Increasing non-sexual touch can help to re-establish lost connections and can provide a pathway back to intimacy for couples that have lost their “spark”.
It is natural in relationships that have undergone significant life changes or challenges, to suddenly realise they have lost their intimacy and emotional connection. This often happens to first time or new parents who look up after months of caring for a newborn to realise that they haven’t experienced or maintained any intimacy with their partner. Or, it also happens when a couple’s children leave home, and the couple realises that their kids have been the centre of their relationship for years, and they’ve lost the basics of how to connect with each other.
Knowing how to reconnect and rebuild closeness can be difficult and awkward, and can leave individuals in a relationship feeling isolated.
But with proper attention and self-reflection, this issue is easily solved – particularly where it is not also associated with increased conflict or other relationship issues. Often, small changes to habits and behaviour can have a big influence on relationship satisfaction, and overall happiness.
Building intimacy through non-sexual physical contact
One of the key ways that couples can rebuild intimacy is to introduce or increase non-sexual touching in your relationship. Non-sexual touching includes things like hugs, snuggling, holding hands, or other ways of maintaining physical contact with your partner, without actually having sex or being intimate.
Non-sexual touching has many beneficial flow-on effects in your relationship. Its primary purpose is to increase connection most of the time you’re together, not just during sex itself. Greater connection generally leads to greater relationship satisfaction which benefits your parenting, home life and career. In particular, non-sexual touching can help to:
Soothe stress and anxiety;
Reduce isolation and loneliness;
Reduce feelings of grief and loss;
Improve quality of sex; and
Increase overall relationship satisfaction.
So how does non-sexual touch achieve all of these benefits? Touch affects a person physically by lowering their blood pressure and heart rate in response to stress. It lowers cortisol, our stress hormone, and release oxytocin which is also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’. When these hormones are affected by touch it can lift our moods, create happiness and strengthen the immune system. Touch relaxes muscles to sooth away aches and pains.
On a physiological level, being touched by our partners can help to regulate our emotional reactions. This is because of how interconnected romantic partners are: we are able to positively affect our partner, for example by being a calming influence when our partner is experiencing stress. This can lead to greater resilience – all through a caress, hug or loving touch.
Finally, non-sexual touch builds emotional connection by increasing trust, self-esteem and a creating a sense of safety. This in turn results in lower level of conflict, and less feelings of isolation.
Ideas for increasing non-sexual touch
There are many ways that you can introduce or increase non-sexual touch in your relationship. For the most part, it is a matter of being mindful of opportunities to connect with your partner physically, for example through:
1. Holding hands – it seems silly and childish but with phones, bags, kids, coffees, whatever we may have, we often have full hands that aren’t open to being help. Carrying less and actively seeking out your partners hand while getting on with your chores is a great way to increase connection.
2. Snuggling – frequently when we get home after a long day, we are too tired to even consider sex. But putting aside your iPhone or book for 10 minutes before you go to sleep and snuggling with your partner is a great way to increase intimacy at night. It provides a good opportunity to re-connect and touch base after a day when you may not have seen or interacted with you partner much. Making snuggling part of your night-time routine may also help you sleep better!
Snuggling is also a great way to stay connected during other leisure activities. If you and your partner are in the habit of watching TV for an hour or two every time, put aside your phones or other distractions and snuggle up on the couch instead! It’ll boost your relationship, and your enjoyment of the TV show.
3. Massages – another good one for exhausted parents. Nothing makes us feel more loved and supported than a good massage after a long day!
4. Holding their knee or thigh – this is a great passive one for when you can’t be as demonstrative with your touching. Placing your hand on your partner’s knee or mid-thigh while driving, having dinner with friends, playing with kids or other similar activities is a great way to just maintain contact throughout the day.
30-day touch challenge
If you want to experience the amazing benefits that increasing non-sexual touch can deliver, commit to a 30-day challenge to include intentional, non-sexual touch into your normal daily routine.
Collaborate with your partner at least 24 hours before to agree on a time and place that is suitable for you both so there is no ambiguity. Obviously if you are both enjoying the activity, then do it longer or more often during the day. At the end of each week, either journal or sit quietly to notice any changes in your relationship. We recommend you do the following:
Week 1 – Hold each another in a close hug for 1 minute (by the clock) twice a day (morning and night). During this time, no talking allowed. Simply just melt into one another and enjoy the sensation of being held. If it at first feels uncomfortable, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax but stay in your holding position it will get easier to more you do it.
Week 2 – Do the activity of week 1 and add spending at least 15 minutes touching once a day. You must be in close skin to skin non-sexual contact like cuddling in bed, sitting close on the couch or holding hands while walking in the street. We recommend accompanying the contact, with a neutral or pleasant activity like watching TV, reading, having a pleasant conversation or sharing positive experiences.
Week 3 – Do the activities of week 1 & 2 and add going for a walk for at least 30 min preferably after dinner. Talk together using only positive talk. For example, ask about each other day while the other listens, dream of what you want to achieve in your career, in your relationship, what do you want to be doing 2 or 5 years from now etc. Actively listen and engage with your partner.
Week 4 – Do the activities of al previous weeks and re-introduce any activity you used to enjoy doing. Decide together, do it and have fun. For example, you might go on a picnic, to a movie, walk along the beach, or play a sport.
By the end of this challenge, regular non-sexual touch will be a habit and will no longer be awkward or uncomfortable. Remember that the more you touch, the more connected your relationship will be!
We would love to hear how you went with the challenge, so please leave a comment below or contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story.