How important is physical touch in relationship?
Is there a correlation between the level of touch and the depth of the relationship?
A behavioural scientist named Desmond Morris became interested in why some couples stay together for life and why some divorce.
He studied many couples and found that the ones who stayed together had followed similar progressions of intimacy, leaving sufficient time before advancing to the next stage.
He figured that this gave the couple time to sufficiently bond during each phase of their relationship.
In his book, Morris suggests there are 12 stages of physical intimacy and couples who rushed through them usually didn’t have as strong a bond, and were far more likely to divorce.
The first three steps are pretty generic and take place in a lot of casual, day-to-day interactions. Don’t underestimate them though.
the first registering of an overall impression of someone. From here you will either lose interest or progress to the next step. At this stage you are summing up the person – you notice their height, weight, clothing, physique, and how they carry themselves. Attraction starts at first glance. A man will not approach a woman without this step. When I first saw Richard I liked what I saw – his clothes, his hair, his smile, the atmosphere surrounding him. I was hooked – and we hadn’t even made eye contact!
the first step of active interaction. If you didn’t like what you saw in step one you turn your back and get on with life. If you do like what you saw you may try to be noticed. You may stare until the other person senses someone looking at them and look at you. Your eyes will meet and there may be a spark that leads you on to the next stage.
once you have met, you start to speak to each other. It may be a casual hello or a more detailed conversation that ends in exchanging numbers. You start getting to know each other through communication. This stage can take a while and could include emails, texts, and phone calls. You might spend time together or go on dates – beginning an emotional bond. If you start to create a physical bond before this stage has developed enough you may regret it and break up before the relationship progresses any further.
The next three steps enter a new level of intimacy:
a touch of the hand or arm is breaking the first boundary of physical intimacy. It crosses your personal space and creates a deeper sense of intimacy. Holding hands makes a statement to the world that you are special to each other. It immediately deepens the connection between you and is the first physical sign of commitment. Don’t take this step lightly, it is quite significant.
when one puts their arm around the other’s shoulder, it is intimate and even invasive (consider how you react when someone you are not close to does this.) If you are at ease with each other this gesture is loving, welcoming, and even exciting. This stage is a gateway to more intimacy – you are within range to smell or to kiss.
a warm hand against the small of the back is a closeness that not many other people have with you. It shows the world that you are allowed to touch each other in a personal, intimate way. It displays a growing familiarity and comfort with each other. A guy I barely knew once came up behind me and rubbed both hands along my back and around my waist. It was completely inappropriate for the level of relationship – which was nil. Besides, I was married. If I wasn’t so taken aback I would’ve slapped him!
The next two stages take intimacy to an even deeper level:
you hug and kiss. You start physically bonding which is an extension of the emotional bond you have taken time to establish. You have expressed attraction to each other in ways that allow the relationship to progress. Depending on how the kiss progresses, several more intimacy levels may be skipped. During a deep kiss a man transfers testosterone to the woman through his saliva, increasing her arousal. Deep kissing is definitely the beginning of sexual intimacy.
caressing the other’s face, stroking their hair, wiping their tears, or removing gravy from their chin. Touching someone’s head is highly intimate, partially because so many vital senses are concentrated in the head. It is a sign of deepening trust to allow someone to touch your head.
The last four steps are sexual and best saved for marriage:
this stage moves a couple to the beginnings of foreplay. You start to touch each other in increasingly intimate ways and increasingly intimate parts. Once you get to this stage it is hard to turn back. This stage shows that you are really comfortable with each other. You have a deep level of trust.
at this point the emotions take a backseat to the drive to get very physical. A couple explores each other’s body using their mouths – kissing the neck, cheeks, breast, or chest. This is intimate skin-to-skin contact, where a woman starts secreting the bonding hormone oxytocin. It is difficult to go back once you get to this point.
a couple has already committed their bodies to each other in ways they would never do with just any other person. This deep physical bonding inevitably leads to the final stage.
sexual intercourse, a complete union in physical intimacy. This indicates a giving of yourself to the other person completely – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The body cannot be separated from the spiritual and emotional side, and giving yourself sexually to someone binds you to them emotionally and spiritually.
Having said all this, it is possible for a couple to skip a bunch of the steps and connect sexually. But it will be without the satisfaction of emotional and spiritual connection.
For men it can be a temptation to skip some of the earlier steps just to get to the last few. Morris’ research suggests that women in particular resent being rushed through the steps.
So, if a couple is interested in lifelong marriage, they should practice restraint and go through the stages with enough time for bonding at each stage.
Couples who repeatedly reinforce this entire progression thoughtfully and with intention, tend to stay together longer than those who don’t.
By working through all the steps regularly you are creating a physical, emotional, and spiritual bond that will last a lifetime.
Are you skipping any of these steps? Do you need to slow down and enjoy the journey of physical touch?
[i] Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy