A parent cuddles, strokes, and rocks an infant to comfort it. An older sibling takes the hand of a younger one to guide safe passage across a busy street. A pat on the shoulder says, “I applaud you,” and a back massage acknowledges, “I know you are hurting." A hand held while weaving through a crowd insists on maintaining a connection; a hug brings consolation. The warmth of a snuggle, the comfort of holding and being held, the reassurance of a touch on your arm that shows understanding. In this post I address ways in which touching can show “I love you.”
I do not include sexual touching, given that its meanings are so complex and misunderstandings concerning them can be so common; an excellent article by Jessica Bennett in The New York Times surveys these issues. Nor do I address touches asked for and received from strangers, such as those described in a December 30, 2016 Modern Love column in the Times.
Instead, I discuss touching within close relationships that can vividly illustrate “Pay attention to what I do, not what I say.” These nonverbal messages of love can be the most powerful and honest of all methods of communication. As Fabrice Bousteau recently wrote, "The more you touch, the more you're touched."
Indeed, as Bousteau notes, the magic of Greek statues emanates from their ability to evoke the sense of touch. With eyes closed, their sculptors ran fingers across faces until they were internalized, becoming a part of the one who gained knowledge through touch. Recognizing the often unconscious impact of touch and agreeing on its interpretation is essential when it is used to show love.
What forms can non-sexual touching take?
How do meanings of touch show love?
Why does touching show love?
To summarize, touch is a basic way to show love. Partners need to let each other know—through their responses as recipients or behaviors as initiators—what messages are being sent and whether they agree with those that were received.
How has touch helped you better understand that you are loved? How has it helped you to better express your own love? Can you describe situations when it has taken you where words could never go?
Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower
Bousteau, F. (January, 2017). Touched... Air France Magazine, pages 23-24.
Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13, 673-685.
Lustig, M. W. & Koester, J. (1996). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. New York: HarperCollins.