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Showing affection is essential for maintaining a strong and healthy bond. It can make your partner feel loved, appreciated, and secure in the relationship.
While it might come naturally to some, for many people, being affectionate doesn’t come easy. Fortunately, there are ways to cultivate and improve your affectionate behavior.
In this article, we’ll cover why affection is important in relationships and how to be more affectionate in your own relationship.
Do you want to learn more about the importance of intimacy in relationships? Explore our comprehensive guide on understanding intimacy in relationships and why communication is essential.
What is affection?
Affection is the expression of care, love, and fondness towards someone. When we talk about affection in a relationship, physical touch is often one of the first things that comes to mind. However, affection can be expressed in various ways.
Affectionate touch refers to the act of touching someone in a way that shows your love, care, fondness, or appreciation for them. It’s a type of physical contact that is connected with expressing your feelings of affection toward another person. 1
Romantic physical affection can be defined as any form of touch meant to stir feelings of romantic love in both the giver and the receiver. In simpler terms, it’s any kind of physical closeness, like hugging or holding hands, that happens between two people in a romantic relationship. 2
Examples of physical affection in a relationship include holding hands, hugging, giving backrubs/massages, cuddling, and kissing.
Affectionate communication means intentionally and openly expressing feelings of closeness, care, and fondness for someone. In 1998, Floyd and Morman categorized affectionate communication into three main types: 3
- Verbal Affection: This includes using spoken or written words to show affection. For instance, telling someone, “I love you” is a form of verbal affection. 3.
- Nonverbal Affection: Nonverbal affection involves actions and behaviors that don’t rely on words to express feelings of affection. It encompasses things like smiling, hugging, maintaining close physical proximity, having a warm tone of voice, and using gestures to convey affection. 3
- Supportive Affection: This type of affectionate communication involves actions that offer various kinds of support, whether it’s emotional, social, psychological, or practical. For example, simply listening to someone, recognizing and celebrating a special occasion in their life, or helping them with a project can be ways to show affection. 3
Why affection is important in relationships
Affection Exchange Theory suggests that humans build and nurture their connections with others by giving and receiving affection. 3 So you could say affection is like the glue that holds relationships together.
When people feel like they don’t get enough affection in their relationships, it can lead to lower relational satisfaction and a sense of being less close to their partner. 4
In simpler terms, showing and receiving love and affection is crucial for keeping relationships strong and fulfilling. When we feel like we’re not getting enough love from our partner, it can harm our relationship satisfaction and the feeling of being close to them.
How to be more affectionate in a relationship
Being affectionate in a relationship doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re someone who struggles with showing affection, don’t worry - you’re not alone. With a little bit of effort and practice, anyone can learn how to be more affectionate in a relationship.
Here are 7 tips to help you get started:
1. Learn your partner’s love language
According to Chapman, everyone has their unique way of expressing and perceiving love. In 1992, he identified five main love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. 5
By understanding your partner’s love language, you can better understand what actions or behaviors will make them feel loved and appreciated. This will help you express affection in a way that truly resonates with your partner.
Here’s a brief summary of each love language: 6
- Words of affirmation: People with this love language feel loved when they’re told how much the other person appreciates them or loves them. They also value compliments and kind words.
- Acts of service: For people who speak this love language, actions speak louder than words. They feel most loved when their partner does something for them, like helping with household chores or running errands.
- Receiving gifts: Some people feel most loved when they receive gifts from their partner. It’s not necessarily about the monetary value but rather the thought and effort put into choosing a gift.
- Quality time: This love language involves spending quality time with your partner, fully engaged in each other’s company. For someone whose love language is quality time, undivided attention and meaningful conversations are crucial.
- Physical touch: As we’ve discussed earlier, physical touch is a powerful way to express affection. For people with this love language, physical closeness and touch are vital to feeling loved and connected in a relationship.
For a more in-depth understanding of your partner’s love language, check out our comprehensive guide on love languages.
2. Start small
If you’re not used to showing physical affection, start small and gradually work your way up. You don’t have to jump straight into cuddling or saying “I love you” if it doesn’t feel comfortable for you.
Instead, try holding hands while walking together or give a gentle back rub/massage. These small gestures are still powerful ways to show affection without feeling overwhelmed.
3. Seek feedback
In a romantic relationship, partners should talk about how much and what kind of physical affection they both want. Talking openly about each other’s preferences and giving feedback can help create a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship. 2
Receiving feedback from your partner may take the form of positive remarks such as “I really enjoyed that” or “I would love it if you did that more often.” Conversely, it could also include negative feedback like “I don’t like it when you do that.” 2
In summary, openly discussing the types of physical affection you both enjoy, whether it’s cuddling, kissing, or backrubs, is important. Giving clear feedback about your preferences can significantly enhance your relationship. 2
4. Make an effort to show affection daily
Expressing affection doesn’t always have to be grand gestures. It can be as simple as giving your partner a kiss before leaving for work or holding their hand while watching TV together.
Making an effort to show small acts of affection daily can strengthen the bond between you and your partner, making them feel loved and appreciated.
Also, by showing affection on a daily basis, you’ll get used to it, and it will become more natural for you.
5. Communicate your appreciation and gratitude
Verbalizing your love and appreciation can be a powerful way to show affection. Make it a habit to regularly express gratitude towards your partner for the things they do, whether it’s making you laugh, doing household chores, or being supportive during tough times.
When your partner feels appreciated and loved, their affection towards you will likely increase as well. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.
6. Be interested in your partner’s life
Feeling connected and close to your partner is crucial in any relationship. Take the time to ask them about their day, their thoughts, and feelings, and actively listen without judgment or distractions.
By showing genuine interest in your partner’s life, you’re expressing that you care about them and value their presence in your life. This can strengthen the bond between you and make it easier to show affection.
7. Schedule intimate time together
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it’s easy to let intimacy fall by the wayside. However, regularly scheduling intimate time together can help keep the spark alive in your relationship.
This doesn’t necessarily have to mean sexual intimacy - it could simply be spending quality one-on-one time together without distractions or interruptions. Make it a priority to carve out this time for your relationship and make the most out of it.
Even just making time to cuddle on the couch or take a walk together can help maintain a strong emotional and physical connection with your partner.
Discover helpful tips on how to rekindle your intimate life.
Benefits of showing affection in a relationship
There are many benefits to regularly showing affection in a relationship. From strengthening the bond between partners to improving your physical health, here are some ways that expressing love and affection can positively impact a relationship:
1. It increases intimacy and closeness
Physical affection is linked to increased intimacy and closeness in relationships. 7 8 One potential explanation for this is that physical touch releases a hormone called oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” which promotes bonding in relationships. 8
While sexual contact tends to trigger the largest release of oxytocin, even non-sexual touch, like hugging or backrubs, can stimulate its release. 8
Discover how communication can save your sex life with our comprehensive guide.
2. It increases relationship satisfaction
Acts of affection like holding hands, hugging, or kissing are significantly correlated to relationship satisfaction. 9 Also, non-physical forms of affection, such as verbal expressions of love and appreciation, have been found to positively impact relationship satisfaction. 3
3. It promotes mental health
Receiving physical affection from a romantic partner has been shown to have positive effects on mental health and well-being. Some studies found that when you receive or engage in affectionate touch with your partner, it boosts positive mood, such as feeling relaxed, and decreases negative mood. 1
4. It promotes physical health
Hugging and other forms of physical touch might help reduce your chances of getting sick. A study from 2014 examined the relationship between interpersonal stress, social support, hugs, and infection and illness signs. 10
The results of the study showed some interesting things. First, when people felt they had support from others – like friends or family who care about them – it helped protect them from getting sick when they had more conflicts or arguments with others. In other words, support seemed to shield them from the negative effects of stress caused by these conflicts. 10
Second, the study found that hugging had a similar protective effect. When people hugged more often, it also helped reduce the risk of getting sick when they experienced stress. 10
Lastly, among those who did get sick, those who felt more supported and received more hugs tended to have less severe illness symptoms. 10
This suggests that hugging can be a really effective way of showing support, and it may even help people recover more easily if they do get sick. 10
Affection is a building block of a healthy, loving relationship. By regularly showing love and appreciation for your partner, you can strengthen the bond between you and create a happier, more fulfilling relationship.
Foster growth in your relationship with our guide on communication in relationships!
Secrets to a healthy relationship: Books every couple should read
It's no secret that a healthy relationship is key in a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship. This list of books about healthy relationships will help you learn how to communicate better, resolve conflict, and deepen your connection. From classic self-help books to more modern reads, these titles will give you the tools you need to build a strong and healthy relationship.
- Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships
- Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship
- Love More, Fight Less: Communication Skills Every Couple Needs: A Relationship Workbook for Couples
- Infidelity Recovery Workbook for Couples: Tools and Exercises to Rebuild Your Relationship
- Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are
Jakubiak, B. K., & Feeney, B. C. (2016). Affectionate Touch to Promote Relational, Psychological, and Physical Well-Being in Adulthood: A Theoretical Model and Review of the research. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 21(3), 228–252. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎
Gulledge, A. K., Hill, M., Lister, Z., & Sallion, C. (2007). Non-Erotic Physical Affection: It’s Good for You. In: L’Abate, L. (eds) Low-Cost Approaches to Promote Physical and Mental Health. Springer, New York, NY. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎
Hesse, C., Floyd, K., Rains, S. A., Mikkelson, A. C., Pauley, P. M., Woo, N. T., Custer, B. E., & Duncan, K. L. (2020). Affectionate communication and health: A meta-analysis. Communication Monographs, 88(2), 194–218. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎
Chapman, G. (2015, January 1). The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts (Reprint). Northfield Publishing. ↩︎
Chapman, G. D. (1992, January 31). The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (4th ed.). Northfield. ↩︎
Durbin, K. B., Debrot, A., Karremans, J. C., & Van Der Wal, R. (2020). Can we use smart-phones to increase physical affection, intimacy and security in couples? Preliminary support from an attachment perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(3), 1035–1045. doi.org ↩︎
Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R. B., & Doyle, W. J. (2014). Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper respiratory Infection and Illness. Psychological Science, 26(2), 135–147. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎