means refer only to romantic or sexual contact. After all, the Love Languages apply equally well to nonromantic relationships, including parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, etc. Rather, consider the many ways you can engage in physical contact with others: a hug or a peck on the cheek for your spouse as you leave for work in morning; holding hands with or patting the head of a young child; even knocking a friend on the back or giving a firm handshake. To a person whose love language is Physical Touch, these create connection more than any other mode.
Adding more touch into your regular communications can be fairly simple. Instead of a quick hello when you come home at night, add a quick hug to your quick hello. When you pass by your spouse on the way down to do laundry, squeeze his/her arm as you cross paths. These simple acts create a constant conversation of connection throughout your days, in the same way that if you speak a different Love Language you might get a boost from even a small gift or passing compliment.
Of course, in romantic relationships there is a unique expression of touch that needs to be mentioned, namely, the sexual relationship. Sexual touch is naturally an expression of love and connection for most people. To people who receive love via Physical Touch, however, it is often front and center in a romantic relationship. (This is not always the case, however; just as there are different “dialects” in the other languages, so too some people find a foot massage a more loving experience than sex.) For such people, making sure the sexual relationship is strong and healthy – and this is not necessarily something that comes easily to most couples – is vital for a strong and healthy relationship overall. Be sure to devote the time and attention to this aspect of your relationship that it deserves, and don’t assume that it will come naturally just because it did when you were 19.
What is difficult about this Love Language is that people seem to have very strong inclinations one way or the other on this. We all know some people we’d call “touch-feely” people, and some we definitely would not. This comes partially from our natural inborn tendencies and partially from the environments we grow up in. Even more so than with other Love Languages, Physical Touch feels unnatural and uncomfortable for some people. That said, it is generally something a person can become more comfortable with. (Some people are physiologically very sensitive to touch and other sensory inputs, and may actually not be able to overcome their aversion to touch. In relationships where one party is of such a nature and the other one is seeking more physical closeness, joint counseling is probably important to pursue.)
Like with anything else, start slow. Don’t go for big, extended hugs at first; try a bicep squeeze or a hand on the shoulder. Work your way up gradually to more significant expressions of touch, keeping in mind the value of your efforts to your spouse. Make sure to look for, and ask for, positive reinforcement to reassure yourself that you’re on the right track. If you are on the receiving end, be sure to offer positive feedback, verbally and nonverbally, to encourage your partner to keep it up. If you ignore their efforts or regard them as too little to be significant, you are unlikely to see them improve in this area.
This post wraps up the exposition of the five different Love Languages. Perhaps one or two of them resonated with you, or seems to describe your partner. Perhaps you can’t quite tell. In the next post I’ll talk a little bit about how to determine which Love Languages fit you and your partner the best.