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If your favorite thing about being partnered up is the hugging, kissing, and cuddling that comes along with romantic love, then it's likely that physical touch is your love language. In other words, your way of saying and hearing “I love you” is through physical touch.
Knowing this about yourself (or your partner) is incredibly useful when it comes to building confidence, intimacy, and security in a romantic relationship. It's also pretty useful to know the love languages of friends or family, as it can help you avoid conflict, manage expectations, and find better ways to communicate with each other.
When it comes to navigating preferences for how to interact with your loved one(s), much is made of Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages.” In fact, the concept of love languages has resonated with so many people that he's written an entire catalog of books about the various relationship scenarios you may find yourself in—being in the military or a long-distance relationship, blended families, workplace scenarios, parents and children, etc.
We'll go into the meaning and usefulness of knowing your love language and focus on what it means if you or your partner identify physical touch as a top love language.
In “The 5 Love Languages,” Dr. Gary Chapman breaks down expressing love into five categories. The idea behind this is to help you and your partner identify your primary love languages in order to improve communication and better empathize with each other.
You and your partner's love languages don't have to match for you to be compatible partners (although it's a nice bonus). And if you have different love languages, it's really helpful to "speak their language" to show them that you care.
The five love languages are:
Physical touch — hugging, touching as you pass in the hall
Quality time — giving (or receiving) your (or your partner's) undivided attention when doing something together
Words of affirmation — saying (or hearing) "I love you," offering (or desiring) words of encouragement, or giving (or receiving) compliments
Acts of service — going out of your way to do a task for your partner (and/or vice versa)
Giving/receiving gifts — using gifts to let your partner (or you) know you're (or they're) thinking about them (or you) and love them (or you)
Knowing your partner’s love language doesn't mean you shouldn't show love in a way that comes naturally to you. If your partner loves physical touch, that doesn’t mean they hate getting gifts. It just means that you could really hone in on what's most meaningful to your partner when you're trying to send a message of love and support. And of course, the same goes for them and the way they "speak love" to you.
You might read the above list and think, "I like all of these, is my love language all of them?" Surely we all appreciate everything on the list, but Chapman asserts that it's likely at least some are more important to you than others. If you spend time thinking about which things your partner does that mean the most to you, one “language” might stand out above the rest. You might also think about it in the reverse: What love language would you miss the most if your partner stopped offering that to you?
Chapman also points out that a person might have one primary love language for how they like to give love, which may or may not match up with how they like to receive it. For example, you might be naturally inclined to show love to your significant other by picking up a souvenir for them when you travel or surprising them with their favorite candy just because—gift-giving is the most meaningful way for you to express love for your partner. But receiving gifts is less exciting to you, and it would mean a lot more if they clean up after dinner and bring you a glass of wine unprompted. (That one is an act of service.) Make sense?
If physical touch is your love language, it means that you're most assured and feel the most love when you're in physical contact with your partner. This doesn't necessarily mean sex, although it can. Sex is a healthy part of partnerships, but it's not quite the indicator we're looking for when it comes to communicating that you care about someone day to day. That type of communication doesn't have to be sexual at all.
Like we said at the beginning, love languages are useful in all sorts of relationships, even non-romantic ones, so sex isn't the best metric to use. Plus, reasons for wanting to have sex can be varied (like de-stressing or trying for a child). It can be different from expressing deep, intimate love and connection (like casual sex).
So, while sex is important, it's not going to be at the center of our conversation about the physical touch love language. Rather, it's one of many physical expressions of love to explore when your love language is physical touch.
Examples of using the physical touch love language include:
A back rub
A relaxing cuddle on the couch
Sitting close enough to make physical contact
A nice snuggle in bed
A pat on the shoulder or butt
A gentle caress on the arm or leg
A squeeze of the knee
You get the idea. Some of what we've listed can and might lead to sex some of the time, but again, doing any of the above doesn't mean that sex is the next logical step. Some of these are also pretty wonderful as aftercare after sex to wind down and increase intimacy (especially if physical touch is your number one!). It's also possible that some of these ways of touching sound amazing to you and others sound unappealing.
If you're wondering whether you or your partner's "native tongue" is the physical touch love language, ask yourself a few questions:
Do you love public displays of affection?
Do you feel closest to your partner when you're physically touching them?
Do you want to hold hands while taking a stroll in the park?
Do you look forward to cuddling on the couch at the end of a long day (more so than eating dinner together or telling each other how much you love each other)?
Do you believe that physical affection is the highest form of intimacy?
Do you find yourself reaching out to touch your partner for no reason throughout the day?
Do you feel seen when you get a pat on the shoulder or bum?
Does a kiss on the top of the head make you feel loved?
If you answered yes to all or at least most of those questions, it's likely that physical touch is at the top of your love language list. Of course, the love language of physical touch can be expressed differently for different couples.
It's definitely possible that you answered no to the PDA question but yes to all the others, for example. Some folks enjoy being lightly tickled, while others want to scream and run out of the room, even if they love other forms of touch. Having open communication about your love language and the details of how you prefer to express and receive that type of attention is just as important as communicating the details of any other aspect of your relationship.
If you or your spouse's love language is physical touch, we have some more good news for you. There's a ton of research that shows how healthy it is to enjoy touch from someone you love. We know that touching (whether it's the sexy kind or not) can create a surge of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin into your bloodstream. The first two are feel-good, stress-relieving hormones, while the third is known as the "bonding hormone."
Touch reinforces all these wonderful feelings of lightness and happiness you already knew you were having while flooding your brain with hormones that make you feel even more bonded to the person you're touching. Something as simple as holding hands will do the trick, and may even help with pain reduction during childbirth. Pretty profound, right?
Now that you know all the ins and outs of the physical touch love language, where does it fall on your own list? What about your partner? What will you do to show your partner how much you love and care about them through physical touch?
All the love languages play a role in your life in some form or another, even if they come out in relationships other than the ones with your romantic partners. But when it comes to best understanding how you and your partner can develop a love that lasts, effective communication and the use of your primary love languages is an invaluable tool. If you're not sure which love language most speaks to you, head over to Dipsea to find your self-love language.