Reader Question: What if Touch Isn’t My Love Language?

by | Nov 26, 2018 | Uncategorized | 19 comments

When your spouse's love language doesn't match your own, what do you do? Here's some tips and advice for those who aren't strong "touchers" but have partners who are!
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What do you do if touch isn’t your love language–but others in your family crave touch?

On Mondays I like to put up a reader question and take a stab at answering it–sometimes in a post, and sometimes in a video. Today I had a question that I also answered a few years ago, and I’d like to address it again.

Basically, teaching our kids appropriate relationships with the opposite sex pretty much requires that you show some affection towards both your kids and your spouse. They need to see healthy relationships, and they need to get some affection from you. And sometimes family members have touch as a love language, and they need you to be physically affectionate. But how can you be more affectionate to your spouse and your kids if you’re just not a “touchy” person?

Reader Question: What if Touch Isn't My Love Language?

A reader asks:

Reader Question

I have never been very huggy, kissy, and feely. It makes me uncomfortable. Even with my husband. Now sure why this is. But he is very touchy. Not just sex, but just touching, hugging, and kissing. Any ideas on how to enjoy touching? How to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling? How to be more affectionate, to enjoy being together?

Here are some thoughts I wrote back in 2012 (with some updated funny family pics!). And stay tuned for something really funny at the end:

1. Recognize how Important Touch Is–whether or not touch is your love language

Hugging is actually linked to healthier hearts. One Smart Heart article says:

Well, it appears that human contact through hugs lowers blood pressure and reduces stress, which cuts the risk of heart disease. Hugs have also been shown to improve overall mood, increase nerve activity, and a host of other beneficial effects. Positive physical touch has an immediate anti-stress effect, slowing breathing and heart rate.
Here’s how it works. When you touch and hug, your body produces oxytocin, the bonding hormone that makes you feel closer to someone, and that also reduces blood pressure. So hugging is a good thing!
I have seen these stats before, but I don’t know where they originate. However, I’m pretty sure they’re right:

If we know hugs are that important, then it’s easier to start “embracing” the idea–and the practice!

2. Be Deliberate About Hugging and Showing Affection

Now that being said, I’m not really a touchy person on average. I’m always touching my husband, but I don’t hug friends very often (though interestingly I have no problem hugging business/speaking acquaintances I don’t see very often. Weird). I have to make a point to remember to hug my mom. I have noticed my older daughter Rebecca getting like this, too. While she touches her own sister a ton, she doesn’t really instigate hugs with me or with her dad. She hugs some friends, but she’s not overly touchy.

My younger daughter Katie, on the other hand, is a total touch person. Can you see the difference?

A few years back, probably when Becca was about 11 and Katie 9, I realized that I touched Katie a lot more than I touched Becca, because Katie will instigate it. So I made a point of starting to touch Becca more, and it really does help.

I just tell myself, several times a day: it’s time to hug Becca. Or, when she walks by me, I stroke her hair, or pat her hand or something. I just reach out and touch. It’s not entirely natural to me, but I make a point of it because I know we both need it.

Let me tell you about a friend of mine that we’ll call Dana. She grew up in a house that didn’t touch, and so for her, it’s not a natural instinct to touch people. But her husband and her son definitely have touch as their primary love language. So she’s taught herself: When my son is on the couch, sit beside him and rub his back. Or remember to hug my husband when he’s standing in the kitchen.

She found it strange, but she now finds that she really enjoys touch. It’s still not second nature, but she’s proud of herself. And you can do it, too!

Push past the awkwardness, because physical touch does add a lot to a relationship.

Sometimes what it takes to be more affectionate is simply telling yourself: “every time I see my son do X, I will reach out and hug him.” Or, “every time I’m walking with my husband I’ll take his hand.” You’ll have to figure out situation-specific times when you will reach out and touch, because you’re unlikely to just think to do it. But as you touch more, you’ll likely find it easier.

Of course, touch can also be difficult when the person that you’re touching isn’t particularly affectionate, either. But don’t let awkwardness stop you. I have known adults who decided, “even though my dad has never hugged me, I’m going to start hugging him.” And he resisted at first, but eventually he found he really liked it. So push past the awkwardness, because physical touch does add a lot to a relationship.

3. Ask Yourself Why You Don’t Like Touch

Look, some people just aren’t that touchy. I’m only touchy in certain situations; in others I’m not touchy at all. There’s nothing wrong with not being particularly touchy. But sometimes it’s  not just that touch isn’t our natural instinct; it’s that when we do touch it causes panic, or discomfort, or anxiety of some sort. That seems to be the case with our commenter, who said that she just doesn’t enjoy touching, and her husband does, and she finds it uncomfortable.

Again, this doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily neurotic or that something’s wrong with you. But honestly, if it is a big issue, then perhaps it’s worth looking into and praying over the issue about whether you have a real need to be in control. Some people really want their personal space, and they don’t want others to invade it, because then they feel panicky. They need their independence and their illusion that they are in control and thus safe.

If that’s the case for you, praying through this is likely a good idea, because it could be hindering your ability to form great relationships. Most people, even if they’re not particularly “touchy”, can learn to touch if they put their mind to it. If you find that you can’t, then the issue may go a little bit deeper. I’d suggest just starting out with small things, like holding your husband’s hand, or cuddling with your child at night. And then build up to more. But at the same time, really pray and talk to someone to see if there are some issues that need to be dealt with.

When your spouse's love language doesn't match your own, what do you do? Here's some tips and advice for those who aren't strong "touchers" but have partners who are!

Whatever you do, though, don’t just use the “touch isn’t my love language, and that’s not a big deal” line.

Sure, you may not want to touch much, but touch is good for you, and even if it’s not your love language, you can learn to touch, and everyone will benefit from it.

What if it’s your spouse who doesn’t have touch as a love language?

I also received another question from a reader, who asks from the opposite perspective:

Reader Question

My husband and I have a great sex life, about 3 times a week, though I’m the one with the higher libido. My husband is very good at helping at home, with the baby, and with using words (such as I love you, with a kiss). However, he really does not like to cuddle or be physically affectionate, other than the bedroom. Even in the bedroom, it tends to be get the job done, with little interest in petting or deeply intimate affection.
I truly love him and have no complaints about our sex life or his helping with other things. But I LOVE to cuddle and be non sexually affectionate. I generally give him the space he wants, but after days of not seeing each other because of work, sometimes I need a long time to cuddle and rest with him and not just have sex and move on. We’ve talked about it, and he will cuddle occasionally for a few minutes, but it’s not often. How do I explain to him that I need that time of just non sexual but touch intimacy?

They have a great marriage, he does care for her, but he’s not particularly affectionate. In this case, I’d suggest asking him to start some new habits, like my friend Dana did. Ask him to try this:

  • When we’re sitting on the couch watching a movie, put your arm around me
  • When we’re walking, take my hand
  • Before we go to sleep, cuddle with me for a few minutes

Giving someone a time prompt, like “when we” or “before we”, helps so much. Telling someone “I need you to touch me more” is harder to do. But asking them, “when we do this, can you do that” seems more manageable. For most people without the love language of touch, it’s not that they’re deliberately avoiding you. It just doesn’t occur to them. Make it into a habit, and it’s more likely to happen!

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A funny update:

I originally wrote a version of this post back in 2012. And when I looked at it to update it, this part made me laugh:

“Let me tell you about a friend of mine that we’ll call Dana. She grew up in a house that didn’t touch, and so for her, it’s not a natural instinct to touch people. But her husband and her son definitely have touch as their primary love language. So she’s taught herself: When my son is on the couch, sit beside him and rub his back.

I had totally forgotten about that conversation I had with “Dana” back then. But it’s ironic that I would be talking about “Dana’s” son’s touch love language. Because it really is quite evident, isn’t it? Allow me to introduce you to “Dana’s” son:


David and Katie with Touch Love Language

Yep. Six years after I wrote that post, he married my daughter. And Darcy (aka Dana) is now an even better friend of mine!

Now it’s your turn: Have you had to teach yourself to be touchy? Or do you have a child or a husband who isn’t touchy? What have you done to bridge the gap?

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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19 Comments

  1. Bethany

    The advice to make habits of “when we do this, do this” is SUCH GOOD ADVICE. For so many things. Thank you for that. Also, the reveal at the end was an absolute treat. Have a great Monday!

    Reply
  2. jls

    I have a son whose love language is so obviously touch it is comical. He *can’t* help but touch those he loves. He just naturally has to be in physical contact with someone. I’m not naturally a really touchy-feely person so I have had to 1) remind myself that hugging him/scratching his back etc is showing him love and 2) allowing him to touch me even when I would rather not be touched. And we’re trying to teach him that there are people that don’t always want to be touched even when they love him very much 😉

    Reply
  3. Ashley

    This was quite an adjustment for me when I got married. I am not a touchy-feely person, but my ex-husband is. It drove me nuts that he always wanted me to be scratching his back or his head or his leg. Over time I adjusted, and grew to like the contact a lot more.

    Reply
    • N.T. Diluvian

      Ex-husband?

      Reply
      • Ashley

        Yeah. I’m probably not the only reader who is divorced. 🙂

        Reply
        • Kailey

          Just reading this article couple years later. My BF is a lot more affectionate than I am. It is not my first thought even to hug friends. So I’ve been trying to adjust myself to be more open to it but sometimes I get stuck in my way and just don’t want to be touched and BF feels a little hurt. I am trying to dig down into why I feel this way. I think part of it is being uncomfortable in my body and another part may be loss of control as you mentioned. Some great thoughts in this article, thanks!

          Reply
  4. Kay

    I’ve been learning more about HSPs lately (in case you need more material to cover about personality types in marriage, ya know… if you ever wanted to write a book or something 😉😉) and it has been helpful to realize that touch is hard for me when I am overstimulated (aka touched out or noised out). This is hard during the little years and especially breastfeeding, as I am now. My nervous system honestly cannot tolerate more touch sometimes, and it’s not because I’m an insensitive jerk who doesn’t realize how important touch is but because I am an HSP. I need time to reset my system.
    So, I’ve learned “the power of the pinky.” My touch-loving hubby always enjoys it when I run my fingers through his hair, so even if I am touched out, I can still sit next to him (not touching) and run my pinky through his hair. We make it work, but I look forward to not being touched out all the time!

    Reply
  5. Nick

    My wife is not a toucher…at all. Zero. We OFTEN go days at a time with no physical contact. (Yes it is killing me) Is it me or does it just feel forced, and completely unfulfilling when you have to remind or ask your spouse to touch you? I want to be touched for multiple reasons one of which certainly is because she in her heart Desires to.

    Reply
    • FL

      It won’t get any better unless she works at it. I am in same position (I am wife). It is killing. Some improvements over the 30 years of marriage. Did her parents divorce? There cd be all sorts of reasons. Dr Psychmom is good on this love language. Be prepared for some painful times, though, if this doesn’t resolve well.

      Reply
  6. Ginny

    Thanks for this post! Touch is low on the list of my love languages, but it’s near the top for my husband. It’s not that I don’t like touching him, it’s just that it simply isn’t what occurs to me first; I grew up in an Acts of Service/Gifts household, so those are in my wheelhouse and are my deeply-embedded instincts. I do think we can all learn to use other love languages more fluently over time, though! Like any new habit, it takes intention and practice at first, but eventually becomes instinct. One resource I recommend to anyone reading is the weekly emails from The 5 Love Languages. Each email includes a brief, simple, easy-to-implement suggestion for using each of the different love languages with people in your life this week. That’s been a great resource for this newlywed learning to show more physical affection!

    Reply
  7. Nayla

    I know this is a slightly different subject, but do you have any advice for someone who no longer likes to be touched due to trauma?
    I can cuddle my newborn, but basically anyone else touching me (even my other children) makes me sick. I do it anyways and try to pretend I’m fine, but there are times it takes me by surprise and I move away abruptly, or tell “don’t touch me “. Or if they’ve been particularly touchy feely one day I sometimes have to go in my room and cry.
    I’ve been to therapy, but just wondering if anyone else might have suggestions. I’m really trying.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Wow, Nayla–I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now.
      I’m not a counsellor personally so I can’t give any official advice, but I just wanted to encourage you in the steps you’ve taken. If you went to therapy in the past and stopped, I highly recommend seeing a counsellor who is specialized in dealing with trauma. Not all counsellors or psychologists are equal in all fields, so don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure they know that they have good experience in this area!
      Praying for you as you go through this journey.

      Reply
  8. Brievel

    Husband is very touchy-feely. Loves hugs (bonecrushing, breath-stealing hugs where you can’t even wiggle your fingers until he lets go.) I hate being touched. At all. One of my mottos is “No touchy!” It’s been an adjustment. One way I’ve found is that when I’m standing beside him (at the sink, while he washes his hands, by the car, in the line at the grocery store, watching a movie,) I’ll gently rub his back with my fingertips or quickly brush my fingers through his hair. Gets him his touch without me freaking out.
    Baby is hilariously anti-touch. Not sure yet what his love language is but he *hates* being touched, unless he’s falling asleep. xD

    Reply
  9. Melissa

    What if my husbands love language is to be left alone to play video games all day when he’s home? I know that’s snarky but it really seems like his love language has shifted to being as disconnected from me as humanly possible.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Melissa, that’s so sad! We’re going to be talking about that a lot in January. It really isn’t okay. It’s wasting your life. It’s one thing to have a fun pass time; it’s another if it keeps you from doing things that make your life richer and better. So sad!

      Reply
      • Melissa

        I agree. I playbthem too so it’s not like I hate the platform but when it’s all you do and all you talk about its just not a hobby anymore but an obsession.

        Reply
  10. unmowngrass

    One thing I encountered with a touchy-touchy love really surprised me. It was that I physically couldn’t ~think~ whilst he was holding my hand/attached to the end of my arm, depending which way you look at it. I could NOT put my thoughts in any kind of order, and I forgot the words for things I wanted to say. Now, I am an affectionate person, and that includes physical affection. I am the queen of giving a genuine, emotional, six-second hug with no back pats (back pats during hugs mean that the person isn’t actually all that comfortable with the hug and is unconsciously trying to get out of it). I am the only one in my family on my Mum’s side who likes a kiss on the cheek for hello/goodbye, rather than just a wave and a verbal greeting, which they all prefer. But I suppose that’s intentional touch? A focused, “no, I can’t do anything else right now because I am touching this person” sort of thing. (Given that my primary love language is time [attention], this makes sense.) Just being in physical contact with someone, without being there mentally/emotionally too… I can’t make sense of that. Holding hands for more than 10 minutes made me want to rip his head off!! 😉

    Reply
  11. Jessica

    This is an old article, but Im glad I found it. My husband isn’t affectionate unless he is leaving or wants sex. I don’t really care to be super affectionate with other family members, but I crave it from my husband… this person that I am absolutley wild about! We have only been married about 8 or 9 years, but I have addressed it with him over the years. I always wondered if he was really in love with me or if he was cheating maybe. I also wanted to know if I was doing something wrong to turn him off, like disrespectful or something. But even when there was nothing between us causing tension, (as far as I knew/know) no real affection. As time goes on, it has been wearing on me. I don’t really desire sex with him (it started with lack of sex) anymore, because I am so void of affection and time from him, that I have no real motivation to be sexual with him. I feel like my marriage is on the brink of disaster because of it. I try to express my feelings about it and let him know we have to work on this. It sounds great to give him tips for being deliberate, but I read one article that said bringing up to the spouse can make things worse. I feel frustrated but at least Im not the only one going through this. It also helps to hear from people who are not affectionate, it helps to know how my husband might be feeling also.

    Reply
    • FL

      You should try and just have sex anyway, as I do. Some is better than nothing – I am also married to a non-touchy man. He hugs me for max 1.5 seconds, and emphatically no kissing, stroking fingers through hair etc. He will cuddle pets and children but not me for any length of time. Loss of control would be one reason for him being like this. It is so painful if I hug him and he goes stiff… give time limits to touch and schedule things: eg when we do this, can we touch in some way.

      Reply

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