When was the last time you held your partner’s hand? While some couples adhere to limited PDA rules, science has now come to confirm that touch is highly effective in conveying empathy and emotion. While many moms have read that skin to skin touch with a baby promotes well developed emotional IQ’s in babies. What many of us fail to realize as that touch is just as necessary into adulthood, especially amongst couples.
Neuroscience Behind Touch and Love
A fairly recent study conducted by researchers at University of Colorado and University of Haifa, when couples hold hands, their brainwaves sync, and pain is eased. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180301094822.htm
“It appears that pain completely interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples and touch brings it back,” says Pavel Goldstein, one of the study’s researchers.
While they aren’t completely sure how this works, Goldstein suggests “Empathetic touch can make a person feel understood, which in turn — according to previous studies — could activate pain-killing reward mechanisms in the brain.”
My neuroscience hubby, Gaby Pell suggests, “Pain is generated in the brain and therefore if touch affects the brain rhythms one can affect the other.”
Gaby added, “Brain rhythms reflect the workings of the brain as an exquisite network of different brain circuits working in concert. Touching someone in an emotional connection expands the network. It makes sense that physical connection with a person you feel close to expands the system from one to two brains. In that moment of physical contact the brain networks connect across as well as within the brain.”
Use COVID as a Great Excuse to Touch the One’s You Love!
In the age of COVID this information is both disheartening and encouraging. While most of us have been socially distancing with friends and even family members, we have been spending more time with our nuclear families and our partners. This closeness can be trying at times, but many can agree it can enhance effects on a relationship as well. Instead of going out to a public movie theater we are cuddling up on the sofa watching the Queen’s Gambit. Instead of eating out in restaurants we sit down to dinner at home , cooking together in less than 6 feet (2 meters) apart with some couples even claiming they are washing and drying dishes together! A recipe for love!
“In an age of limited personal interaction, it’s imperative we don’t neglect the need to touch. In researching touch I stumbled on the lyrics for “Touch Me” by the Doors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6bRukfcUf0
It turns out the lead guitarist Bobby Krieger wrote the lyrics after a fight with his girlfriend, as trivia hounds would have it. The song was originally named “Hit me.“ It seems Krieger had changed his tune and later renamed the song Touch me. Interesting. Either way, he was seeking some sort of physical contact from the woman he loved.
The Therapeutic Approach
As a therapist it makes perfect sense that empathetic touch reduces pain. Sadly, the reverse is true as well. The more couples abstain from physical touch the more disconnected they feel and the smaller arguments snowball into savage arguments. Over the course of the 20 years as a Marriage and couple’s therapist, I have come across many couples who suffered bitter arguments. The one thing holding them together was that their physical intimacy was so powerful for them, it almost made the painful wound of the argument disappear.
This isn’t to say that physical touch is a cure all. If only! However, for those of us for whom physical touch doesn’t come naturally or isn’t our primary love language, it would seem a good idea to begin consciously incorporating physical touch as much as possible into your life with someone you love!
So next time you find yourself brushing past your partner , reach out and hold hands because you don’t need to be a Neuroscientist to know that when you hold hands you feel happy inside, you just need to listen to the Beatles.
Micki Lavin-Pell is a professional Marriage therapist and Relationship Coach. Check out her website for more information about how she can greatly improve the success of your relationships: https://www.mickilavinpell.co.il.