Touch as Communication

When conflict arises, and it does, do you know how to best be there for your partner(s)? Really think about it before you jump to the conclusion, “Of course I do! That’s my partner!”

The recent passing of Kobe Bryant hit both a partner of mine and me hard. It was the death of someone neither of us knew personally, but it was impactful, nonetheless. We came together and talked a bunch, and then we gave each other some space. Then, as time went on, I felt a very unfulfilled need begin to arise.

Before being able to identify the source of my internal conflict and why it had manifested, it was out in the open, however; my irritation came out in my tone when asked the question of what I wanted to do that evening. I was frustrated and had no answers for either of us as to the reason. Before things got too heated, we decided to take a break from the conversation we had started; he took a walk and I took a shower.

While alone, I went back to the moment he arrived at my place. In general, it’s not unusual upon first seeing each other not to embrace right away, but we always eventually get around to giving each other a hello hug and kiss. I thought about how tonight, instead of embracing first, we dove straight into conversation, and how by the time I was ready for our embrace some time later, he had become momentarily busy on his phone. Instead of being open to me, he brushed me off and our hug was put on further hold. Although only for a few moments, those moments for me lasted a lifetime. I identified that as being the start of my frustration even though at the time it didn’t bother me much.

I thought about how after our embrace, and it was a long one (rough day), we continued to talk and eventually got to the point where we were simply enjoying our time together, genuinely. But then there was a shift.

While still in the shower, I identified how unaware I was in the moment that feelings of lack and distance were growing stronger and stronger inside me until my frustration was palpable. I felt as if I was in a room by myself, spending time alone. It was as if my partner wasn’t even with me.

And all because of what? A lack of physical touch. I needed to be comforted! And loved on, cared for! It was like a eureka moment in the shower and pretty soon after, I finished up, eager to talk about what I had discovered in my alone time, and anxious to share my feelings with him so that we could get on the same page (and so I could touch him!). It was especially not a good day to feel alone or lonely.

By the time we got to the bottom of things, a shift in our relationship had happened. We had discovered that we have entirely different ways of coping with adversity. I like physical closeness; he likes to be left alone. His needs were being met (I thought it best to give him space which he later admitted was the right thing to do) while mine were being starved (the space created a lack of connection for me as we were in the same room but not within reach).

He was hurting, and so the nurturer in me naturally wanted to give him what he needed. But for the first time in our relationship, we were both hurting, and I was needing to be nurtured, too. We hadn’t ever talked about how to best act with each other in this type of situation; we hadn’t yet communicated in order to compromise so that both of our needs could get met in this kind of situation. We simply had no idea how to best be there for each other at the same time.

I was watching the movie Chloe the other day on Netflix, and at one point, the husband says to the wife when she asks what has happened to them, “You stopped touching me,” and I felt that so hard. To me, that’s a whole love language.

Touch can be expressed in many different ways within a relationship. Touch communicates positive emotions such as, but not limited to, affection, security, appreciation, protection, concern, and affection. A lack of physical touch has been proven to be linked to depression.

I speak a lot on love languages (especially since reading the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman) because I’m a huge advocate for communication in a relationship. Communication is all about understanding and feeling understood.

Touch, to me, is essential. I had identified that before I read the book, but before reading it I wasn’t sure how touch could be a form of communication. I thought it was just something I enjoyed. Considering present relationships and looking back on past ones, I now recognize how huge an aspect touch is in how I communicate with my partners. And although being touched is and feels great, someone allowing me to touch them is where communication comes in for me.

Someone being open to being touched by me lets me know that that person is receptive to me. It provides me with the assurance I need to feel secure in order to remain open with someone, i.e. to feel understood.

To a person who values touch so highly, a loved one denying them touch is like giving them the silent treatment. And to a person who likes or needs to be touched in order to feel love from others, not touching them could be disastrous for their self-esteem and for the relationship.

We all communicate best in different ways. It’s important to not only learn how you communicate best, but also how your partner(s) best communicate. And that takes, well, communication.

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