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Love Languages: Physical Touch

What’s your love language?

If you’ve ever read any of Gary Chapman’s Love Languages books 1, or read my blog post last week, you know what I’m talking about. Last week, I explained what love languages are, so if you’d like clarification, head over and read that post here.

For a recap, the five love languages (ways different people prefer to receive love) are:

In addition to briefly explaining love languages, last week I talked about my own main love language: ‘Words of Affirmation’, and what that means in my life. For me, there are two that stand far above the rest in making me feel especially loved. ‘Words of Affirmation’ is first, and the second is ‘Physical Touch’.

Today, I thought I’d share a bit of how ‘Physical Touch’ affects me, and ways that I appreciate it being shown in my life. If you share that love language with me, I hope you might be encouraged by knowing you’re not alone, and I’d love to hear how it manifests in your life, as well.

And if that’s not your primary love language, I hope you find some insight for loving the people in your life that do especially appreciate ‘Physical Touch’. It may sound scary, but it’s honestly not, I promise.

‘Physical Touch’ is a very self-explanatory love language. It simply means that someone feels especially loved when they’re close to the person they’re with, and when others don’t mind having physical contact with them.

In a romantic relationship, it could mean the obvious things, such as holding hands, or embraces. But in all other relationships, it is shown through little things, like a friendly hug, a pat on the shoulder, or touching someone’s arm when you tell them something.

‘Physical Touch’ has always meant a lot to me. I feel it communicates that the other person is comfortable around me, or at least likes me enough to be willing to touch me. They must not view me as dirty, inferior, or dangerous; or any of the negative reasons you’d avoid being in physical contact with others.

Instead, when someone touches me during a conversation or time together, in a friendly way, such as the ones I mentioned above, it shows me that they’re fond of me. That they’re willing to be around me and get to know me. It shows me that they care enough to reach out – quite literally.

Even though ‘Physical Touch’ is my own love language, it puzzles me sometimes how it works. Obviously touch from family members or close friends is what I’m most comfortable with, and I can be completely at ease with them. I trust them, and I know that they trust me as well. Otherwise they wouldn’t be reaching out.

The idea of strangers touching them tends to make people without this love language – and even some with it – squeamish, but it actually makes a bigger impression on me. When I’ve just met someone, and by the time we go our separate ways, they are ready to give me a hug, or a handshake, it makes my day. Not only do I feel closer to them, but I can tell they feel at ease around me, too.

If I have a conversation with you, and during that talk, you were to tap my arm or shoulder every so often, chances are I’ll remember you and our talk far longer than I would otherwise. That’s been the case over the years. Not that I try to forget otherwise, but the physical connection helps it stay in my brain far longer than without it.

That being said, there is one rule for me, and that’s that the physical touch must be friendly. If it’s friendly, it means a lot. If it’s harsh, clingy, inappropriate, or goes on after I would ask for it to stop (if it met one of those conditions), it doesn’t matter that my love language is physical touch. I don’t like it, and if it doesn’t stop, I will get out of reach.

When they hear that my love language is physical touch, some people take that to mean that I’m okay with being clung to and ‘assaulted’ with hugs and slaps on the back at every waking moment. Not so! There is a distinction, and common courtesy and personal boundaries still apply.

That may sound contradictory, or just plain confusing, but it’s as simple as remembering that physical touch is only a love language as long as it shows love. As long as someone is reaching out with a friendly intent, I’m very, very glad for it. But when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with asking first.

It seems strange to talk about physical contact with strangers right now, doesn’t it? In the current times of social distancing, masks, forbidden handshakes, and virtual contact, those who long for physical contact are struggling. Some people who don’t usually care for it are missing handshakes and hugs, and those who usually do are desperate. I speak from my own experience.

The hardest part of this quarantine for me has been the absence of things I used to take for granted, and that includes hugs and handshakes. I understand why they’ve been forgone right now, but it doesn’t make it much easier. Some days I’ve found that you just need a hug and elbow bumps don’t seem to cut it.

I look forward to being able to walk up a staircase or down the sidewalk without causing people to jump out of my way or feeling pressured to do the same. I look forward to getting rid of that awkward moment when meeting someone where the absence of a handshake is painfully obvious. And I look forward to sitting next to or facing someone and not have to be on edge wondering if they’re going to yell at me for breathing wrong.

It’s a strange world right now.

But the fact remains that my secondary love language is ‘Physical Touch’, and I feel for everyone else that shares it, either as their secondary love language or their primary. I’m sure there are people missing hugs far more than I am right now, and if that’s you, I offer you my warmest virtual hug. I know it’s not the same, but know that I would gladly give you a real one if I had the chance.

And because I believe we will reach that point again some day, my following tips are assuming physical contact is alright with others.

If someone in your life recognizes love best through ‘Physical Touch’, I would urge you to be extra intentional with your contact. Don’t be afraid to show your fondness through touch, like handshakes, hugs, pats on the shoulder, or taps on the arm. Whatever feels right to you in that moment, considering your relationship with the person.

If they’ve just accomplished something, give them a high-five! If you’re walking and your relationship allows for it, offer them your arm. If they need reassurance or comfort, give their shoulder a gentle squeeze or their hand a kind pat. Trust me, it may make all the difference between their day being bad or good.

If you’re not accustomed to being physical with your affection, it will probably take some getting used to. You’ll probably feel uncomfortable sometimes. But I promise it will be worth it. The joy you bring to your family member or friend will be so much greater than any awkwardness on your part. Really.

And if you’re concerned or unsure about what is appropriate, or what would actually communicate fondness to another person, just ask them! Ask them if you can give them a hug, or a handshake. Ask if they’re comfortable with you sitting next to them. If it’s someone you know romantically, ask if they’d like you to brush their hair or hold their hand.

If they say no, respect that, but don’t feel bad for offering. Often even the fact that you were willing to do something like that for them, with the intent to make them feel loved, is enough to show the other person you care for them. And if they say yes, follow through! And enjoy knowing that you’ve quite possibly just made their day.

Obviously, even within one love language, not everyone thinks and feels exactly the same way. These are some ways that ‘Physical Touch’ impacts my life, but if that love language manifests differently in your life, I’d love to hear about it. Please chat with me in the comments, and share some ways ‘Physical Touch’ impacts you!

The main thing to remember about someone with the ‘Physical Touch’ love language is simply that they need to be close to you physically to be close to you emotionally. They need to know you’re okay with touching them to feel affirmed, loved, and appreciated.

So why not start today? If you feel they’d appreciate it, ask for permission – and then give them a friendly hug and watch them melt with happiness.

Chances are, even after you’ve parted ways again, they’ll feel closer to you than they ever have before.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
(Psalm 139:4-5 ESV)

1. Love Languages books, resources, and quizzes can be found here.

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