The Importance Of Love And Affection In Relationships
Content Warning: The following article contains information about abuse, neglect, family struggles, and other potentially triggering topics. Please read with discretion.
Research shows that social connection is essential to overall well-being and physical health. Some individuals may be more outgoing than others. However, humans require love and affection from others, whether in close relationships or with a larger group of people. Some people may wish to be surrounded by numerous friends and constantly communicate with others. Others may feel content with their family or a few close friends.
The importance of love and affection can vary depending on an individual's lifestyle, experiences, and preferences. However, going without love, affection, and connection can have physical, mental, and emotional consequences.
Love And Affection In Childhood
How we understand love and affection may be influenced by infancy and childhood. During this period, the most emotional, physical, and psychological growth occurs. Who we are as adults can partially depend on what we experience as a child.
From the moment they are born, children learn about the world around them. Being incapable of verbal conversation, babies often relate to the world instinctually. They understand if their love and belonging needs are being met and may form an attachment with their caregiver based on how their needs are met. These needs can include eating, sleeping, drinking, and shelter. However, needs also include love, attention, physical touch, and care from a primary caregiver. Babies and children may pick up on vocal tones, volume, and facial expressions before they speak.
The Impact Of Love And Affection In Childhood
A child with unresponsive caretakers may be left alone often, unfed, or disregarded. They might cry for someone to help them. When no one arrives, the baby might learn to cope by developing an insecure attachment style. They may respond by crying more often and acting "fussy." In other cases, babies respond by becoming silent or detached. They may feel isolated, lonely, and afraid. These feelings can severely impact their brain growth and development for years to come.
Infants and children who grow up without love and affection might have an insecure attachment style as adults. They may not understand what a healthy relationship looks like. Children with positive experiences may grow up with an optimistic worldview and form healthy relationships as they grow older, make friends, and potentially date.
Those who have gone without healthy social relationships often have difficulties. They might exhibit anti-social or unkind behaviors as children, teens, and adults. They may face challenges in language development, intelligence, and other social and cognitive skills. With support and treatment, many can overcome the negative beliefs and responses stemming from their infant years.
Love And Affection For Older Adults
Age does not always limit when a lack of positive social interaction can be damaging. Loneliness and social isolation in adults have been shown to coincide with chronic health conditions. Older individuals with less social interaction were shown to have a higher probability of being hospitalized, longer stays in hospitals, higher blood pressure, and a higher rate of morbidity and mortality.
The potential damage to older adults without healthy relationships and a support system was compared to the risks of smoking. The risks of depression were significantly higher, as well as the risks of developing conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's. Older adults in nursing homes may feel isolated from their friends and family or struggle with grief.
Having people around to lend support, positivity, and friendship can make each day feel easier to cope with. If they do not have family or friends, cheerful and professionally affectionate support staff in a nursing home may make a difference.
What Does Love Look Like?
Human beings can thrive off of social interaction, whether with friends, relatives, or pets. People may experience an inherent need for strong bonds. The type of love an individual craves can determine the course of their entire life.
Those who desire families may experience the joys of parenthood and marriage. Individuals who enjoy meeting others might pursue a lifestyle that allows them to make many friends from different cultures. They might have various relationships and experiences expanding their understanding of humanity. Those who aim to find romance might satisfy their physical needs through sexual connection or enjoy passion and intimacy with another individual. People who love animals may reap the benefits of an unconditional bond. Pets have been proven to lower stress, improve blood pressure, increase overall happiness, and boost emotional and social development in children.
What Does Affection Look Like?
Affection may be defined as any action intended to arouse feelings of love in the giver and recipient. Affectionate behavior could be anything from kissing your significant other to holding hands. Hugging, holding a puppy or a baby, or stroking someone's arm or back could qualify as physical affection. These are often done to express love for another person or animal.
How someone expresses affection can differ from another person. There are more ways to express it than physical touch. Not everyone is comfortable with giving or receiving touch, which is a boundary. Examples of non-physical affection can include listening to someone, cooking, offering advice, buying gifts, being open and honest, doing a favor, or spending time with them. Knowing someone's love language may help you decide how to express affection to them.
Why Humans Crave Affection
To love and to feel loved can feel as significant as other needs, such as food and drink. Gestures of affection may allow individuals to feel loved, meaningful, and not alone. Physical touch is often a necessity for meaningful relationships. Physical touch (including our own) reduces pain, which is why we might hold onto a part of our body if it is injured.
In a romantic relationship, a lack of affection or intimacy can cause doubts, lead to conflicts, and point to possible issues in the relationship. It can be normal to tell your partner, "I need love and affection in this relationship." Love and affection are often expected when dating or in long-term partnerships. Family or friends can also have close bonds when they're comfortable with showing love.
Suppose you grew up in a family or experienced a relationship in your life where love and affection were not offered. In that case, you might experience mental health consequences, stress, or feelings of loneliness. You may struggle with adult relationships or not know how to express love and affection to others. These can be normal experiences, and support is available.
Many individuals dealing with attachment and early-life experiences find support through therapy. You can find a therapist in person in your area or an online counselor who can offer support to you from any safe environment with an internet connection. Additionally, online therapy has been proven effective in treating loneliness, isolation, and depressive symptoms in many individuals. It can be more effective than traditional in-person counseling.
When you meet with a licensed professional on a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples, you can choose whether to have phone, video, or live chat sessions with your therapist. You can also be matched with a therapist within 48 hours. Consider reaching out to get started.
If you're interested in learning more about how a counselor may support you or how to increase your connection with the people in your life, consider reaching out to an online or in-person therapist for further compassionate guidance.
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