Most people like hugs. I know I do. But couples can stop hugging or being physically affectionate because of ongoing conflict or tension.
In healthy, happy couples, non-sexual touch can help to keep connected, and is a way to show affection and appreciation for each other. One of the reasons that touch can be connecting is that it causes the release of oxytocin, a powerful hormone, that helps us bond with each other. A hug that is 20 seconds long will release a powerful dose of oxytocin, relaxing you, and help you connect and bond with your partner. Oxytocin is also involved in arousal and orgasm, in case you’re interested. Also, a 20 second hug gives you some time to get in touch with your feelings as you are in contact with your partner.
Here’s an exercise for you to try with your girlfriend or partner. It can be helpful even if you have been fighting or there is a lot of tension in your relationship.
Find a time when you can be uninterrupted for about 5 minutes. Each of you set your intention to connect with the other, and set aside any ongoing conflict. Stand facing each other, with your eyes closed. Take about a minute to breathe, notice how you are feeling, and relax. Then hug for about 20 seconds (it’s longer than you think!) Keep breathing. Notice what’s happening in your body. If feelings come up, that’s fine – just let them be. There is nothing you need to do during this 20 seconds. After you stop hugging, spend a moment looking into your partner’s eyes.
If you wish to, share with them anything that came up for you – in a self-responsible way, like “when we were hugging, I felt my throat tighten, and I realized I was sad,” or “when we hugged, I felt warmth in my chest.”
Try to do this hug once a day. Let us know in the comments below how it goes!