What Is the Physical Touch Love Language?

Shot of an affectionate young couple relaxing at home

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Sex is an important aspect of a romantic relationship, but physical touch as a love language is not all about the sex. A hug, a shoulder squeeze, a handhold, even a pat on the back can be an expression of love that is just as meaningful to your partner.

If you’re in a non-sexual relationship or if you’re unable to have sex with your partner for some reason (long-distance, postpartum, PTSD), don’t worry. We explore easy ways to give and receive physical touch, no matter where you are (physically or mentally) with your partner.

Understand Physical Touch as a Love Language

There are many ways to show love to your partner. You can show up to support them at an important fundraiser. You can buy them a gift just because you thought of them. You can squeeze their hand when they are having a stressful day.

Physical touch is just one of the five love languages, according to Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. The others are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gift giving/receiving. All five are important, but since we all give and receive love differently, it’s important to know what you and your partner prefer in order to express your appreciation in the best possible way.

If your love language is physical touch, then that means you prefer physical expressions of love over all over expressions (such as verbal compliments or gifts). This may seem self-explanatory, but there are both intimate and non-intimate touches that can and should be used to show your partner love.

Show Love Through Intimate Touch

Sexual expressions of love are used in most romantic relationships, but what if you live 100+ miles away from your partner? What if you and your partner are waiting to have sex? What if you’re not a touchy person? What if sexual intimacy is mentally challenging for you?

Learning to express your love through intimate touch is possible, even if you’re not having sex with your partner. 

Despite what you may have learned about romantic love, sex isn’t everything in a relationship. It’s important, yes, but it isn’t the only physical expression of love. 

“Physical touch, specifically cuddling, releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that makes you feel like nothing can hurt you,” says Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and relationship coach. “In addition to the bonding [cuddling] creates between the couple, it also helps boost your immune system.”

Here are different ways to show intimate love through physical touch:

  • Kissing—You may feel like kissing has to lead to sex, but it doesn’t. Kissing is one of the easiest, most effective ways to show physical love to your partner. You can kiss their lips, their neck, their cheek, their forehead, their hand. In many cultures and throughout history, kissing is or has been shown as an act of respect, greeting, or affection. Kissing is used in all different types of relationships, romantic and non-romantic, and should be prioritized.
  • Holding hands—Who doesn’t love seeing a couple walking hand-in-hand down the street? Holding hands with your partner, in public or in private, is an easy gesture that can immediately release mood-boosting endorphins. Parents often hold their child’s hand for protective reasons, but also for physical connectedness. It is one of the best ways to show physical love to your partner.
  • Cuddling—Do you cuddle with your partner when you’re watching a movie? When you’re laying in bed? If you don’t, you should. Physically wrapping yourself around your partner can bring you closer together, physically and emotionally. Your partner may prefer being the “big” or “little” spoon, but try swapping roles or facing each other and seeing how that feels.
  • Skin-to-skin touching—Touching can be sexual, but it can also be non-sexual and still intimate. Dragging your fingertips across your partner’s back or neck can be an intimate expression of love. Touching your partner’s hair, holding the back of their neck, or even touching their bare leg can be an expressive way of telling your partner you’re there for them, you’re physically attracted to them, and/or you’re in love with them.

One of the benefits to being in a relationship with someone whose love language is physical touch: you can express love without having to speak, without having to do the dishes or go out and buy a gift. Physical touch is one of the easiest ways to be intimate with your partner and even though it is physical, it can create emotional intimacy.

Show Love Through Non-Intimate Touch

Physically touching your partner is one of the best ways to build a bridge and increase feelings of connectedness. When your partner gets home from work, you might kiss them or hug them, which can immediately release some of that day’s tension. These are simple but meaningful gestures.

Some non-intimate touches can lead to intimacy, but can be a great alternative for couples who are looking for ways to express non-sexual love through physical touch:

  • Rubbing your partner’s back—When a friend is dealing with a difficult or upsetting situation, touching them is a normal reaction, and this form of touch can be just as effective in a romantic partnership. Rubbing your partner’s back, or massaging them, can signal to them that you’re there for them and that you love them. You can also rub their arm, their hand, or another part of the body. Just make sure you’re communicating with your partner and making sure they are comfortable with it.
  • Sitting side-by-side—Sitting close enough to be touching your partner is an easy way to signal that you love them. Maybe you’re out to dinner or maybe you’re at an event and you want to show your partner love, but don’t feel comfortable kissing them or holding their hand. Sitting with your hips or feet touching is a non-verbal way of connecting with your partner.
  • Tickling—Some individuals may not like to be tickled, but tickling is a physical expression of love. Not sure if your partner likes this? All you have to do is ask. Communication is an integral aspect of any successful relationship, even if your love language is physical touch.

Notice when you argue or disagree with your partner, you often move physically away from them. It’s not always easy to break the tension following an argument, but often the best way to reconnect is to close that physical distance and touch your partner.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “makeup sex.” Reconnecting physically with your partner can signal that the argument is over and that you’ve both moved on. However, not all couples want to be sexually intimate following a fight. Hugging, kissing, or even holding hands can be just as meaningful.

Physical Touch in Long-Distance Relationships

If you’re long distance, cuddling, kissing, and holding hands isn’t an option, but video chats have made it possible to be together when you’re not actually together. 

Body language is just as expressive as verbal language and if your love language is physical touch, then body language can be just as important.

When you’re on video chat with your partner, make sure you’re giving them your undivided attention. Move to a quiet space. Turn off your TV. Make eye contact, and use inviting body language to show that you’re physically with them.

Silva recommends planning a video date. Set up a date and time as you would if you were in the same place and do everything you would if you weren’t long distance. This could mean getting dressed up, setting up candle light, preparing wine or champagne. Do what you would normally do but with video instead.

Other ways to show physical touch from a distance: blow each other kisses, send them gifts that physically remind them of you (such as a sweatshirt of yours, a stuffed animal, or a sachet of your perfume or cologne), and talk about physically touching each other. It may not be the same as the real thing, but our imaginations can be a powerful tool which long-distance couples should utilize.

A Word From Verywell

Romantic relationships often require physical touch to thrive, but sex isn’t the only way to show your partner how much you love them. You can wrap your arms around their waist in the kitchen or hold their hand while watching a movie together or kiss their cheek in the morning before work. Sometimes the simplest acts of love are the most impactful, especially when it comes to physical touch.

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