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