“Let's keep in touch,” is a phrase we've used.
The fact that we'd use the word “touch” this way helps demonstrate the degree to which humans are wired to “touch.” Touch is so significant that newborn babies suffer when they don't get sufficient physical touch, a syndrome called “failure to thrive.” In extreme cases, the child can die.
Researchers Matthew Hertenstein and Dacher Keltner report “Touch is central to human social life.” It “contributes to cognitive, brain and socioemotional development throughout infancy and childhood.”
Our need for touch continues even into adulthood. Expert Gary Chapman describes touch as one of the five basic ways we express love for others — what he calls the “Five Love Languages.” For many individuals, not “keeping in touch” means you no longer care.
Research provides some of the reasons why keeping in touch is especially vital in marriage. A gentle touch, whether a loving hug or a supportive hand on the shoulder:
•Can result in significant improvements in hemoglobin values. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen in red blood cells. Healthy hemoglobin levels help us feel energetic.
•Releases oxytocin, a bonding hormone, which creates warm feelings of trust. Oxytocin is released when couples hug and cuddle together, which helps strengthen their marital bond. Estrogen increases the effect of oxytocin, explaining why women like hugs even more than men.
•Reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Thus, touch also helps people relax and let go of the day's worries.
The combination of higher hemoglobin and oxytocin levels along with lower levels of cortisol also has a calming effect on the prefrontal areas of the brain, the location in the brain which helps regulate emotions. Calming the prefrontal areas helps them do what they do best: solve problems.
The entire process is not completely understood, but the meaning to the mind is clear: When your spouse gives you a gentle, supportive touch, your mind receives a powerful, soothing message that, “I'm in this with you, and I'll help carry the load.”
This explains why expert Christopher Oveis reports “couples who touch more are reporting more satisfaction in the relationship.” When both spouses feel the strength of their partnership through touch, every area of their relationship is strengthened.
What seems like small, insignificant touches during the day bring other benefits at night. Expert Barry McCarthy says couples who touch regularly simply to stay in touch also have more active sex lives. Sexual contact becomes much more natural when “one kind of touch flows into another.”
This isn't a matter of expecting one to lead to the other. Indeed, when one always leads to the other, it tends to cut down on both types of touching, which is not good for either spouse or the marriage.
Sexual intercourse is a very special and intimate form of touch, and it brings its own marital benefits. Women get a major release of oxytocin into their systems during intercourse, which helps strengthen the bonds with their spouse.
Males have a different neurochemical related to bonding: vasopressin. It floods men's brains during intercourse. Vasopressin has been called “the monogamy molecule,” since it increases his sense of responsibility, loyalty and emotional bonding toward the woman with whom he's been intimate.
A continuous flow of small touches during the day to the elbow, the shoulder or the small of the back, a foot rub, a kiss goodbye or hello, walking hand-in-hand, quick hugs, or sitting with your legs touching creates greater satisfaction within your marriage and improves your sex life.
So, by all means, remember to keep in touch with your spouse.
©2013, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.