Touches and Hugs

Somewhere in the 80’s a study revealed that if everyone received five hugs a day they would be 25% happier.  Our oldest son who was then in the ‘tween years and as always an avid information gatherer came across this bit of information.  He decided that since there were six of us in our family that if everyone hugged each other each day we would all be 25 % happier.  We did that for quite some time and we added to that on most days a verbal I love you as well.  It is interesting that this study has recently been revived and several psychologists and psychiatrists promote the concept as well.  According to the study, holding each hug for at least six seconds is most effective. This boosts a person’s production of oxytocin, reducing anxiety & strengthening connection w/others.   While we couldn’t find the exact study or its origin it has been cited on 20/20, the TV program and in Women’s Health Magazine.

The value of hugs and touch gets more difficult for many to accept in this age of revealing and recognizing inappropriate touch.  We think it is good to find a way to reap the benefits of hugs and touch while still teaching all the signs of inappropriate activities.

The hormone oxytocin is secreted by the pituitary gland. It has a number of functions, many of which are associated with labor and delivery and nursing mothers. During labor, oxytocin facilitates rapid and efficient delivery, and after birth, the hormone promotes milk production in nursing mothers. This hormone also appears to be linked with trust, bonding, and love, with people secreting higher levels of the hormone when they are involved in activities with people they are close to.  The benefits of this speak for itself.  When you combine that with reducing anxiety and strengthening a connection with another, the value of hugs is a wonderful addition to all relationships, but especially in a marriage.

As we have worked with aging couples we often observe the lack of intimate touch between them.  Some of that is likely due to the lessening of the frequency or total absence of sexual intercourse.  In our conversations with couples and observing them we see that they if they do not have intimate touching they are generally less happy with each other and tend to grump at and criticize each other more frequently.  We were especially aware of this watching a couple at the airport last year.  We were on the same delayed flight.  They were a few years older than we are.  The man, among several, things had a significant hearing loss and, as with many aging persons, needed to use the bathroom frequently.  Each time an announcement was made which he had difficulty hearing we’d ask his wife to repeat what was said.  Each time he came back from the bathroom he wanted to know if any new information had been given about the status of the flight. As the time passed and as we waited for information about the flight the tension between them increased, the verbal interactions got louder and the woman began to make comments under her breath when we went to the bathroom.  We just wondered what might have happened had they had a little physical interaction such as hand holding or a pat on the back for reassurance.   While we don’t have anyway of knowing we suspect that this “grumpiness” likely pervaded their relationship and perhaps a few hugs or intimate touching at their age might have added to the quality of their life together.

We have always made an effort to make some kind of physical connection with each other.  It started as simply as never leaving each other without kissing each other goodbye which normally involves a little squeeze as well.  In addition, we always fall asleep touching each other in some way.  When we had small children and I needed to sleep when I could Bob would come to bed and hold me or my hand for a little while as I fell asleep and then he would get up again and then when he came to bed he’d always reach out to touch me as he fell asleep.  We still do this each evening.  We rarely pass each other in the course of the day without some kind of contact.  We think it does a lot for the quality of our marriage as we too deal with some hearing loss and more frequent bathroom usage.

All of this came to mind from an article this week in the Chicago Tribune Sunday section of the paper written by Danielle Braff.  She is an award winning freelance writer focusing on health and lifestyle.  One part of her article titled Sex lives: Fact vs. Fiction once again brought the need for physical touch to mind for us.  She cited a study done in 2010 which said that sexual satisfaction for men wasn’t about how often they had sex –but how often they were touching and cuddling.  Our advice today is to keep the hugs and touching going.  The results will speak for themselves.

As I write Bob is installing a new floor in our laundry room.  We have been working to paint and install a new floor before the delivery of a new washer and dryer tomorrow.  The theme of the entire project has been “nothing is as easy as it looks.”  From the signs I hear I think he could likely use a hug.

Tell us about your thoughts and experiences of the value of hugs and touching.

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Bob & Rita’s book:  Forever and a Day:  An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com.  Also available for Kindle and Nook.  Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com

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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at thewonderofmarriage.com and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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