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Seven Reasons to Be More Physically Affectionate

Science explains why hugging is healthy.

Whether you’re a touchy-feely person or not, there are multiple reasons to be more physically affectionate in your close relationships. Here are seven, with links to the research:

1. Physical affection releases feel-good hormones. One of the reasons why hugging, holding hands, and touching feel good to us is that these behaviors elevate our level of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Oxytocin is increased during sexual orgasm and also as a result of affectionate touch, as this study demonstrates.

2. Physical affection predicts marital love. Although love between spouses tends to predict their level of physical affection, the reverse is also true. That is, the amount of physical affection between husbands and wives predicts how much they say they love each other, as this study shows.

3. Physical affection is related to lower blood pressure. Among women, those who receive more hugs from their romantic partners have lower resting blood pressure, as this study illustrates. It is unclear whether the same is true for men.

Physical affection is beneficial in close relationships

4. Physical affection makes you appear more trustworthy.

Being physically affectionate can even improve how others see you. According to this study, engaging in affectionate touch increases how trustworthy you appear.

Physical affection is beneficial in close relationships

4. Physical affection makes you appear more trustworthy.

5. Physical affection reduces stress hormones. In romantic couples, increasing physical affection lowers daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as this study shows.

6. Physical affection is associated with higher relationship satisfaction. This study found that romantic partners are more satisfied with their relationships the more physically affectionate they are with each other.

7. Physical affection today puts you in a better mood tomorrow. The benefits of physical affection aren't confined to the moment. For women, engaging in physical affection with a loved one predicts an increase in positive mood the following day, according to this study.

None of these observations is a reason to start hugging people indiscriminately, of course. The benefits of physical affection are largely confined to close relationships. Indeed, receiving physical affection from a stranger often causes stress. In some situations—such as a nurse holding a patient’s hand—affection can be beneficial even if a close personal relationship doesn’t exist, but those situations are the exception, not the rule.

With loved ones, however, physical affection is often a boon to relationship quality, physical health, and mental well-being. For these reasons, it’s good to make time for affection!

Find out more! Subscribe here to receive my free report, Inviting Love: Six Strategies for Increasing Affection in Your Life, plus my free newsletter featuring additional information on this topic and resources for communicating better in your close relationships.