Go ahead and give your partner a hug, kiss or cuddle while you catch some action on streaming platforms like Netflix. According to researchers, it just might build a much stronger relationship in social distancing times.
The study particularly looked at the effects of non-sexual intimate touch -- for example, hugging, holding hands or cuddling on the couch, rather than actions intended to lead to sex.
Attachment style refers to human social bonds and exists on a spectrum; avoidant individuals prefer more interpersonal distance, while anxious individuals seek greater closeness, according to the researchers.
Attachment style develops during childhood
This style develops in childhood but can change over time and vary with the individual in question. "It all depends on how open, close and secure you feel with that person, which is impacted by many, many factors," said study lead author Samantha Wagner from Binghamton University in the US.
To determine the connection of attachment style, touch satisfaction and marital satisfaction, researchers used a sample of 184 couples over the age of 18, consisting of husbands and wives; same-sex couples were excluded.
They were interviewed separately on their attachment tendencies, the amount of touch and routine affection in their relationships, and their relationship satisfaction. Researchers expected to find that avoidant individuals preferred less touch, while anxious people prefer more. What they found was more nuanced.
Less physical affection means missing affection
The more routine affection that couples experienced, the more they felt satisfied with their partners' touch, even if they had avoidant attachment styles. With low levels of physical affection, anxious husbands were less satisfied with the touch they received, but not anxious wives, who may instead choose to solicit the missing affection.
For men, higher levels of routine affection are associated with relationship satisfaction; in other words, touch is a positive, the icing on the marriage cake. For women, lower levels of routine affection correlated with relationship dissatisfaction, meaning that touch is an essential ingredient and its absence is negative. It's a subtle distinction.
"There's something specific about touch satisfaction that interplays with relationship satisfaction but not dissatisfaction for wives," said Wagner.
Whatever a couple's attachment insecurities, the perception of how their partner touches them has the greatest association with "touch satisfaction." In other words, more is better because they can more easily see that their partner is trying to engage with them.
The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, shows an association between non-sexual physical affection and solid marriages, although the current data can't establish cause and effect.
"Interestingly, there's some evidence that holding your partner's hand while you're arguing de-escalates the argument and makes it more productive," Wagner noted.