A hug, a head resting on a loved one’s shoulder, a hand on the small of your partner’s back. These gestures may seem small, but physical touch has a profound impact on our relationships with the people in our lives, especially our significant others.

If you’re doubtful about the power of touch, take a moment to watch this video about New York street photographer Richard Renaldi. Mr. Renaldi has embarked on a project to photograph people who have just met each other posed as couples, friends, and family members. As the video shows, many of the people involved in the project are uncomfortable at first, but after posing with and touching another person for a few minutes, they visibly relax. When some of the subjects were interviewed afterwards, they reported that touching this person they’d never met before made them feel like they really cared and were cared for in return.

Why Do We Need Touch?

Touch is essential when it comes to bonding with other people and feeling contented in our own lives. On a chemical level, a warm touch causes the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone that creates a sensation of trust and attachment (this is the same hormone that is released after sex and when a new mother holds her baby). A supportive touch also helps lower the level of cortisol, a stress hormone. Receiving a comforting hug, a pat on the back, or any other positive gesture has a significant psychological effect on us because it indicates that we have someone who cares about us and we don’t have to go through stressful experiences alone.

Couples who share more little moments of physical contact often have a stronger relationship than those who don’t. In one experiment, researchers at Harvard conducted short interviews with 69 couples who were prompted to discuss difficult times in their relationship. The researchers recorded any moments of touch between the couples during the interviews and found that those couples who touched more often reported greater relationship satisfaction.

Touch isn’t something you can neglect in a relationship. If you’re uncomfortable with public displays of affection, it’s okay to keep the gestures at home, but they still need to be there. If it’s something that you’ve gotten out of the habit of doing, make a conscious effort to hug or put an arm around your partner when they need your support. The more you practice this, the more comfortable this type of gesture will become. You may be surprised by the way even small acts can make you and your partner feel closer. If you’d like to learn more about how touch can improve your relationship, contact my Houston relationship counselor offices today.