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Why Affection Means Everything in a Relationship

Can kissing really lower your cholesterol?

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It is no surprise that affection is important in relationships—but have you ever thought about how important it truly is? Consider this: Affection is the Number One reason couples seek therapy (Doss et al., 2004).

Following is a summary of research studies that highlight key benefits of affectionate communication.

In some of my earlier work, we argued that affection may be a “thermometer” that allows a person to gauge a partner's interest (Horan & Booth-Butterfield, 2010). We based this claim on our findings that affectionate communication was related to relational investment. Specifically, we found, the frequency with which you expressed affection to and received affection from a partner was directly related to your commitment and satisfaction—and research documents that satisfaction and commitment are important, as they predict relational persistence over a 15-year period. (Read more.)

Uniquely, we found that the amount of affection you express to your partner best predicts your commitment. Conversely, we found, the amount of affection you receive from your partner best predicts your satisfaction. This suggests that expressing, compared to receiving, affection accounts for different relational benefits.

In another study, I examined how affection relates to transgression responses. Specifically, I wanted to discover whether affection might lead to enhanced responses to partners’ mistakes. Findings revealed that the amount of affection individuals received from partners was negatively related to feeling hurt; perceptions of severity; and obsessive/intrusive thoughts. Surprisingly, expressing affection was unrelated to these perceptions.

The above findings together suggest that affection is important in both good and troubled times. Logically, then, theorists (see Kory Floyd) argue that affection enhances closeness; the emerging research supports this claim.

Extending this focus, though, is the argument that affection enhances physiological functioning. As a final example of affection’s importance, consider that recent research found that increased kissing in relationships was linked to decreases in cholesterol. (Read more.)

These findings just might give new meaning to the trite and satirical phrase, Hug it out.

  • Horan, S. M. (2012). Affection exchange theory and perceptions of relational transgressions. Western Journal of Communication, 76, 109-126. doi: 10.1080/10570314.2011.651548
  • Horan, S. M., & Booth-Butterfield, M. (2010). Investing in affection: An investigation of affection exchange theory and relational qualities. Communication Quarterly, 58, 394-413. doi: 10.1080/01463373.2010.524876
  • See also: Floyd, K. (2006). Communicating affection: Interpersonal behavior and social context. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Sean M. Horan is a Communication professor. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealDrSean. His expertise area is communication across relationships, with topics including deception, affection, workplace romance, sexual risk/safety, attraction, deceptive affection, and initial impressions. His work/commentary has appeared on CNN, ABC, Fox, The Wall Street Journal, and more.

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