- Increased cuddling in committed romantic relationships can increase relationship and sexual satisfaction.
- Cuddling occurs around sexual activity, but it is also perceived as a nurturing behavior.
- Not everyone wants to cuddle often, so it's best to check with one's partner about their affectionate needs.
When you come home after a long day of work and are physically, mentally, and even emotionally drained, being welcomed by the open arms of a loved one can be one of the most comforting things. In those moments, you probably feel loved, understood, and protected. The weight of the world seems to fall from your shoulders. Cuddling is a special affectionate touch behavior that we typically only share with our close partners.
Different from hugs, which are brief embraces, cuddling involves prolonged whole-body touching. Cuddling is a behavior that is reserved for those who we feel safe with and with whom we can be vulnerable with. For example, parents and children will cuddle together, building a strong relational and emotional bond. The focus of this blog post, however, is cuddling between romantic partners.
In the few reported studies on cuddling in committed romantic relationships, the average amount of time spent cuddling is about 30-40 minutes and occurs 3 to 5 times a week. Couples will typically cuddle in bed pre- and post-sex, as well as in the mornings.
There is no “right” way to cuddle, and cuddling positions can vary broadly. For example, some couples will engage in the typical “spooning” formation, or they may lay down facing one another with their legs intertwined. Others may sit on the couch with legs over a partner’s lap and arms wrapped around each other. To date, no study has investigated how different configurations of cuddling impact a relationship, if at all.
Research indicates many psychological, physiological, and relational health benefits to affectionate touch behaviors, and cuddling is included in that group. According to empirical studies, here are four reasons why you should cuddle more often with your partner:
- Cuddling improves relationship satisfaction. In an experimental study, increased cuddling for married couples resulted in statistically higher relationship satisfaction. This finding was particularly notable as the couples who increased their cuddling behaviors were compared to couples who increased time spent together over mealtimes and those who did not change their behavior.
- Cuddling helps maintain focus on your partner. In the same study described above, increased cuddling with a spouse also predicted statistically lower perceptions of available options outside of the relationship including things like other people or being single. By increasing cuddling, the focus is honed in on our romantic partner as opposed to thinking “what else is out there?”
- Cuddling releases oxytocin and promotes positive emotions. It’s no surprise that affectionate touch behaviors release oxytocin, fondly known as the “cuddle hormone.” Oxytocin is a natural love hormone that helps us feel closer to our partners. When we cuddle, we feel a surge of positive emotions such as love, adoration, and trust. While cuddling typically occurs around sexual activity, it is perceived to be a nurturing type of behavior rather than a sexual one.
- Cuddling after sex benefits your relationship. In a longitudinal study, the duration and quality of post-sex affection including cuddling are related to greater subsequent reports of relationship and sexual satisfaction. The time after sex presents an important relational bonding opportunity for couples. Couples can use this time to be close to each other physically and emotionally, sharing their thoughts and feelings, or not saying anything at all. In the period of time after sex, cuddling may be a crucial component to promoting future satisfaction.
Before you bolt to your partner for a cuddle session, it is important to point out that not everyone has the same tolerance for physical affection. Some people, even those in loving romantic relationships, may have a different limit on how much they want to be touched. Once someone’s affection tank is filled, any extra affectionate touch behavior, even well-intentioned, could in fact be draining. Because cuddling for some may not be the same endearing or wanted contact that it is for others, it is important to check in with your partner about whether they want to cuddle and even establish for how long.
Remember, cuddling doesn’t always have to lead to sex, and it can be a crucial behavior in the overall health and well-being of a romantic relationship. There are several benefits to increased cuddling, but only if we maintain open communication and be honest with ourselves and our partners about our affection needs.
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Light, K., Grewen, K., & Amico, J. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69(1), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.002
Muise, A., Giang, E., & Impett, E. A. (2014). Post sex affectionate exchanges promote sexual and relationship satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1391–1402. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0305-3
van Anders, S. M., Edelstein, R. S., Wade, R. M., & Samples-Steele, C. R. (2013). Descriptive experiences and sexual vs. nurturant aspects of cuddling between adult romantic partners. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 553–560. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0014-8
van Raalte, L. J., Floyd, K., & Mongeau, P. A. (2021). The effects of cuddling on relational quality for married couples: A longitudinal investigation. Western Journal of Communication, 85(1), 61-82. https://doi.org/10.1080/10570314.2019.1667021