How do you nurture a relationship? There are a variety of ways to do so, including confiding, tenderness, forgiving, endearments, compliments, and a variety of caring, giving and loving behaviors.
But perhaps the most important of all nurturing behaviors is touch. From infancy on, touch and affection are a vital part of the bonding process. The inability to get our affection needs met gives rise to depression, illness, anxiety, tension, feelings of emptiness, loneliness, helplessness, neediness and despair, says Lori Gordon, in the book Passage To Intimacy (Fireside Press).
People who are deprived of touch often try to fill the void they feel with such psychic pain-killers as drugs, alcohol, food, cigarettes, caffeine or sugar. They often immerse themselves in their work, their children, anti-social behaviors, or by adopting an “I don’t give a damn” attitude toward others. Their emotional distress and isolation may reveal themselves in such physical symptoms as migraines, hypertension, muscle spasms, ulcers and insomnia.
Fred T Wilhelms, in the book Chicken Soup For the Soul (Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen; Health Communications Inc.) eloquently describes the need for affection using his cat as a metaphor.
“At least once a day our old black cat comes to see one of us in a way that we’ve all come to see as a special request. It does not mean that he wants to be fed or let out or anything of that sort. His need is for something very different.”
“If you have a lap handy, he’ll jump into it. If you don’t, he’s likely to stand there looking wistful until you make him one. Once in it, he begins to vibrate almost before you stroke his back, scratch his chin and tell him over and over what a good kitty he is. He looks at you with wide open eyes of adoration, and he gives you the cat’s long slow blink of ultimate trust.”
“Our daughter puts in simply. “Blackie needs to be purred.”
“In our household he isn’t the only one who has that need: I share it, and so does my wife.”
“There are a lot of things I’d like to do for children. If I could do just one, it would be to guarantee every child, everywhere, at least one good purring every day.”
Here is an exercise Gordon offers to assist couples with touch, which in turn helps people to feel more bonded to each other. Find a quiet time and place to lie down together in a total body cuddling position. You can lie down facing each other, or spoon-fashion, or with one partner on top. Hold your partner as you would a trusted teddy bear. Allow yourself to relax, and let your feelings surface—whatever they are—trust or distrust, need, fear or pleasure.
In some brief way let your partner know what you are feeling. “I feel really good,” for example, or “I feel upset.” Allow your partner to continue holding you as you experience your feelings, trusting your partner to hold on and just be there for you. Do this for at least ten minutes.
Now reverse the process, with you being the teddy bear for your partner. Stay this way as long as you can, and allow whatever feelings there are to surface.
If something makes it difficult for you to lie closely with your partner, think about what it may be and share your awareness with him or her. But keep holding on, until you achieve a feeling of peacefulness and relaxation.