Are You Showing Enough Affection?

Playing it cool might not be the best strategy for your love life. 

July 29, 2013
Unless you’re a contestant on The Bachelor, you probably don’t feel the need to tell your partner that you’re so, so into them every chance you get. After all, this can come off as a little over-the-top on the first few dates—and it’s pretty much a given after you’ve been together for a while. But when it comes to showing affection, new research suggests that couples are holding back surprisingly often. People report withholding affection from their romantic partners an average of five times a week, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Why We Do It 
The researchers had 36 people keep a weeklong diary, recording every time that they withheld affection from their romantic partners (which included everything from friends with benefits to fiancés). Their reasons for playing it cool ranged from understandable (they didn’t want to smother their guy in front of his friends) to slightly malicious (they did it to punish or test their partners). But the most common reason was to control their partner’s perception of them—for instance, not wanting to appear too clingy or needy.
Is it Bad For Your Bond? 
In most cases, people withheld affection for harmless reasons—like if the time and place wasn’t right or if they weren’t feeling very lovey-dovey at that moment (even though they normally would be at that time). And this isn’t necessarily going to hurt the relationship, says Sean Horan, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University, who co-authored the study with Shannon Carton, PhD candidate at West Virginia University. Essentially, it all depends on the context and the intent. “Sometimes you’re just reining it in,” says Horan. “Other times people use it as a punishment in a relationship or when they’re mad.”
That said, holding back too much means you could be missing out on some major benefits. “What I’ve found in long-term studies of marriage is that affirmation and affection is essential and vital to happiness in a relationship,” says relationship expert Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
Watch Out for These Signs 
So how do you know if holding back is hurting your relationship?  If you’re doing it for a negative reason—like to get back at your partner or test them to see how they’ll respond—that’s a bad sign, says Orbuch. Whether you’re jealous, frustrated, or suspicious of your partner, holding back your affection out of spite probably won’t get you what you want. “If you’re punishing them, that doesn’t send the right signal because they still don’t understand why you’re upset,” says Orbuch. “And if you’re testing them, it can easily backfire.”
Another red flag is if you make a habit of playing it cool in your relationship. Not only will you send the message that you’re not that into your partner, but you’ll both be missing out on all the feel-good benefits of being in a couple. “It’s been shown that our bodies respond really well when we’re affectionate,” says Horan. “In general your cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate are lower. So if you’re in a regularly affectionate relationship, you’re generally less stressed and functioning better.”
How to Fix It 
First, try to catch yourself when you’re holding back—whether you’re just not being as touchy-feely as usual or you’ve made a conscious decision not to say the L-word at a time when you normally would. Then, ask yourself why. If there’s a negative intent behind it (like that you’re feeling jealous or you want to get even at them for ignoring you earlier), recognize that this isn’t the most constructive way of dealing with it, says Orbuch. “It’s not about replacing this with affection—it’s about communicating what you’re actually feeling,” says Orbuch. The bottom line: Don’t fake TLC if you’re not feeling it, but let your partner know it if you’re upset/angry/uncomfortable. That’ll ultimately be a lot more productive than refusing to kiss your partner and hoping they’ll take the hint.

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Copyright 2019 by Valenti Matchmaking. All rights reserved.