Why you should hug your partner right now

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A few years ago, my partner and I went for couples counseling (well, dear reader, this is a sign of my unflagging devotion to you — it’s only column five and I’m already laying myself bare). Our relationship wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t terrific either. We needed a tune-up. We left our first session with a homework assignment that affected our relationship profoundly — an assignment that did, and continues to do, more for our marriage than cheap Chianti and lunchtime quickies.

The homework (given to us by veteran marriage therapists Georgine and Martin Nash) was simple: hug three times a day. That’s it. Oh, and while hugging tell your mate that you’re glad he/she is in your life. Sounds pretty painless, doesn’t it? But as effortless as a hug may be, affection is an ingredient missing from many modern marriages. Why? Well, many women tell me their husbands misread cuddling as a cue for sex—something they may not be up for. And then there’s the stress of the daily grind. Families today are so busy that affection becomes the sacrificial lamb of soccer practices, parent-counsel meetings and doctors’ appointments. Date nights turn into briefing sessions and it soon feels as though a tectonic plate has shifted between you and your partner.

But here’s the thing, affection (and let’s be clear, I don’t mean sex — I mean hugging, hand-holding, kissing) accomplishes in seconds what date night does in hours: it creates closeness and connection. It’s an instantaneous reminder of a sacred bond, creating touchstones in tense times. That’s right, I said tense times. Closeness isn’t just important when things are good; physically connecting when times are tense sends a valuable message to your mate: “I am committed to our relationship and I have faith that we will work through challenges.”

Touch has the power to put the minutia of marriage into its rightful place; when we hold, stroke or caress our partners we remember visceral connections and we forget beer caps on the coffee table and overflowing compost bins. In fact, neuroscience is now confirming what most of us know instinctively — hugs heal. “We are wired to be social beings,” says Martin Nash. “It’s in our DNA to want to be touched,” from the moment we’re born and are held by our mothers. While the mechanisms aren’t yet fully understood, it is thought that touch reduces blood pressure, lowers levels of the stress hormones and increases the feel-good hormones serotonin and oxytocin (the bonding biochemical).

There’s a great line in one of my favourite movies (Dan In Real Life): “Love is not a feeling, it’s an ability.” So, if you do nothing else this week, hug your partner. Make love a verb. Practise three moments of mindfulness every day and appreciate what you’re holding in your hands.

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