One of the things I hear A LOT when I work with couples is that “things have changed from when we were first together”. Let’s be realistic, relationships change. As we become more familiar with one another and move through our ‘histories’ – we, as people, change. We make assumptions, we project, and we may become lazy. We take things for granted. One of the common (and major) changes that take place in most relationships is the amount of touching that occurs.
For many, in the beginning of a relationship we spend a lot of time touching. Whether we are holding hands, cuddling, kissing, hugging, or having sex, new relationships typically involve a LOT of touching. Most of us can attest to the diminished levels of touching as time progresses; for many different reasons.
As I see relationships improving through therapy, one of the most common homework assignments I recommend is morning or evening cuddling (that does NOT involve sexual touching). For the couples who are successful carrying out this particular assignment, the benefits are visible almost immediately. It seems that spending as little as 5 minutes a day in the arms of your partner reinforce a multitude of emotional elements that bring a little bit of “the beginning” back into a relationship.
The benefits of hugging are scientifically proven:
Hugging induces feelings of “existential significance” – generating a sense of purpose in the world.
Hugging promotes stimulation of necessary hormones for emotional health
Oxytocin – promotes feelings of contentment, reduces stress and anxious feelings, and may even promote monogamy.
Dopamine – a hormone required for mental health! It’s responsible for that “feel good” feeling. Low levels are thought to pay a part in Parkinson’s disease, depression, and mental illness.
Serotonin – good levels of Serotonin can prevent feelings of insignificance, loneliness, and depression. Proper serotonin levels are good for your heart, may stimulate your metabolism, and prolong life.
Hugging promotes a strong immune system and a balanced parasympathetic nervous system. Hugs generate a ‘relaxation’ response in our bodies – eliminating stress and keeping level balances of the vitamins and chemicals that make our bodies work well.
Hugging lowers blood pressure and heart rate!!
If all this is possible from a simple HUG – just think of what is possible if you commit to 5 minutes of snuggling with your partner on a daily basis!!
I have noticed specific ‘relational’ benefits in the clients that I work with. Those who dedicated at least 7 consecutive days to either morning or evening “snuggling” (without leading to sex)noticed the following:
Reduced anxiety about relationship ‘issues’
Less apt to respond negatively to relationship conflict
More hopeful about resolving relationship problems
Overall improved perception about partner.
Clearly, snuggling is not a ‘fix-all’ but it IS an obvious component of the energy we used as we began the relationship that fades away without notice. By reintroducing this simple element in a struggling relationship, you are one step further into the healing process.
For those of you without wake up partners – No problem! You can (at the very least) obtain many of these benefits by encouraging more HUGGING from the friends and family in your life!
Photo credit: bettie-rage / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND