Category Archives: Couples Counseling

The Art and Science of Non-Sexual Touch

I obviously work with a lot of couples who are dissatisfied sexually.   As such, I find myself writing frequently about sex.  Like here.   Also here and here

One thing I haven’t written about before – and probably should have – is the importance of non-sexual touch in a relationship.  

While there are no quick fixes and no single road map that fits every couple (that’s why all the work we do at The Marriage Place is customized to the couple), you might be surprised at how often I ask couples that are struggling in the bedroom to first focus on activities outside of the bedroom.

Non-Sexual Touching

One of the things I teach my clients is to be deliberate about increasing non-sexual touch.

What tends to happen within a couple – especially a couple where the partners have distinctly different sex drives (which is most couples, by the way) – is that the lower desire spouse will quit touching the higher desire spouse because any touch is interpreted as an invitation for sex.  

Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your husband walks by you in the kitchen, gently pats your backside, and your brain goes straight to “He’s expecting sex tonight”.  Or husbands, your wife puts her hand on your arm as she’s asking a question and it translates to “I’m going to get lucky!”  Invariably, one or both partners in these situations end up frustrated or resentful.

Why Non-Sexual Touch is Important

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deep bonding experience. It builds a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship, which in turn, enhances the couple’s sexual relationship as well.

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deeply bonding experience and build a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship. Click To Tweet

When couples quit touching, hugging, and kissing except as a prelude to sex, the passion in the relationship usually dies. In fact, I can often gauge a couple’s sex life before they tell me anything about it, simply by how much they touch each other in a non-sexual way.

What Non-Sexual Touch Looks Like

Non-sexual touching can be holding hands or cuddling during a movie or just sitting close enough to each other that you are touching arms or legs.

Really, it can be any touch that you both agree is not intended to lead to sex.

The list of options is limitless, but here are a couple of purposeful ones if you are looking to be intentional.

The 3-Minute Hug

It’s as simple as it sounds.  Hug your partner (we’re talking full body hug) for 3 straight minutes.  You can even set a timer.  I’ll warn you though – 3 minutes can feel like forever, especially if this is the first time. So if needed, start with just one minute and work up to it.

Occasionally I’ll have my clients hug during a session.  If I were to video you’d notice a few things. First, couples often start out in a stiff awkward embrace. Their eyes jump around looking for distraction and at least one will glance at me with that “How much time is left?” look. But as the seconds tick off, I start to see some changes. Both partners will shift to get comfortable. Their bodies relax, often kind of melting together.  Their breathing slows and begins to regulate, even to the point where they may breathe in unison.  All in a matter of 3 minutes.  

 The 30-Second Kiss

Most couples typically kiss for just a split second at a time.  It’s the quick peck as you are leaving for work or the greeting when you get home in the evening.  

What if you kissed your partner for a solid 30 seconds each day?

30 seconds isn’t that long, but an intentional half a minute of kissing will feel like much longer (You can thank me later). It’s long enough that you can’t fake it and you are forced to connect with each other.  In fact, it’s nearly impossible to kiss that long and not feel closer to your partner.  

 The Science Behind it

Physical contact like hugging and kissing causes your body to release endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are the natural “feel-good” chemicals we all have that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Oxytocin is known as the “bonding hormone.”  Our skin has receptors that stimulate our brain to produce more of these chemicals. So more hugging & kissing = more endorphins & oxytocin = more happiness, less anxiety, and more physical intimacy.  

Now this, by itself, does not guarantee more or better sex.   I can tell you this though – show me a couple with limited (or no) non-sexual physical intimacy, and I’ll show you a couple that is also struggling in the bedroom. The two are connected.

In case you haven’t noticed, none of this work can begin without open, honest, direct dialogue with your partner.  If you aren’t having those now on other topics, starting with sex may be awkward.  Really awkward.  But that’s okay.  Do it anyway!  If you need help getting started, you can schedule an appointment online or simply call us.

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Does Marriage Counseling Work?

The short answer…it depends. Couples counseling can be one of the most powerful healing agents available. It can truly transform your relationship and your life. But it can also turn out to be a huge waste of your time and money and, in some cases, make things even worse than they were before.

Your best bet to getting the most out of the counseling experience rests with YOU. It is YOUR relationship. YOUR money. YOUR counseling.

To begin with, do your best to choose the right counselor. Here are some quick guidelines to finding the “right” counselor.

  • you and your partner feel comfortable with this person.
  • The counselor is truly a relationship expert. 75% or more of their caseload should be working with couples. This is harder to find than you might expect, but it’s worth the effort.
  • The counselor is not afraid to call either of you out on your stuff. Some counselors are conflict avoidant and have a very difficult time holding a partner accountable for bad behavior.
  • The counselor is directive. They offer you more than the standard “How does that make you feel?” line.
  • You can afford to see this person regularly for years if that’s what it takes. A solid, experienced couples therapist will be costly. Expect $150 to $400 an hour. This is not the time to look for someone cheap. A really good couples therapist is worth the cost. You can certainly find someone for less money but that doesn’t mean you will get anything of value from the experience.

Finding the right therapist is only the beginning. After finding the right therapist, it is important for you and your partner to be the right kind of client. Being the right kind of client is more than just showing up to your session each week and hoping the counselor is good enough to fix what is broken. Fixing you is not their job. Showing you what needs to be fixed is! A good therapist will help you see things about yourself, your partner and the pattern of interaction between you. It’s up to you to find the motivation and courage to be willing to look at yourself honestly and change. So here are some quick guidelines for how to be the right client:

  • You are patient and willing to put in the time. Lasting change is not quick or easy. Expect setbacks and have the persistence to keep working.
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. Few people are comfortable being confronted with how they really show up in their relationship. Most people have an idea or story they tell themselves where they are more innocent and their partner more guilty. Be willing to look at yourself honestly.
  • Manage your reactions. If you are someone who is very reactive to criticism, you are going to make the therapy process much harder and longer for everyone, including your therapist!
  • Be willing to focus more on changing you than changing your partner. If you really want your partner to change, you will have to focus on what you do that makes it harder for your partner to give you what you want.
  • Risk vulnerability. You will have to speak up about what you want and need even if your partner reacts poorly. That takes courage!

When the right kind of client finds the right kind of marriage therapist, big impactful change in your marriage is possible! If you are the right kind of client and ready for change, consider giving us a call or scheduling an appointment online.

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