Inter-Partner Touch in Couple Counselling
Martin Rovers, PhD. Martin is a professor in the Faculty of Human Sciences at St Paul University in Ottawa. He is a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, and an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. He is also the supervising psychologist at Capital Choice Counselling Group
Cassandra Petrella, MA, Counselling and Spirituality. Cassandra is in private practice offering individual and couple counselling and works with Capital Choice Counselling Group in the Ottawa area.
Readers are welcome to participate in our ongoing touch research at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/inter-partner-touch
The Importance of Touch for Couple Counselling
How can touch cure the couple soul? Couple counsellors are beginning to recognize the important meaning of touch for couples. Touch is fundamental to healthy inter-partner relationships. Touch is necessary for communication and expression of needs, desires and emotions between partners. Touch feels good for couples. The nervous system is soothed by the release of oxytocin when touch occurs (Davis, 2007). Oxytocin reduces stress and improves cardiovascular health (Grewen, Girdler, Amico & Light, 2005). Touch, in its various forms, is a strong healer of childhood wounds, of previous touch abuse, and of other attachments injuries. As such, touch needs to be brought into the counselling process. Healthy touch heals the wounds of our childhood, increasing love, brings care for the partner’s attachment wounds, and go far to cure for the couple’s relationship soul. This chapter will highlight an understanding of the dynamic of inter-partner touch in intimate relationships through an attachment framework. Therapeutic practices for using inter-partner touch in couple counselling will be demonstrated by two hypothetical case studies.
We refer to the touch that occurs between couples as inter-partner touch. Touch between partners can be eye to eye contact, gently touching each other, holding hands, embracing or hugging. The touch we refer to is non-sexual. Inter-partner touch can also mean words spoken during these ‘touching” encounters between partners, and above all, it is that look of love when lovers’ eyes connect. Healthy experiences of touch is the need of all children, and the hoped for reality of all lovers, and the great expectation of all couples in trouble. Karl Menninger (1893) wrote: “Loves cures people, both the ones who gives it, and the ones who receive it”. Reworded, love expressed through touch, is a crucial aspect in the development of love in the first place, and even more in the restoring of love to health, especially for couples. Touch is crucial to curing the couple’s emotional or relationship soul, where soul is defined as that essence or embodiment where partners connect, love and feel secure together. As two become one, the couple soul is a unique blend of each individual’s essence in the creation of a connection no other two individuals can replicate.
The Need for Touch and “Contact Comfort” in Children
Infants need consistent and appropriate touch for healthy childhood development. We know from early studies (Harlow, 1958; Spitz, 1945) that humans have an innate need for “contact comfort”, a need as great as other basic survival needs. The “still face experiments” strongly demonstrate what happen to very young children when touch is withheld (Tronick, 2003). The normal cycle of distress, depression, and despair become obvious (Bowlby, 1988). Field (1987) remarkably shows that when pre-mature infants are massaged in the neo-natal intensive care unit, they gain 47% more weight and leave the hospital on average six days earlier than infants who were not massaged. When infants are followed up at the age of one, the massaged infants still surpass the non-massaged infants in weight advantage and on tests of mental state and motor skills. Field’s study demonstrates that infants who are comforted through touch develop better, both psychologically and physical.
Touch is known to be the language of attachment, security, and comfort (Montagu, 1978). Touch is the royal road to love (Johnson, 2008). From our earliest moments of life, we are comforted and cared for by the touch, by looks of love, and by words of care from our primary caregivers. A mother or father’s consistent touch provides for our innate needs of security, love, and connection; in short, the emotional part of our human nature, our essence, our soul. When bids for touch and proximity are met by the caregivers, secure attachment is created for the child and the brain creates and wires in a secure loving pathway of love (Tatkin, 2011: Lucas, 2013). The emotional soul feels cared for.
However, since there are no perfect parents, and despite wanting to love our children the best they can, parents make mistakes, and attachment wounds develop. In fact, we each have a wound or two or some attachment injury (Rovers, 2005). When we are not touched consistently or appropriately; when we are not looked at in a loving manner; when words are not kind or loving; children can often develop patterns and views of touch, and security and attachment that are distorted or maladaptive. Wounds are born. Unfortunately, because these wounds or attachment patterns become deeply engrained within us, neuroscience would tell us how these wounds or maladaptive love patterns become wired within our brain. And we tend to carry these attachment wounds into our adult romantic relationships (Rovers, 2005; Lucas, 2013). The childhood attachment wounds are a “straightforward continuation” (Bowlby, 1988) into adulthood, and often dance within the couple relationship.
Attachment wounds create distress within the child. When the primary attachment strategy of proximity to the caregiver is sought and not met consistently or appropriately, the child will learn to use secondary attachment strategies of either hyperactivate or deactivate their attempts for proximity and security. Those who hyperactive are believed to do so based on their bids for proximity being met inconsistently or ineffectively (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2010). Worded another way, these children have not been touched enough, or in a consistent manner. There may have been elements of touch abuse in their growing up. Touch abuse can range from mild neglect to inconsistent touch, to forms of punishments, or angry words or looks, and all the way to physical or sexual touch abuse. These children who hyperactivate develop a preoccupied attachment style and will consistently work harder to have their needs met. Proximity is sought more incessantly and urgently, as distance is viewed as dangerous to one’s felt sense of security. So when this is brought forward to adult romantic relationships, individuals with preoccupied attachment style often feel that their partner does not want to get as close as they would like. Often an absence of touch in the romantic relationship for them signifies that a partner does not love them and they doubt their own lovability when this occurs.
A child may alternatively choose to deactivate their needs instead of hyperactivate. A deactivating strategy is said to be chosen when proximity is sought but not available or the child feels punished by their caregivers (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2010). The child interprets that their caregiver disapproves of touch and closeness, so they learn to shut down their needs. The child will de-active their attempts for proximity in order to protect themselves from future hurt or shame. Such an infant will become more self-reliant and self-sufficient and these traits will continue into adulthood. In intimate relationships, an individual with an avoidant attachment style is often wary of getting to close to a partner. They will be uncomfortable with certain types of touching and lack the ability to provide consistent touch to their partner.
When avoidant and preoccupied individuals end up in intimate relationships together, as they often do, we see a dynamic of pursuit-withdrawal (Johnson, 2008) in relation to their needs for proximity and touch. This pursue-withdraw dynamic often leads to high distress in couples as they have difficulty finding a balance between both of their maladaptive touch needs. Communication breaks down, touch needs go unmet and tensions increase.
In the pursuit-withdrawal dynamic, the pursuer is the partner who uses preoccupied strategies in attempting to meet their attachment needs. The withdrawer is the partner who uses avoidant strategies. The preoccupied individual often needs a heightened level of touch, closeness and intimacy. The avoidant partner is normally uncomfortable with even normal levels of closeness. Therefore, when the preoccupied individual seeks intense closeness and touch, the avoidant individual often becomes agitated and frustrated as past disappointments, shame and emotional pain related to touch are experienced (Solomon & Tatkin, 2011). A strong pull to self-regulate occurs for the withdrawer.
Distancing strategies such a diversions and behaviour disengagement are used by avoidant partners when their partner seeks closeness (Feeney, J. A., 1998; Shapiro & Levendosky, 1999). The preoccupied partner becomes insecure and distressed when the withdrawer distances. They often misinterpret a normal degree of closeness as a partner being disengaged and disinterested in them. The individual misinterprets a partner’s physical behaviours as personally rejecting and starts to fear the end of the relationship. Couples often enter therapy at the height of such a distressing negative cycle. Their attachment styles become heightened when they are unable to come together to meet their individual needs for proximity and intimacy.
Touch in Couple Relationships
The understanding of touch in couple relationships differs for individuals with secure, avoidant or preoccupied attachment styles. In several studies on closeness in relationships, researchers (Feeney, 1998; Feeney & Noller, 1991) asked partners to describe their experience of intimate relationships. The findings revealed that secure people are well able to balance between touch / closeness and independence; the avoidant people lean on the side of independence with less touch / closeness; the preoccupied people prefer more closeness as important but with less independence (Rovers, 2005). These findings suggest that touch and closeness, both necessary for a healthy and successful relationship, is viewed and used differently by avoidant and preoccupied individuals. Such maladaptive views of touch, which is crucial to connection and security with a partner, can lead to unhappiness and psychological distress.
Similarly, difficulties in communication can occur in couple relationships for insecurely attached individuals. Avoidant individuals who discourage touch / closeness and come off as cool and distant are less responsive to their partner’s attempts at verbal and nonverbal communication, including touch. They are less likely to express their feelings and needs at an intimate level. In videotaped couple interactions (Tucker & Anders, 1998), avoidant partners touched their partners less, laughed less, smiled less and looked at their partners less. For the preoccupied partners, Tucker & Anders (1998) observed them as showing less enjoyment in their conversations. The researchers hypothesized that the preoccupied partners learn that their bids for touch / closeness are seen as clingy and could lead to the relationship destruction and therefore they suppress their desires for touch / closeness. Hence, their needs go unmet and they appear more dissatisfied with their relationship interactions. Preoccupied partners have difficulty attending to their partner’s needs due to their self-focus and worry about being rejected (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2010). When communication of needs and emotions fails in a relationship, relationship satisfaction decreases and the likelihood of the relationship failing increases.
Alternatively, for the secure individuals, felt-security develops. Felt-security is a resiliency resource which helps people maintain emotional balance without the use of preoccupied or avoidant coping mechanisms (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2010). The more that partners feel secure attachment through touch / closeness and proximity with their partner the better they are able to cope with the struggles they face in their day-to-day lives. Even beyond intimate relationships, the partners feel an internal sense of self-confidence and can self-sooth in unknown situations.
Patterns of healthy and consistent touch in an adult intimate relationship lead to a secure attachment to one’s partner. Solomon and Tatkin (2011) explain that when a partner physically moves away, a sense of separation is felt by the other partner. A sense of loss, abandonment, and even threat is felt at a deep gut or psychobiological level. Conversely, when a partner moves towards another partner a sense of approach and touch, joining is felt. A sense of secure connection is created through repeated proximity and touch.
The goal of re-learning inter-partner touch through couple counselling is to re-create secure attachment for the partners through the healing of past attachment wounds, and thus re-wire the brain’s love pathways. In couple counselling, the counsellor works to heal the attachment wounds and misconceptions of touch through the addition of the soothing practice of the various experiences of touch which facilitates safety and security.
Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships through Touch: Therapeutic Interventions
Our first experiences with this world involved touch. We are supported by the warmth and comfort of our mother’s womb. Then as we are birthed, into the arms of our mother and father we go. Touch, be that looks of love, hand touching, hugs, or words, are our most basic form of comfort and security. The potential to heal our earliest childhood attachment wounds by using healthy forms of touch and contact comfort would only make sense. In fact, we all use most of these touch techniques when we fall in love with our partner. We are happy to touch, to talk, and to be in love. When a couple relationship meet trouble then, why not use these touch healing techniques again to heal the couple wounds, to re-wire the brains in better love pathways, and learn to love again. The unique connection that exists in the couple soul leads us to believe that through the compassionate and tender use of touch within crucial counselling discussions, each partner can further heal past wounds in the other.
We would like to present several touch interventions that we are both currently using in our couple counselling practice. We are noticing that the couples that are encouraged to touch are sharing more openly and healing faster. We see them relax more, breathe better, turn towards each other more, and express love in its many forms more readily.
Inter-Partner Touch: Look, Hold, Talk, Embrace
Couples come to therapy when the honeymoon is over and conflict is begun. The usual love and touch behaviors that once could soothe both partners are not working as well anymore. Insecurity and threat come to visit the couple relationship. Old childhood wounds and attachment needs are present and dancing, albeit mostly unconscious. At times it may feel like both partners have regressed to acting like two-year-olds having a temper tantrum. My emotional needs are left un-met and I demand that you soothe me!!!! Fight and/or flight increase. And so the couple turns to ongoing fight or withdrawal, to separation or to therapy.
As therapy begins and partners begin to uncover their primary emotions and internal experience of their relationship, it is important that each partner stays engaged as their partner shares about their personal experience of the relationship. When particularly raw and wounded parts are uncovered, the counsellor needs to create a new sense of safety with each partner. It takes time and safety for the wounds that were created in earlier childhood relationships to begin to be named, claimed and healed through the intimate experience of therapy. In the initial stages of therapy, we encourage partners to turn to each other and look their partner in the eye while sharing their personal experience. Of course this can take time, depending upon the nature of the childhood wound. Some partners wounds are “look wounds” and so they are fearful to make much eye to eye contact, or fear to sustain such a look for long.
Susan is a 35 year old woman, and, at best, she can make passing glances at her husband, Joe, whom she states she loves. A review of childhood experiences reveal that she was hospitalized at birth with a serious illness, and subsequently for several weeks each year. She remembers the bright lights and strangers eyes looking at her, while feeling the fears and insecurities and pains of the experience. Susan has become wired to fear eye contact, as it means pain to her. When she could eventually name and claim this wound, Susan began to trust Joe’s glance longer, and the therapy process in greater depth. After all, Joe is not one of those childhood caregivers who hurt her, but within Susan’s emotional wiring, there are times when Joe’s actions or words could replicate the same childhood pain and rejection.
As the work gets closer to the core attachment wounds, we encourage eye contact to be accompanied by other forms of touch like a brief touch on one’s partner’s shoulder or hand holding. With Susan’s permission, Joe is invited to hold Susan’s hand, slowly, gently, lovingly, and begin to accompany the hand holding with eye to eye contact. Over several sessions, Susan begins to trust the healing of look and touch. Her emotional soul begins to feel cared for.
Words are also a natural touching activity, and are vital here for two reasons; first it is necessary to name and claim the wound word that is at the bottom of my fear, my insecurity and my mistrust; and second, it is equally crucial to name and claim my healing word or soother, that can become the cornerstone of all I ever wanted or needed to hear in terms of connection, comfort, and love. Susan’s names her wound word as “not heard”. During the adult attachment interview assessment process early in therapy, Susan relates how she hates it when Joe does “not hear” her. It reminds her of the ways nurses, and other caregivers would ignore her cries to stop doing things, and just let her go home. Susan relates that Joe makes decisions without consultation, and explains decisions as a done deal, without talking to her. When the wound of “not heard” comes to visit Susan, she becomes angry and distant, and she cannot even look at him.
Joe acknowledges that he is poor to listen, and that he has breached Susan’s trust many times when he would just go somewhere without informing Susan, or without asking her opinion. He is used to being his own person right from childhood, and he rarely even asked his parents for permission. Joe’s wound word is “my way”. So when Susan’s “not heard” dances with Joe’s “my way”, the couple dance of wounds is on and the negative spiral begins.
Healing words can change this negative dance, and help re-wire both partners into a new dance of healing: a cure for their couple relationship soul. Susan comes up with “hear me!!!” as her healing word, in the sense that she demands to be heard, and for Joe to consult her. Joe comes up with “our way!!!” as his healing word in the sense of accepting his need to include others, especially Susan, and to begin the practice of asking for Susan’s opinion. Becoming thoughtful of their old dance of wounds, and turning to their healing words is difficult, and often times, healing words get left on the side of their couple road, leading to another fight. Healing takes much work, mindfulness, words and especially touch.
One way that helps is for each of them to create a healing stone for both partners. After each finds a smooth small stone, Joe carved their wound word and healing word on both sides of each stone, This becomes ritual and conversation every day with each other. They bring their healing stones to each session: they begin to laugh and to make fun of themselves and their words, and gradually accept these stones as a small token of their healing journey.
At some point, when the relationship feels safer, the partners are asked to embrace each other while holding their stones, as a means to fully recognize their wounds. As the partners gradually increase their awareness of the childhood wounds, support through various ways of touching is gradually increased. These stages of rewiring for love can occur in one session but most often take several, depending on the couples’ level of woundedness, and depth of sharing. Curing the couple relationship soul takes time!
The intention here is gradual trust development, which is key to the development of secure attachment. The inter-partner touch encourages the partners to feel that it is ok to feel the way that they do and that they will be supported. To touch reassures them that they will not be abandoned by their partner as they share these wounded parts of themselves. The intimacy of touch will lead to both partners experience the healing process at a core level; leading to psychobiological lasting change. This gradually develops into a re-wiring of their love signals and pathways, and towards a cure of the couple relationship soul.
Knowing What Soothes Your Partner’ Wound
An important part of the couple counselling process involves both partners becoming aware of their own wounds and the wounds and triggers of one’s partner. Solomon and Tatkin call this an important part of the “couple bubble” (2011). From an inter-touch perspective, it is equally important to know what soothes your partner. Once you uncover each partner’s wounds through the naming and claiming process, you may then ask them what is their wound word and healing word or soother? How can you help your partner regulate their emotions in times of distress and offer comforting touch if a wound is activated? These may be actions such as touching your partner’s shoulders or holding your partner’s hand. It may be a look of love, or words of comfort. Once you discover what each partner finds as soothing, you may ask for their permission to prompt these soothers during triggering moments in session or at home. If permission is granted, you can encourage inter-partner touch during particularly distressing moments in therapy, by engaging in the soother behavior that your partner identified. For example, a partner might be sobbing over how difficult it is for her to feel undervalued as a wife because she felt her mother never acknowledged her accomplishments growing up. The therapist can ask her to turn to the husband and ask if he would comfort her as she shares this pain. If she identified, for example, feeling soothed when he touches her shoulder, then the therapist can ask him; “Would you place your hand on her shoulder as she speaks to you about how hard it is not to feel recognized for all the hard work she does as a wife? Would you touch her as she tells you how painful it has been for her?” The wife’s deep rooted attachment wound of feeling undervalued is being slowly healed through her partner’s attentive understanding and comforting touch. This inter-partner touch therapy can bring her into a healing process in this moment, and allow the couple to take care of the couples’ soul.
Neuroscience tells us that it takes 20 seconds of close, secure contact for oxytocin to be released by the brain, and for partners to feel comforted. Often, when couples have not had satisfying and intimate touch in their relationship for a long time, it is important to be directive in encouraging them to actively reintegrate touch into their relationship. The 20-second hug is first introduced in the couple counselling session. Couples are asked to practice within the session and to come to re-integrate close touch into their shared life. To facilitate the 20-second hug, both partners must stand up and face each other. They should be standing at a close but comfortable distance. Have them take a deep breath and pause for a moment to be fully present with the activity. Then invite them to look into each others eyes for a few seconds. Next invite them to hug each other. Mention to them that they should try and engage in the moment by relaxing into their partner’s arms and being present. The hug should be held for at least 20 seconds.
As you watch the partner’s hug, their behaviour if often telling of their attachment styles. Someone who is preoccupied will be noticeably engaged and enjoying the closeness, often closing their eyes. An avoidant individual might be looking away or not fully relaxed with such extended closeness. You may notice tension in the limbs or face. You may point these observations out to the couple in order for them to learn about their partner’s views of touch. Over time, as you repeatedly use this intervention in session, you may deepen the exercise by asking them what they notice about their body experience, their partner’s body experiences, and what thoughts or emotions they are experiencing during the hug. Also, you can track therapeutic change by noticing differences in their body language as they touch. Partner’s often do not pay such close attention to their touching behaviour and this will be a useful activity in bringing their touching related behaviour, emotions and thoughts into the discussion.
Kyle suffers from extreme symptoms of anxiety and panic. His wife, Caroline, is frustrated to the point of either getting angry and fighting. When she makes household requests to Kyle or needs to speak about an important topic, he often becomes overwhelmed with emotion and has an inability to continue the conversation. Kyle’s avoidant attachment style leads him to withdraw and experience difficulty in understanding his needs during fights. When Caroline’s preoccupied attachment style is at its height and she is asking for support from her partner, Kyle often shuts down completely at such intense requests and withdraws into the basement where he is overcome with anxiety. He feels unable to meet her requests. After the third session, it becomes clear that during these intense disagreements, Kyle becomes paralyzed with anxiety, and Caroline becomes angrier. During the adult attachment interview assessment, Kyle is able to link his anxiety to a strong belief of self-failure which he remembers as a young child. The pain runs so deep for Kyle and we uncover a childhood attachment wound of harsh criticism and verbal abuse from his father. No matter what he did, Kyle always felt his father disapprove and pushed him away from him when he was disappointed. Kyle learned to self-regulate his pain over such rejection and criticism by holding it all in. Eventually, as an adult he had no more space to push these emotions down and the intense feelings he was experiencing were coming up in the form of panic after years of poor coping. His anxiety was taking over his experience completely and it halted his ability to meet even the smallest demands of from his wife. When asked to reflect, Kyle comes up with the wound word of “incompetent”, while Caroline’s wound word is “unimportant” in many of the similar ways her mother did not come to meet her childhood needs.
De-escalating the couple through traditional couple therapy, by slowing the partner’s down to hear each other’s needs, is met with only minimal progress. Kyle’s anxiety in session and Caroline’s anger prevent the sessions from becoming safe enough. The process needs to be slowed down. Kyle’s attachment wounds are so painful and he has pushed them down for so long that they were now coming up through intense anxiety. He has no idea how to manage all of the emotions that are coming back after years of repression. Focus needs to shift to stabilizing Kyle’s anxiety.
Caroline is asked if she would be open to helping Kyle reduce his anxiety in moments of panic. She is reluctant at first, and angrily explains that she had already been the one doing all the couple work. She states that “it is now her turn to be cared for”. I tell them that we each have a wound or two, and that we usually choose partners of equal maturity, and thus equal immaturity. Each partner has to make changes, but since she is the couple leader, I explain to her that through learning how to co-regulate his emotional distress, then she will be able to have the conversations she so desperately needs to have with him in the future. I ask for her trust and patience in trying a new way to help calm Kyle’s anxiety. By the end of the session, Kyle starts to feel the onset of panic when asked to share with Caroline how deeply his anxiety is affecting his functioning. In this moment, I turn to Caroline and as if she will look at him and hold his hand to help reduce his panic.
By strongly supporting Caroline and helping her to feel grounded, she can stay in the present moment and provide soothing comfort through eye contact, touch and words of comfort. “We can get through this together”, she says to Kyle; “You can do it!” Kyle relaxes a wee bit: “I do love you!” he says. One can feel the beginning of connection and real care of the couple soul. I ask each partner to identify what their soothers are in times of emotional distress; what do you most need when your wound comes to visit? Kyle reported that he always wants a long hug. Caroline reports that a shoulder massage or some extended touch is what would comfort her. I encourage the couple to use these soothers this week if either noticed when “mad or sad” (fight or flight) came to visit them, indicating that their wounds were being activated. This is the beginning of their healing journey of learning how to soothe each other’s emotional distress.
In the weeks after the initial introduction of soothing touch, Kyle is panicking again in session. This time, he is discussing the shame he feels related to past failures in the relationship. With some practice of soothing touch under her belt, Caroline jumps in immediately to soothe Kyle’s sobbing by leaning over and hugging him. I encourage Caroline to share what she is thinking as she soothes her husband. She explains that she does not see him as a failure; that she has watched him accomplish many great successes over the years and she is proud of him. She explains too that feels his pain. Through her honest courage and comforting touch, Kyle is moved by her words; his breathing stabilizing, and the tears subside. He asks if she really sees this in him. As she confirms her beliefs, I watch the beginning of Kyle’s attachment wound healing as he starts to imagine the possibility of being something other than a failure. He sits up close to his wife and hugs her again. I leave the room and given then a private moment of touch as the healing takes place.
Kyle’s reaction of turning towards his wife and seeking her comfort is in vast contrast to his previous withdrawing behavior related to his avoidant attachment style. For the first time, as he feels the beginning of secure attachment developing with his wife, he is able to turn towards intimacy and connection instead of de-activating his needs. For Caroline, as well, I see her preoccupied attachment style shifting; she no longer speaks with urgency or anger or pushes her husband; she waits patiently as he shares, showing him that she can be a secure base for him. The couple continues to heal their attachment wounds through continual integrations of inter-partner touch in session and eventually develop the secure attachment they both had not known for many years.
Considerations for Integrating Touch
Before choosing to integrate touch into session, it is important to consider several practical and ethical implications. First, the therapist must be comfortable and competent in order to introduce these interventions. They need to have an intention of creating secure attachment for the couple or another therapeutically relevant reason. What touch activity might best suit this couple? What will the couple gain if they touch in session?
Each partner’s comfort with touch needs to be assessed. This either needs to be done by asking them their views on touch or by assessing their previous in session inter-partner touching without your prompting. The theory and practical suggestions of touch needs to be more gently introduced for couples where one partner has been a victim of sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences. Such an individual needs a more gradual approach to touch integration and we recommend Wendy Maltz’s (1995) model for relearning healthy inter-partner touch when one or both partners are survivors of sexual abuse.
Although much research on the psychology and biology of touch exists at the individual level, there is a significant lack of research that involves understanding what happens when intimate partners touch within a couple counselling session (Petrella, Rovers & Machan, 2013). Future research in needed to better understand what happens when partner’s touch, to learn about the difference between touch and talk therapy, and appreciate when to introduce touch or talk into the couple counselling session. As well, counsellors need to well understand both cultural and gender differences. The efficacy of inter-partner touch interventions also needs to be assessed on a larger scale beyond clinical practice. Based on both the individual touch research and the work that we are currently doing with couples, the potential benefits for the field of couple counselling and pastoral care are promising.
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