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Communication with Touch in Relationship

Therese Bogan, MFT
The lift of an eyebrow or wave of a hand can tell us all we need to know about our partner’s mood. When we see our old friend’s slumped shoulders and feel them land on the booth seat of the old diner, where we share lunch, we understand envy, pride, or disappointment are at play. What can we hear in our closest relationship when skin hits skin?

by, Therese Bogan, MFT

What we know in touch, with Strangers or Intimate partners
That hidden smile
There are many gestures, body language cues and facial expressions that are culturally coded and easy to read as we walk down the street. Strangers can have an engagement with us and give a quick read on our mood. Especially when it comes to universal emotions, such as surprise or un/happiness, we have lots of language to start with as strangers. Our intimate partners have an advantage when we are expressing more of ourselves, in the touch between us. Self emotions are feelings we are having inside that have to do with our circumstance and our own story or experience.
An example is envy. When the conversation veers toward your friends promotion, increase in pay and sudden purchase of a new home your partner might pinch you or clamp down on your hand and you get a clear hit of empathetic understanding. You know envy is at play inside your beloved ~ maybe even before they are ready to know it. What can we do with this information that strangers can’t do? We can develop intricate cues and codes that no one else knows. That which is between only “US” is a language only we know inside a partnership. And what’s fascinating is that recent research, a 2006 study by Matthew Hertenstein, shows a real leaning toward couples knowing cues from their partner’s self based emotions: pride, envy, or embarrassment.
Hold my hand and say . . .
What partners can say with touch, that no one else can see
Erin Thompson, Research Psychologist at King’s College London explores the data and significance of what Hertenstein’s (2006) researchers could not see. It sounds like there was communication between the partners that researchers could not code, and that provided an advantage for intimate partners, over the touch communication from a stranger. What I know as a therapist, from watching and listening to couples use their deepest selves to create love, trust and a working relationship; is that knowing your partner’s emotions can be an act of altruism and self acceptance. Anything your partner might be radiating in their touch has language in your love together ~ but also it reflects something specific in your personal story. The way you respond, read, and alter your own touch sends another message into the mix and tells your partner what you might do with their experience. And the dynamic dance of telling, acting, and knowing between two partners is set in motion.