The people that you love play an integral role in your life. They are your support system in daily life as well as when you’re in crisis. They are the people who see you at your worst, as well as when you’re at your best. Forging close bonds with them helps to keep the relationship thriving, even when you have conflict, find the relationship getting strained, and physical intimacy suffering.
Part of what allows us to express our affection for the people we love is our bodies, and our ability to be physically intimate. God created us as embodied beings, and we can receive and feel as well as show love to others with our bodies. Different relationships will call for different, appropriate expressions of love, but physical intimacy is a gift that we can give to the people we love, and that we can also receive from them.
There are times and situations in which physical intimacy needs to be nurtured in a relationship. Sometimes due to neglect, or at times because of issues such as stress or conflict, it can slip off the radar. Your bonds to your loved ones can be nurtured through physical intimacy, and it can help you deepen your sense of connection and support.
Aspects of physical intimacy.
When the words “physical intimacy” are thrown out there, most people might immediately think of sexual intercourse. This is but one of its
+forms, and it is appropriate for only certain kinds of relationships. It’s important to recognize that there are different facets to physical intimacy, and these can be used in different relationships.
Physical intimacy can include holding hands, hugging, rubbing someone’s back for encouragement, tickling someone’s toes, giving a massage, ruffling someone’s hair, giving a piggyback ride, twirling them, clapping hands together, playing tag, or any other activity that involves physical contact. From this list above, there are many non-sexual ways to express affection toward your loved ones.
Within romantic relationships, it’s a mistake to reduce it to sex or to assume that every touch is intended to lead toward sex. It can put enormous pressure on spouses to stop being physically intimate altogether because even the slightest touch could be read as an invitation to sexual activity.
While those small touches could lead there, it’s way too much pressure to assume they will. A romantic relationship deprives itself of so much if it excludes all the different ways of being physically intimate that aren’t inherently sexual.
It should also be evident from the above that physical intimacy is something that can exist in all kinds of relationships. Being touched is such an important way for a person to feel seen, and to feel connected. During the pandemic, one of the challenges that people faced was not being able to touch others. That was hard, and it highlighted just how important touch is to our sense of well-being and human connection.
Physical intimacy, as much as it is a deep human need, isn’t always straightforward. There can be several challenges to physical intimacy in a relationship, and some of these include the following:
Issues such as dealing with sensory overload.
Highly sensitive people can struggle with touch, and individuals with certain severities of autism spectrum disorder may also struggle with being touched.
For most people, touch has positive associations, and it feels good. However, if touch does not have these positive associations, perhaps due to trauma or abuse, physical intimacy can be a serious problem. along with negative associations, it’s also possible for a person to feel uncomfortable or clumsy with physical touch because of how they were raised and what they saw modeled for them.
As mentioned earlier, placing too many expectations on one another in a romantic relationship can make physical intimacy complicated or unpleasant.
When you’re dealing with conflict and stress, it can cause people to isolate themselves at just the time when something like a hug would let them know that they are loved.
Nurturing physical intimacy.
To nurture physical intimacy in your relationships requires taking steps such as the following:
Being willing to try.
Like all things, physical intimacy can be learned over time, and with trial and error. It does require vulnerability, courage, and a willingness to communicate as you go along and try new things.
Taking it easy.
In a romantic relationship, it can be helpful to take each act of physical intimacy as something separate, and not necessarily leading somewhere. Taking the pressure off can make a huge difference in allowing intimacy to flow more easily.
There may be many reasons why physical intimacy is difficult for a person. Some of these may require the intervention of health professionals, whether a doctor or a professional counselor who can help unpack the complicated thoughts, emotions, and behaviors involved.
“Going in for a Kiss”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forehead Kiss”, Courtesy of Lia Bekyan, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Walking on the Beach”, Courtesy of Frank Van Hulst, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License