Being a Better Husband: Touch


Touch is so much more than sexual urges. And so much more important.

[This is the latest in a series I started called How to be a Better Husband, in which I take what doesn’t work in a relationship, turn it upside down and then apply it back to the marriage (along with my two cents). Because we aren’t really from Mars or Venus. We’re just humans who need to learn new habits.]

Human touch is one of the most important human needs. For all of us. Every single person needs to be touched on a regular basis by other members of the human family. And we need to touch in return.

One of the wisest people I know says that we have four basic human needs: food, water, laughter, and the touch of relatives. When we’re missing any one of those, even for short periods, we suffer.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten that piece somewhere along our road to adulthood (yes, I hear you ladies shouting “We haven’t!” in the background… ), or we’ve turned touch into a sex-only need, or maybe we’re uncomfortable in our own skin and hence are leery of making a body-to-body connection with another human.

Whatever it is, we’ve managed to distance ourselves with our mammalian needs (yes, did just say that), and turned touch into something that almost always has sexual undertones.

For example: The modern man-hug. Growing up, I would always feel uncomfortable when I got a hug from another guy (even though that didn’t happen too often in the circles I was in), yet in contrast, I was also on the wrestling team, rolling around on the mat with other guys wearing hardly any clothing. Go figure. At social gatherings, men shook hands. They didn’t hug, they didn’t kiss cheeks in the Euro style. They shook hands. Women hugged and kissed each other in greeting sometimes, but never men. When men did hug, it was a side-hug, or a “lean over and touch each other’s shoulders, while keeping your lower body far away from the other guy” hug.

But then, I started going to hippie-style gatherings—potlucks and drum circles and sweat lodges and the like—and nobody there shook hands. If you stuck out your hand and said “Good to meet you”, people would just ignore it and hug you anyway, and your hand would get trapped between the two of you. These hugs were not side-hugs. They were natural, comfortable, family-style hugs, as if you were hugging a child, or a child hugging their parent. There was no stiffness of body and fear of sexual interpretation from a man hugging a woman, nor a man hugging another man. It was a greeting, pure and simple, which acknowledged our shared human family. And it feels good!

(Newsflash: It feels good to get a huge hug from another human.)

So… to make a long aside even longer, when I go to gatherings and events now where there is a mixed crowd—huggers and non-huggers—I can see the fear in the non-huggers eyes as they get approached by one of us (I let the other person lead – if they want to shake, I’ll shake), and then the virtual cringe that happens when they realize their body is touching another body, and it’s not their partner’s. And yet I see a contrast between that and the prevalence in which sex and sexual imagery and innuendos and language appear in our mass media (not to mention the porn industry, which is a whole different can of worms) and are accepted in mainstream society. T&A sells, period. We will accept fantasy or fictional touch, or the promise of touch, as long it remains outside our real lives—supermodels and playmates and actors and actresses—but not real touch, in a natural way, from people we actually see and talk to and live around, like our friends and coworkers and neighbors. </long rambling aside>

Back on topic:

How to be a Better Husband: Touch Her

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret here: Our wives love to be touched. OK, so that’s not such a little secret, is it? In fact, it just might be the single loudest silent plea coming from homes all across the world: “Touch us! Show us loving affection with your hands and your words every single day of our lives together.”

Don’t wait until you get into bed, and don’t wait until you want sex, and don’t always touch her in a sexual way. You can make contact with her body by holding her hand, by giving her a massive hug, by rubbing her shoulders or her feet, by running your fingers across her back when she walks past you. You already know how she likes to be touched. Just do it more often. And don’t be in a hurry to get it over with and get on to the next thing. This is also for your enjoyment, so take a minute and enjoy it.

This can be a really tricky thing to learn—and not only to learn it, but to practice it regularly. To be quite honest, I’m one of the “tends to revert to the original programming when unattended” models of husband, and am totally guilty of getting sucked into my own self-contained world (as opposed to my wife, whose physical presence acts as a magnet on whatever of our children are nearby—sometimes all of them) and I have to really make a point of changing how I physically interact with her.

[If you seriously do not know where to touch her, here’s an interactive cheat sheet.]

—Photo Juliana Coutinho/Flickr

About Derek Markham

Derek Markham is a writer, father, and social media butterfly who builds websites and teaches small business owners how to integrate new media into their marketing and PR efforts.


  1. I wish some one would have informed my husband about touch 45+ years ago . That’s how long I’ve been waiting to be touched. Since day one he hasn’t any interest in me, I’m just another warm body on earth. We did have sex once on our wedding night then that was it no more. He said he hated sex with me and told me it will never happen again. To him it was so disgusting, smelly, and messy that he threw up. He blew off our honey moon went home and moved to the basement and informed me he volunteered for the midnight shift, he stayed there 40+ years. He turned himself into a workaholic. We haven’t talked in years, and to this day still avoids me. I don’t care any more what happens to me or him. I’ll be happy when its all over.

  2. I find that compromise and being open-minded is the essentials to a relationship. My wife and I are different any many ways but we acknowledge the fact that we are, but that’s were being open-minded plays a role. We all are set in our own way of thinking because of the factors of life that we’ve experienced, but we must also realize that our significant other has had their own as well so their needs may be a little different from our own. I myself like support and encouragement where as my wife likes touch and comforting. But in the end we all really want the same thing, for someone to love us. So keeping an open mind to the needs of others as opposed to just our own can make a monumental difference

  3. Loving,Touching, Squissing well put by yourself and Journey!

  4. “Because we aren’t really from Mars or Venus”
    IMNSHO, we are. 🙂
    Men and women – on average – have lots of difference, even on a neurological level (and ignoring those differences usually leads to trouble).
    But we also share lots of commonalities, and need for touch is one of them. So, kudos to your article and to your point!
    When someone is not being touched for a long time, s/he begins to “die inside”.

  5. Hey Derek – I totally agree. Non-sexual touch is really important to me in a relationship. Feeling sexy and wanted in a sexual is good too. But if he’s only touching me for sexual reasons, then we have a problem.

  6. touch = life says:

    If affectionate, spontaneous, joyful touch goes, the marriage is dead. (So is any relation in which this happens…)

  7. I wrote this the other day:

    In both of my ex-marriages, the touching suffered. Once because she dictated that touch should lead to sex and once because it just hurt to much to feel how much had been lost.

    Hell is not being touched for five years.

  8. This article is founded on the stereotype that women are non-sexually affectionate but men aren’t, or that they are far more non-sexually affectionate. The article presents no evidence of that nor have I ever seen any. The article would be more relevant to real life if it was directed to husbands OR wives.

    For example, I am the one who is far more affectionate say I love you more often. It used to bother men until I came to grips with the fact that that’s just not her and that other things in life demonstrate her feelings more than being someon she’s not.

    Touch is nice but life is so complex that it ends up being a very small factor in the overall scheme of things. For me, the I love you’s and the affectionate touching have no effect on how much sex there is because it’s always been part of everyday normal life for us.

    • Eric –

      Thanks for the comment. The danger of writing and publishing anything is that readers will take exception to the assumptions in it, as it appears you have done. Which is all well and good, except that I am not saying that touch is the ‘be-all, do-all’ answer to being a better husband (or wife), nor am I inferring anything about women being ‘far more non-sexually affectionate’. What I am saying is that for many of the guys and their partners that I have known in my life (assuming you might accept personal experience to count as evidence), especially those who have been in long term relationships, the lack of affection (and touch is one way to show it) causes resentment in the other partner.

      I’m not relating affectionate touching to being a factor in how much sex there it – I’m saying that many guys ONLY touch affectionately in relation to having sex.

      And for sure, there are many types of men (and women), including those for whom touch is natural and easy, so perhaps it’s not an issue for you. Like they say, “Take what you can use, and leave the rest.”

      I still stand by my statement that touch is a big deal for humans, not just a “very small factor”.


      • Derek – I’m not really criticizing you (or even taking exception to your article), just giving you food for thought moving forward, for whatever it’s worth. Gender stereotypes (the implied “men always do this, women always do that”) aren’t always accurate. This is an example.

        I don’t disagree with your overall message that touch is a good thing. Remeber, I’m the one who does it far more – except that it was/is gender specific. (Maybe you felt the need to make it so for this website, I don’t know) You could just as easily have titled the article “How to be a Better Spouse” and used some of your anecdotal experiences to demonstrate how this has affected some couples you know.

        Here is an example of what I mean: “the lack of affection (and touch is one way to show it) causes resentment in the other partner.” Had you toned the article as you did this statement, using “the other partner” rather than implying that men are the ones who aren’t affectionate in general unti it’s time for sex, then you would have made a stronger point.

        Having been married for a while, with a couple kids, and having dealt with serious illness and other married couple challenges, I can tell you that (for me) commitment, love, patience, kindess, forgiveness, and compassion are a bigger deal than an affectionate but passing touch at the kitchen sink. Every day of the week.

        • Cheers, mate, thanks for the input.

        • Kirsten (in MT) says:

          Thank you, Eric!

          Derek makes an important point here that we should all be checking in with our loved ones-especially intimate partners-and attending to their needs.

          However, I second Eric’s point that not everyone’s needs are the same in this area. Most of my comments here have to do with the aside on hugging, not the crux of the article.

          I don’t physically touch other members of the human family on a regular basis. I touch my dog far more than I do other people, and it feels much more natural to me in most cases. It’s not clear to me that this is causing me any particular suffering. I am sure, though, that I suffer when faced with the choice of either submitting to and faking enjoyment of the intrusive touchy-feely business from every Joe and Mary who happens by on the street or being pigeon-holed as a snob, a standoffish person, or some other sort of social reject or defective human.

          I consider a hug to be an intimate gesture. I feel violated whenever someone of either sex comes in for a hug or more when we barely know each other. I have a special name for such a move- the assault hug.

          When I’m in an intimate relationship, I like to lavish physical affection on my partner and receive similar affection back. I just don’t want people touching me in an intimate way without invitation if that’s not my relationship with them. Physical affection is one of the ways I let my partner know that he is particularly special to me- he gets special privileges that I don’t just hand out willy-nilly to anybody who happens along.

          I do respect other people’s needs are different than mine, and do make an effort to go out of my comfort zone to offer that kind of gesture to friends who I know value it. I will also offer hugs in certain intimate circumstances such as weddings, funerals, when someone is going through an emotional trauma, and so on. If someone I know just naturally extends a hug because that’s what he or she does, I’ll do my best not to make it awkward.

          Likewise, I particularly appreciate it when I am not pressured to behave in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Almost anyone can extract a hug from me one way or another, but a coerced hug does not equal a voluntarily exchanged hug.

          I also wonder about the potential social consequences of wiping out the gradation of physical gestures by which to express interest in potential intimates. If everybody hugs everybody willy-nilly, and then kisses everyone, and so on- if all of these intermediate gestures become ordinary- what’s left for adolescents short of sexual activity they’re not necessarily ready for by which to express their budding interest in someone? I like the idea of having a clear spectrum of queues available so that 12-year-old girls will not have get on their knees and do something they’re not really ready for just to let a boy know they LIKE like him (as opposed to just liking him).

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