The Love Language Of Physical Touch: An Overview

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The framework of love languages was popularized by Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, The Five Love Languages. One of the five is known as “physical touch,” and for those with this love language, love is generally best received in the form of physical affection, such as holding hands, hugging, and receiving massages. Showing your partner love in the way they prefer to receive it may help deepen a romantic relationship. If you’re experiencing any relationship challenges, you might consider trying online couples therapy.

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The five love languages and how they can be helpful

The basis of the idea of love languages is that every person has a “language,” or form in which they prefer to express love. Most people can appreciate being shown love in many ways, but the theory of the five love languages is that each one of us has a method of giving and receiving love that makes us feel most connected to our partner.

This topic is usually discussed regarding romantic relationships, but they aren’t the only dynamics in which knowing one’s love language can be useful. Love languages can also apply to relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. It’s generally acknowledged that people feel and perform better when they believe they are appreciated and cared for, and receiving love in their primary language can be one way to do this. That said, today we’ll be looking at this love language primarily through the lens of romantic relationships.

Here’s a short description of each of the five love languages:

  • Acts of service mean you appreciate when your partner does thoughtful tasks for you, such as completing a chore or errand on your behalf without being asked.
  • Quality time means you appreciate spending meaningful time together with your partner.
  • Receiving gifts means you appreciate when your partner surprises you with a present or other meaningful item to show they’re thinking of you.
  • Words of affirmation means you appreciate when your partner verbally gives compliments, encouragement, and appreciation to you.
  • Physical touch means you appreciate physical contact such as hugs, kisses, cuddles, and other forms of physical affection from your partner.

How can knowing your partner’s love language be beneficial? Becoming attuned to the different ways your partner prefers to receive love can help ensure you’re making them feel special and loved while being responsive to their needs. Similarly, by letting your partner know your primary love language, they may better understand how to show you love in ways that are more meaningful to you. Moreover, it may help you and your partner see and appreciate how much affection exists between you. One study found that people who are more appreciative of their partners “report being more responsive to their partner’s needs, and are more committed and more likely to remain in their relationships over time.”

How popular is physical touch as a love language?

There currently isn’t much academic research on the topic of how common different love languages are in the general population. However, Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, did a poll of 10,000 users on his website one month to see what their primary love languages were. In that limited sample, the physical touch love language was the fourth most popular at 19%.

It may be helpful to keep in mind that even if your primary love language is something else, you may still appreciate physical gestures. Many people appreciate receiving love in all five forms—it’s just that their primary language is the one that tends to resonate with them the most.

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Examples of physical touch

Even among those whose primary love language is physical touch, there may be variation in what form they prefer. If physical touch is your partner’s primary love language, showing affection could involve both intimate and non-intimate touching. This may include:

  • Giving them a massage or a foot rub
  • Offering back scratch
  • Holding hands
  • Cuddling or snuggling with them
  • Giving their arm a squeeze or a pat as you pass by them
  • Resting your hand on their leg when sitting on the couch together
  • Initiating sexual intimacy
  • Greeting them with a warm hug
  • Engaging with them through eye contact
  • Public displays of affection, such as putting your arm around them while walking

You might try to take what you know about your partner into account when thinking about how to show them love in their primary language. Just because someone appreciates physical touch doesn’t mean they’ll automatically enjoy all forms of physical contact. Some people, for example, don’t like to cuddle in bed at night because they need to spread out and have their own space to fall asleep. You likely know your partner and what they like, so try to use this knowledge when offering them love in the form of physical touch.

When it comes to sex, it may be especially important to discuss what your partner enjoys or doesn’t enjoy. If you’re unsure what kinds of intimate touch feel good for your partner, it may be beneficial to talk about it before initiating sex or after.

Physical touch and long distance relationships

For those engaged in long-distance relationships, opportunities for physical touch may be limited. However, in each other’s absence, offering your partner something tangible to remember you by may be beneficial. 

This may be something as simple as offering something they can wear, such as a sweatshirt or necklace. You might give your partner something to cuddle with, such as a weighted blanket or body pillow. Additionally, bluetooth technology, such as long-distance rings or lamps that light up when touched, can help your partner feel loved even when you’re not together. 

Although long-distance relationships may make physical touch impossible, you can show your partner love in other ways. Even if a person’s primary love language is physical touch, they may also appreciate other expressions of love such as words of affirmation or gifts.

Why someone might appreciate physical touch

There may be any number of reasons for physical touch to be a person’s primary love language. Physical contact is known to release certain hormones in the body associated with love and bonding, such as oxytocin. This may help explain its power as a love language. In addition to engaging in physical contact with romantic partners, physical touch is an important component of bonding between children and parents, friends, and other close relationships.

Some believe that a person’s primary love language reflects the main type of love they received as a child. When it comes to physical touch, this could mean that a person’s parents or caregivers frequently gave them hugs, kisses, and pats on the back to show love. Others believe a person’s love language is the one they lacked as a child. However, not much research is available on the origins of a person’s love language nor the potential connections between a person’s love language and their childhood experiences.

A person whose love language is physical touch might feel that “actions speak louder than words.” It’s possible that they may be better able to internalize tangible, physical expressions of love and care from a partner than verbal expressions or simply spending time together.

It’s generally not necessary to understand where your affinity for a certain love language comes from. Regardless of its possible origins, you may still use love languages to benefit your relationships.

How to tell if physical touch is your love language

Some people can tell what their primary love language is simply by reading a description of each one. If you’re unsure, you can typically uncover your love language through self-reflection. Try to think of a time when a partner made you feel especially loved and cared for. If your heart leaped when your partner put their arm around you in public or when they massaged your neck after a stressful day at work, for instance, physical touch could be your primary language.

Another way to figure it out could be to consider the ways in which you tend to show love to other people because that could be a manifestation of what you like to receive. If you’re the type to rub your partner’s back, kiss them on the forehead, hold hands, or play with their hair, it could mean that you like to show love through physical touch. From this insight, you might be able to extrapolate that you like to receive love in this way as well. Still not sure? You can also try taking the online quiz.

Other tools for building more fulfilling relationships

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Some recent research has found a link between couples who show affection in their partner’s primary love language and couples who are in satisfying relationships.

Conflicts or other challenges in a relationship can be the result of any number of causes. That said, understanding the love languages of yourself and your partner and aiming to express affection for each other in those ways can potentially strengthen your dynamic.

Online therapy for relationship support

Couples who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship may consider seeking the guidance of a therapist who can listen to both sides and provide an objective view of the challenges, then help both individuals strengthen their conflict-resolution and communication skills. 

Whether you choose to seek therapy as individuals or as a couple depends on your specific needs and preferences, as does whether you decide to pursue therapy online or in person. If you’re interested in the convenience of virtual therapy, a platform like BetterHelp may connect you with a mental health professional who is right for you. Since research suggests that couples can benefit from internet-based therapy, it’s an option that you might consider when examining different ways to seek the guidance of a counselor.

Takeaway

One of Gary Chapman’s five love languages is physical touch, and those with this love language typically enjoy receiving love in the form of physical affection. The other love languages include quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and acts of service. When two partners show each other love using their love languages, they may enjoy a more fulfilling relationship. Online couples therapy can be a valuable resource in learning to utilize love languages and work through relationship challenges.

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