Intimate touch: the importance of the partner’s touch in romantic relationships

A study recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships investigated the importance of intimate touch (literally “intimate touch”, everything related to physical contact not seen as a sexual approach) within sentimental relationships. adult attachment style (Wagner et al., 2020). 


Advertising message Intimate touch is a fundamental aspect of intimate relationships (Brennan, Wu, & Love, 1998). Although there is a great deal of research on how physical contact affects intimate relationships from birth (just think of the parent-child relationship; Ainsworth & Bell, 1969), its impact on romantic relationships has never been adequately investigated.

Some research shows a positive correlation between intimate touch and relationship satisfaction (Gulledge et al., 2003), some of its impact in improving moods in partners (Sbarra & Hazan, 2008). Despite this, not everyone is satisfied, within their relationships, with the intimate touch of their partner (McNulty et al., 2016).

Although the factors that determine the satisfaction of intimate touch are not yet fully understood, some scholars tend to correlate it with the couple’s adult attachment style (Ozolins & Sandberg, 2009). In fact, evaluating the attachment style of the individual can help understand why some people seek a greater frequency of intimate touch than others (Debrot et al., 2013), needing, for example, more caresses and hugs .

The authors of this study (Wagner et al., 2020) set themselves the goal of understanding how satisfaction with one’s partner’s intimate touch within marriage is associated with attachment styles in adulthood. Among the research hypotheses, we find the idea that an insecure attachment leads to a lower satisfaction for the partner’s manifestations of affection and, consequently, for the intimate touch and that individuals with anxious attachment are more likely to interpret in a catastrophic way the lack of daily gestures of affection, and those with an avoidant attachment style prefer greater interpersonal distance; finally, the authors hypothesized that a lower satisfaction towards intimate touch causes less relationship satisfaction in general and a negative evaluation of marriage.

The study sample consisted of 180 married heterosexual couples and each of the participants had to complete an online self-report interview.

Advertising Message The results showed that husbands with an anxious attachment style tended to be less satisfied with intimate touch; moreover, fewer demonstrations of daily affection caused less satisfaction towards intimate touch even in couples who showed no anxious or avoidant attachment styles. However, in the female sample showing a more avoidant attachment, this effect appeared moderate; the same avoidant female champion caused husbands less satisfaction with physical contact and demonstrations of affection. As for the correlation between intimate touch and relationship satisfaction, the initial hypotheses have been confirmed: the two constructs showed a statistically significant positive correlation (Wagner et al., 2020).

In conclusion, this study shows how physical contact, even if not for sexual purposes, is of fundamental importance within relationships, especially when the attachment style of the two partners can negatively affect the ability to show affection for the other, decreasing thus the general satisfaction of the couple.