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Just Touch Me


Just Touch Me

Q. My husband doesn't ever touch me unless he wants sex. In our first year as husband and wife, we've enjoyed wonderful, passionate times together, but he doesn't seem to know that I'd love for him to touch me at other times too. What can I do?

Joanie R.
Newark, New Jersey

A. In her book Anatomy of Love, anthropologist Helen Fisher describes the importance of touching in general: "Human skin is like a field of grass, each blade a nerve ending so sensitive that the slightest graze can etch into the human brain a memory of the moment." You can pretty much draw your own conclusions from that image.

Physical touch is critical to building romance and intimacy in your marriage. And we don't just mean touch as it relates to sexual play. We are talking about a tender touch while your partner is doing almost any ordinary task. A gentle squeeze on your wife's shoulder as she is preparing a meal or a soft rub on your husband's back as he is reading a book can communicate loving messages in ways our words never could. There is simply no more eloquent way to say "You are not alone," "I appreciate you," "I'm sorry," or "I love you" than through touch.

Because physical touch is so important to building an intimate marriage, we often suggest that couples talk about it. We suggest that they explore how touch was used in the home they grew up in. You might want to do the same. This simple exercise can give a much better understanding of how and why the two of you may have different "touch quotients."

You might also explore how each of you like to be touched and how you don't like to be touched. Maybe paying the bills makes you uptight and you want to have your space during that time. Let your partner know that isn't a good time for a gentle back rub. Or maybe because paying the bills makes you uptight it is an especially good time for a nice caress. You get the point. Make your wishes known. Take the guesswork out of communicating through physical touch.

My Husband's a Whiny Patient

Q. My husband can be a big baby when he gets sick. I'm just the opposite when I get ill; I hate to admit I need help. We want to help each other when we're sick, but we annoy each other with our differing coping styles. What can I do when my husband gets sick?

Joy P.
White Bear Lake, Minnesota

A. Most couples don't pay much attention to the phrase in their wedding vows that says "in sickness and in health." But sooner or later reality hits. Everybody gets sick—a sprained ankle, a migraine headache, allergies, upset stomach, pneumonia, or the common cold—and knowing how to cope and care for a sick spouse can be tricky business.

Few things are more frustrating than seeing your husband or wife suffer and knowing that there is next to nothing you can do to end the suffering. However, there are some things you can do to manage your marriage more effectively during this difficult time. If you find your spouse battling an illness, consider the following suggestions.

First, learn as much as you can about the illness. What causes it? What's the prognosis? Can medication help? If so, what are the side-effects? Talk to you your doctor to learn what you can do to help the healing process. Don't be shy. If you have questions, speak up and use the phone when necessary. Gaining information eases anxiety and takes a lot of the stress out of being sick.

Second, learn as much as you can about your partner's idiosyncrasies when he is sick. Don't you have special requests when you are flat on your back and feeling miserable? Maybe he wants a certain kind of food or beverage when sick or wants the lights a certain way, the covers just so. Be sensitive to your partner's special requests and do your best to fulfill them if it helps the healing process. If he wants a certain kind of cracker you normally don't buy, go buy it. Generally speaking, the better you meet your husband's needs, the quicker he'll get well.

Third, balance your honest communication of frustrations with genuine support and encouragement. There is nothing wrong with using an appropriate time to tell your partner how you are feeling ("It's hard for me to go to work when you are feeling this way") as long as you also let him or her know how much you care ("I want to do anything I can to help you get better"). One of the best ways to do this, by the way, is through touch. Hold your partner's hand when you can. Touch is powerful medicine.

Fourth, pray for a healthy recovery. Ask God to give you wisdom in helping you deal with your partner's illness. Ask God to adjust your attitude, if necessary. Once you have prayed on your own, pray with your spouse. God will help you care for each other as you honor your marriage vows in sickness and in health.

My Wife Says I Never Emote

Q. My wife says I never express my feelings; I say she has enough emotions for the both of us. We genuinely want to understand each other, but often get tangled up in the different ways we each express our feelings. Can you help?

Jerry B.
Walla Walla, Washington

A. Too often in marriage we take for granted that our spouse should know exactly how we are feeling. But that's unfair. Feelings are too fickle and unpredictable to put that burden on another person. The following strategies can help you express your feelings in a way that will allow your spouse to understand them.

1. Use "I" statements. If your spouse is to understand your feelings accurately, it will be because you, first of all, take responsibility for your feelings by using "I" statements rather than "you" statements. Notice how blaming these "you" statements sound:

"You make me furious."

"You're driving me crazy."

"You never let me get a word in."

If you recast these same statements by taking responsibility for them, they become less inflammatory and are much more likely to be heard:

"I'm furious."

"I feel confused and crazy."

"I want to talk now."

Of course, just because a statement begins with "I" doesn't mean that it is a legitimate "I" statement; for example, "I feel that you are a jerk" won't help.

2. Be honest. It is tempting to describe dinner with your in-laws as fine or pleasant when actually you were bored and irritated the whole evening. It is tempting to say that you're tired and just want to go to bed when actually you are worried about the finances and afraid to broach the subject. But as hard as this may be, resist the temptation. When you cut your partner off from your true feelings, you also cut yourself off and make it that much harder to express emotions genuinely.

3. Be congruent. It's confusing when your tone of voice and body language don't match your words. If you say "I'm not angry" while you're tight face communicates the contrary, which is your partner supposed to believe, your words or your nonverbal behavior? So if you notice that your body language is incongruent with your statements, this may indicate that you actually do feel differently about the topic than you think you do. Spend some time looking inside and see how you really feel. You may just have developed a habit of smiling when you deliver bad news or frowning when joking or some other incongruent style. If necessary, practice in front of a mirror until your posture, tone of voice, gestures, and so on match the way you feel. This may feel strange, but it may also bring you that much closer to expressing your feelings so that your spouse hears and accurately understands them.

Leslie Parrott, Ed.D. and Les Parrott, Ph.D., are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Becoming Soul Mates, and Relationships (all Zondervan). Visit Les and Leslie at www.RealRelationships.com.

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Emotions; Illness; Marriage; Sex
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2000
Posted September 30, 2008

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