The below post has been one of the most upvoted posts on our site. In this Year of Hindsight, we are revisiting several highly upvoted posts and are highlighting and updating them!
Ah, physical touch. This love language belongs to my sweet man. Eric is absolutely in love with back rubs, neck rubs, and hand rubs. The average person might get annoyed after twenty minutes of continual touch, but not my hubby. I could rub his back from the start of church until the end and he would still not be satiated. (And, he gets it honest. His dad is the same way!)
Physical touch can be a frustrating love language to speak before marriage for couples who are practicing abstinence; but, it is still possible to fill your sweetheart’s love tank without setting the house on fire! ~smile~ For the person with the love language of physical touch, touch does not normally mean sexual contact. (Some people believe they are physical touch oriented because they mistake a desire for sexual touch as a need for physical touch.)
If you are unsure of your language, consider your behavior throughout your childhood and adulthood. Is the need for physical touch (and the demonstration of it to others) a thread which runs through your life? Were you constantly seeking hugs and snuggles from your parents? Do you gravitate towards patting friends on the back or embracing them? Do you often offer congratulations through a form of physical touch: for example, a high five, hug, or handshake?
As is the case with all of our love language posts, our physical touch post has received significant traffic and interactions over the years and so we are happy to share it with you again during our year of Hindsight. We hope it blesses you and those you love!
For years, I thought physical touch was my primary love language. Recently, I took Gary Chapman’s online quiz and realized that Quality Time is my primary love language with Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation each coming in at a close second. Considering how much I ask Eric to spend time with me (e.g., please watch this TV show with me… please let’s go out to eat together, etc.) my new love language discovery makes sense; yet, a few years back, you would not have believed that physical touch was not my first love language.
As a child, I was constantly hugging or laying on someone. Even though I was a tall child, I remember asking my dad to pick me up and carry me around until I was eight years old. When I was fifteen, I sat in my poor grandmother’s lap and wanted to be cuddled. Though she probably loved the thought of me being “a little girl” again, it had to have hurt her legs and back! When Dad was watching TV, I’d crawl up on the bed behind him so I could snuggle up to him. I was that child (and, later, adult) who was always hugging someone. I was born to snuggle!
Eric is a Physical Touch person. Recently, I discovered I can lie beside him and watch an entire movie without touching him – as long as he is there with me. He, on the other hand, wants to cuddle. He likes me to rub his back in church. In fact, he often bends forward slightly to give me a hint… and if I do not take the hint, he nudges me playfully and smiles. The man loves to be touched. When he comes home from work, he wants hugs. When he is going through a hard time, he likes to lie on the bed and talk to me while I massage his tired back and neck. If he does not get enough physical touch, he starts feeling irritable and alone.
If you are dating, engaged to, or married to a Physical Touch person, it can be difficult to express love in his or her preferred language if physical touch does not come easily to you. In some homes, physical touch did not happen very much, so it can be awkward and unnatural. In other homes, physical touch was used only as a negative (e.g., physical punishment or sexual abuse), thus negative emotions are tied to physical touch. (Side note: if you have been victimized physically or sexually, we strongly recommend you see an experienced Bible-based counselor before (or after) getting married to work through those memories and wounds.)
Recommendations for Showing Love through Physical Touch:
Though everyone is different in the types of touch they prefer, hugs are typically the end all be all to those who speak “touch-ese.” Do you remember how often the family in the television show Full House hugged each other? It may seem overwhelming to some, but physical touchers do not see anything abnormal about it. Hugs are good for anytime, anywhere! The closing prayer at church? Time for a hug! Waiting to get into a concert? Time for a hug! Leaving to go to the grocery store? Time for a hug!
Hugs give physical touch people an added sense of security. In the midst of difficult circumstances, hugs show that you are there for your loved one, they are a source of deep comfort, and they release endorphins into the brain. Does a hug from someone you deeply love not make you feel better at the end of a rough day? Consider the following quote from WedMD:
“‘The gentle pressure of a hug can stimulate nerve endings under the skin that send calming messages to the brain and slow the release of cortisol,” explains Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami Medical School’s Touch Research Institute. And if your honey isn’t on hand? Field says other studies have found that a hug from a friend or a professional massage can also help banish tension.
Giving hugs to your sweetheart is not only good for him or her, but can also help you calm down and beat stress. Just remember almost anytime is a good time for a hug according to a physical toucher! However, it is good to discuss those times when hugs are not appreciated (e.g., when angry or during a fight, when working feverishly to meet a deadline, etc.).
Back rubs have a calming effect, much like hugs. Before marriage, you need to be careful to keep clothes on and save back or neck rubs for public places. Rubbing is also very sensual and can make it extremely difficult to keep from moving into a compromising position if you are in the “right place at the right time.” Consider rubbing your sweetheart’s neck in the car, stroking hair while talking, and rubbing his or her back gently during a movie. Small rubs throughout the day will keep a steady stream of love flowing into your physical toucher’s heart.
Holding hands is a subtle way to express affection. In a formal dining situation, you can gently reach beneath the table and take your girlfriend’s hand. If you are uncomfortable rubbing your boyfriend’s back in church, you can take his hand and sandwich it in between your hands. My mom coined the phrase “hand hug.” ~smile~ Most situations are not too formal for a touch of the hand. Holding hands often communicates, “I am here with you and for you” to the recipient. Again, discuss with your sweetie when he or she prefers holding hands and when it is best to refrain.
When to Touch
There are not many times when your physical toucher will turn down a hug, rub, snuggle, or stroke of the hand, but there will be some. Experience will teach you a lot about when to touch and when to hold back. As much as Eric likes to be touched, I have learned to keep my distance when he has a crazed, deadline-approaching, must finish this project look on his face. On the other hand, I have learned that he always wants to be touched in church. He wants to be greeted at the end of a long day with a big bear hug and he loves having his back rubbed at night. There is never a question in my mind about it! (Unless we are in the middle of an argument – in which case, he does not want to be touched until we reconcile.)
Before marriage, it is important to keep your touching above reproach and completely appropriate. If you feel convicted by the Holy Spirit after some questionable touching, you have crossed the line and need to repent. It is not easy and we applaud you for desiring to keep your relationship pure!
While touching can communicate love, it also can communicate hate, frustration, and indifference if used inappropriately. When Eric and I were dating, he decided it would be a good idea to tickle me incessantly. He did not heed my pleas for him to stop and in a moment of desperation I popped his back… hard.
My strong, vital Eric suddenly went limp. His reaction did not make sense to me at the time, but later I came to realize that I had used his primary means of giving and receiving love to communicate anger. Should he have stopped tickling me? Sure… but, I learned a lesson that day about physical touch. It can be a powerful way to show love, but inappropriate touch can be devastating to someone who primarily gives and receives love through touch.
Make Physical Touch a Habit
Have a hug tally board. If needed, record reminders in your digital calendar. Make a point to always hug your special someone as soon as you see him or her. Even if physical touch does not come easily to you, you can still make it a habit if desired. Do what you need to do to make sure your Physical Touch sweetie has a full love tank! ~ smile~
How have you used physical touch to communicate love to your family, friends, and relationships?(Originally published Aug 7, 2013)