When my husband and I took The Five Love Languages quiz from Gary Chapman’s book, we saw very clearly where we miss each other entirely in our relationship. Touch is his No. 1 love language. Mine is not. So the fact that we have lasted 25 years in spite of this blatant incompatibility flies in the face of all the science behind eHarmony. But that’s the beauty of the love languages book—once you figure out what his love language is you can learn it and speak it—often.
Touch is definitely not my native language. It’s low on my list of things that make me feel loved. Touch from strangers feels horrible. I feel that American culture has gone too far in promoting the hug as a greeting between strangers, or just-introduced acquaintances. Handshake is better. Nod is much better. That said, it is equally true that if someone makes it a point never to touch me, I feel similarly awkward. Touch is not the only way to greet someone or to show affection. It is, however, a must-have for marriage. I think people may have endured marriages in previous centuries in which touching was never tolerated—separate beds, bedrooms, castles, all that, unless the country needed an heir to the throne. Anyway, none of that is our reality here in the 21st Century United States. And when people like our clinical psychologist friend Val Farmer list out the culprits that bring marriages down, they list lack of affection and sexual fulfillment.
Of course, more than just touching, affection also includes doing and saying things so that your love is expressed. If all you talk about are the logistics for accomplishing your weekly calendar, the weather, etc., you may be creating an affection deficit. But if you say sweet things, give little gifts like breakfast in bed, fold his laundry, or make time to take a walk together, you’re showing affection. (In case you missed it those are all examples of the four other love languages: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and quality time.)
However, touch is the one language that is required for every marriage—at least sexually. No matter what your husband’s love language, he will want sex. Lots of things will get in the way of this—being busy, tired, having a lot of conflicts and anger, nagging, put-downs, etc., but the drive is there. Couples who can figure out how to put aside whatever else is happening and focus on each other sexually have better marriages. Even in the busiest seasons—being parents of young children with crazy travel schedules, etc., letting go of all that mental and physical stress and just being together in bed dynamically impacted our relationship. Actually, sexual activity became a focus in those early years because of an extremely low entertainment budget. I remember one time sitting down with my husband and actually listing out all the things we could do for free entertainment and sex was at the top of the list. Not a bad idea.
The other thing that’s important about touch is that whether or not it feels right to you, if this is his love language you have to speak it. That does not mean you have to have a make out session every time he enters a room. It can be as simple as touching his arm while you talk to him or greeting him with hugs and kisses is a must if he is a touch person. We make an exception to this when I am picking him up from international flights or other dirty, sweaty stuff. When we were first married I remember picking him up one night after he had been out fighting a forest fire for a few days. (He did that for awhile.) He got into the car and shut the door and smiled at me—which was good because all I could see were his white teeth in the middle of a completely smoked black face. No hugs or kisses for him right then.
These greeting and goodbye rituals that involve touching are important in a marriage. Both partners bring whatever traditions their own families had and sometimes those are quite different. My daughter is working through that with her fiancé. His family is a kiss-and-hug greeting family. So when she doesn’t kiss and hug hello and goodbye it’s hard for her fiancé not to take that as a lack of affection. Her longing for touch is about as low as mine, however, so it never occurs to her that doing something other than saying, “see you later,” is the wrong move.
I’ve coached her from my own experience, to try and pay more attention to those greetings and goodbyes and to hug and kiss even when she is not feeling it. The payout from that sort of intentionality is exponential. I coached her on the incidental touch, too. Sit close; hold hands; rub shoulders, etc. It is all magical, and not just for a marriage in which one partner has a high value on touch, but in any marriage. After nearly 25 years my husband’s love of touch is rubbing off on me—literally.
Rebecca works in Kids Ministry at Flatirons is married and has three children of her own. Figuring out ways for all these kids to understand the love of Jesus consumes the bulk of her time. The rest is spent reading, writing, gardening and cooking.