Touch is a language that people seem wired to understand. When you make physical contact with your partner, you can communicate a number of different emotions, include anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness and sadness, reveals a study led by psychology professor Matthew J. Hertenstein called "Touch Communicates Distinct Emotions," published in the Journal of Emotion. Touch can help you communicate your feelings to your partner and get information on how to act and what to say.
Touch is important for developing intimacy in a relationship. When you are just beginning to get to know each other, touch is exploratory, usually in the form of flirting. Partners often test to see how much of their touch will be accepted and returned. You may reach out to take your partner's hand to see if he holds yours in return. You will pay attention to how willing he is to hug you when you open your arms for an embrace. As you become more comfortable with each other, you are likely to engage in more physical contact.
Physical contact is important for giving comfort. If you are sad or angry, you can take comfort from a hug, by holding and squeezing your partner’s hand or just by having your partner standing or sitting next to you. These forms of touch have been found to be therapeutic because they stimulate receptors in the skin that effectively reduce stress, making you feel more relaxed and positive. Holding her hand or allowing her to lean her head on your shoulder can communicate your concern in times of grief or difficulty, especially when you are unsure of what to say or do.
Besides the physical closeness that touching promotes, touching between partners encourages bonding as it increases trust, warm feelings and cooperation, notes a team of researchers led by psychologist Michael Kraus in the study "Tactile Communication, Cooperation, and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA." Touch works both ways. It is impossible for you to touch without being touched in return. When you make physical contact with your partner, you get the same pleasure he does from the experience.
Touch can increase the speed and clarity of communication. Physical contact can allow you to send and receive messages quickly. If you are standing close enough to your partner to touch her, this may make it easier and more direct for you to send a message. For example, if your partner gets distracted while you are walking together and is at risk of colliding with something, holding onto her firmly and tugging in the opposite direction may alert her to the danger more quickly than words. Squeezing your partner's hands can communicate gratitude or encouragement when you are unable to send the message in any other way.
- Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images