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What To Do When You Don’t Want To Be Touched

What To Do When You Don’t Want To Be Touched

Do You Avoid Being Touched by Your Partner?

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth. – Margaret Atwood

Many of our marriage counseling, couples therapy, relationship coaching and sex therapy clients come in with one primary complaint: One partner simply does not want to be touched, and it’s creating stress and pain in the relationship. (Not to mention creating issues around sexual intimacy).

Touch is a highly important need of humanity. It is essential for our healthy emotional and physical development, and it is also the very first sense which we all develop.

Most of us are aware of this significance, however, along the way somewhere we forget about the importance of touch, especially in our romantic relationships.

What are some situations where people don’t want to be touched by their partner?

I frequently work with couples in couples counseling or marriage counseling where one partner (mostly but not always female) feels that they are not as open to their lover’s touch as they once were. Here, I am not referring to couples with history of sexual trauma: while these couples may also struggle with touch the path of their healing is different than the one I’m describing in this article.

Often when couples are in a place where that intimate and close connection they once had has diminished, physical affection can become problematic. One of the most common themes behind this issue is that the ‘initiation ritual’ transformed from an exciting and romantic experience into a pressured and negative one. This is most typical for couples who have been together for a number of years and even more common where children are present.

After a while, one partner (often the male) starts to express non-sexual physical affection a little less and starts expressing physical affection mostly when they have a desire to engage in a sexual encounter with their partner. Which leads to one of the most common phrases I hear from my female clients: “Every time he touches me I think he just wants sex.”

Women subconsciously make a connection that physical affection will most likely lead to sex, and if their mind or their body doesn’t feel up to it, it feels safer to avoid all physical connection all together. This can also feel like pressure. Pressure to be intimate, pressure to perform/act/look/sound/move a certain way, which is very difficult if we don’t feel up for it. Essentially, pressure (of any kind) is the biggest enemy of intimacy.

What causes someone to avoid being touched by their partner?

This ‘shut down’ phenomenon has quite a few possible causes, and the list below resembles the ones I most frequently encounter with my clients.  

  1. Feeling touched out – This can be primarily experienced by mothers of young children. Having a child in your arms for hours, or being covered in all kinds of bodily fluids can be a very rewarding experience, but unfortunately, for some, it can result in feeling ‘touched out’ by the end of the day. By the time the little ones are in bed, all mum wants to do is enjoy her personal space.
  2. Lack of connection between partners – When we feel disconnected from our partner on an emotional level, it is very difficult to connect on a physical level. If someone makes sexual advances during a disconnected period, it can seem like ‘sex is all they are interested in’ and result in feeling even more disconnected.
  3. Pain/discomfort during intercourse – If someone experiences pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse, they would (often subconsciously) try to avoid not only the intercourse but anything that can lead to that as well.
  4. Other reasons why one partner may begin to avoid being touched by the other – If they are not experiencing much pleasure from coupled sex, they worry that it will lead to a fight, or if they have body image or self-confidence issues.

How does not wanting to be touched impact a relationship?

This ‘shut down’ dynamic often leaves both partners confused about what is happening as this isn’t necessarily a conscious or straight forward process. One partner feels they have shut down and the other feels rejected and lost. After this cycle repeats a few times, both partners sexual safety is damaged. This leads to a place where neither of them wants to or are able to talk about it, which quite literally ends up in an emotional and physical stand still.

How can couples restore a desire to be touched?

The first and most important thing a couple can and needs to do is communicate. By this I mean honest, open, and judgment-free communication about what each of the partners are feeling, thinking and experiencing regarding their intimacy. The only way this concern will be resolved is if both partners truly understand each other. In order to achieve this, a couple will need to be able to reconnect on an emotional level.

The second change a couple can implement goes hand in hand with the first one, and it is only possible when communication feels comfortable. The partner who avoids physical affection needs to regain control in a positive way.

One exercise that can work well is by learning how to have control during hugs. First, they should try to learn what kind of hugs they enjoy. For instance, do they like long or short hugs, gentle or firm hugs, chest to chest or shoulder to shoulder hugs, etc.

Secondly, they should try to communicate this to their partner by describing it in as much detail as possible and also demonstrating it.

Third, they practice hugging the way they enjoy hugging and get comfortable with this form of physical affection on their terms, no matter how long it takes.

Fourth, if at any point the hug becomes overwhelming, or too much (or not enough) they should be able to verbalize that to their partner.

Lastly, after the hugging is concluded, reflect on how it felt, and what thoughts and feelings came up during the encounter. The hug ends on their term. It is important to know that this and any other physical encounter does not have to go any further unless both partners REALLY want them to.

What this quite simple, light, and controlled exercise will achieve helps a couple establish trust around physical affection, which is crucial. Trust is an essential part of regaining physical intimacy as the person who avoids physical touch should be able to completely trust that their partner will respect their process, their wishes, and their boundaries. They also need to learn, discuss, and explore boundaries; What is ok, what is not, what they can put up with, and what they can’t when it comes to affection. This controlled setting also helps with the elimination of pressure to go any further, which is often the root of avoidance.

Ideally, with open and honest communication, trust building and the elimination of pressure, the person who ‘shut down’ before would learn that non-sexual physical affection does not need to lead to anywhere, therefore they will be able to not only participate but also initiate these encounters. This re-established comfort, communication, and trust quite often ultimately translates into the realm of sexual intimacy as well.

Kindly, 
Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, ASORC

Dori Bagi, M.S., SAS, ASORC is a kind, empathetic couples counselor, individual therapist, and life coach who specializes in sex therapy. Her friendly style makes it safe to talk about anything, and her solution-focused approach helps you move past the past, and into a bright new future of intimacy and connection.

Let’s  Talk

More Relationship Advice From Dori…

How to Empower Your Relationship

How to Empower Your Relationship

Teresa Thomas, M.A., AP is a marriage counselor, couples therapist, and life coach. Her approach is warm, positive, solution-focused, and all about helping you get to the core issues so that you can grow and move forward confidently. Teresa works with her marriage and couples clients to help them build a positive foundation and experience empowered relationships.

Cultivating positive growth

There comes a time in many relationships when the experiences you are having together make you feel less hopeful about the future of your partnership. Maybe you have been arguing more than you want, or you have been feeling disconnected for some time. When the relationship is no longer something you feel positive about, I suggest taking these steps to empower your relationship and revive the hope you once had. I encourage my clients in marriage and couples counseling to use these skills when beginning the journey of reconnecting and building a better relationship with their partner. 

Set Intentions of Change

The first essential step to empower your relationship is setting your intentions of change. When you feel like things have gotten to a point that you no longer feel satisfied it can be easy to begin the process of acceptance. I encourage my clients to resist accepting any part of life and relationships that they want to be different. Setting your intentions begins with refocusing your mind toward creating change. Start thinking about the things you want to be different. Sit down and start having loving conversations about each of your perspectives so that you are clear and on the same page about what changes you would like to make together.

Keep Communication Positive

I understand that when your relationship is needing some care it can be difficult to communicate with your partner. Many of us lose our cool and engage in negative communication when we feel stuck in the dynamic of the relationship. It is discouraging and sometimes painful to not be fulfilled in your relationship. So, when you are feeling stuck and it is hard to be hopeful, it is important to keep communication positive. Even when you are discussing the changes you want to make, try balancing out the conversation with the things you enjoy and want to stay the same. I encourage you to begin acknowledging your partner’s effort to change, as well as the small successes you have along the way. Consistently tell your partner what you love about them. Positive communication helps you stay motivated and willing to work through setbacks.

Establish & Evaluate Your Relationship Values & Principles

Empowerment will help you find motivation and purpose in your relationship. When you have set your intentions of change and made positive communication a priority, evaluating the values and principles of your relationship is a great next step. We all have personal values and principles that we live by. Relationships should also be based on a foundation of shared values between partners. Some examples are honesty, loyalty, open communication, and spontaneity. Begin thinking and talking about the values that you share with your partner. I suggest writing them down and putting them somewhere visible and accessible for you both to reference and add to the list.

Create Action-Oriented Plans

The last essential step to empowering your relationship is to focus on action-oriented plans. In order to move forward and create lasting change in your relationship, it is important to identify the behaviors and actions that go along with the values you set in place. For example, if one of your values is trust, actions like telling the truth even when it is hard and allowing your partner to have healthy friendships outside of your relationship, communicate and support the value of trust. So for each of your values talk about the ways you put them into action. This way you are both aware of the expectations and how you can communicate your intention of love and support for each other and the relationship.

These first steps to empowerment will allow your hope to return and jump-start the positive changes. 

 

Warmly,

Teresa

 

How to Heal a Relationship After a Fight

How to Heal a Relationship After a Fight

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Recover from a Fight

As a relationship therapist, I have had the opportunity to work with many couples who come looking for answers for their communication woes. How many of us have experienced that gut-wrenching feeling after a fight with our partner? Maybe you don’t feel heard, perhaps you feel like what you have to say about the topic is being misconstrued, or maybe you don’t know how to get your feelings across properly. Many couples who decide to engage in couples counseling are often doing so because they are experiencing unproductive communication, or they are at a loss as to how to resolve the conflict.

What you should know is that there is a better way to communicate, and out of better communication will come resolution to the conflict. Using positive communication skills can also help you find a path forward, and make-up after a fight.

How to Heal a Relationship After a Fight

Turning conflict into connection can seem like a merely unattainable relationship goal. You might be thinking that it’s not worth the effort to try and even communicate about the conflict because it will just encourage another argument – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can choose to consciously practice (and I say practice because it can take time) a form of better communication. Not only will it help you recover after a fight, but also strengthen your relationship.

This week on The Love, Happiness and Success blog I am sharing what positive communication steps you can take to heal your relationship after a fight and turn your conflict into connection.

 

 

Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Do You Understand How Others Feel?

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I often meet with couples who “struggle with communication.” But you know what? Most of the time people are actually able to express themselves quite well. The problem is that when they try to communicate with their partner, they do not feel heard, understood, or cared for.

What’s the disconnect? Empathy.

Allow me to tell you a little story to illustrate what I mean by empathy. One unfortunate day a number of years ago, I found myself standing at the check-in desk in the emergency room, waiting for the triage nurse to return. I was holding my four-year-old son, who, thirty minutes before, had tripped and landed head first on the thin edge of a glass coffee table. The sickeningly large goose-egg on his forehead was quickly turning purple. I was imagining skull fractures, blood clots, and news stories of people lost to silent brain hemorrhages were replaying in my mind.

I pressed the side of my face against his sweet golden hair and looked up to see an older woman sitting in the waiting area, watching me. She looked at me with deep compassion. I knew that she knew exactly what it felt like to hold a beloved, injured child, and to be in the terrifying time-before-knowing. Her just looking at me so compassionately broke through my adrenalin-fueled shock, and I came back into my body.

Just being understood by her unleashed hot tears of anguish and fear which overwhelmed me, because it allowed me to connect with my own emotions. Her look said, “I feel your pain, Mom,” and I just lost it for a moment, before messily attempting to pull it together so as not to further scare my kid. At that moment, though I still felt so scared and in pain for my child, I also felt known… and not alone. I felt one with terrified mothers everywhere, and that in itself was a comfort. (I can still get a little teary even now, writing about it).

Her understanding how I felt — and caring about it — was empathy in action.

Empathy is The First Step in Creating Connection

To intuit how another person is feeling is the foundation of being able to relate. To have a sense of another’s anxiety, hurt, or joy is a pre-requisite of being able to understand them. Without the context of feelings, people are often mystifying. Understanding feelings is like being at the theater and seeing the stage, props and costumes of a play—it provides the setting for the words and actions of others to make sense. Empathy is a fundamental skill of Emotional Intelligence, as well as the foundation of evidence-based marriage counseling approaches like Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Empathy is also at the core of compassion. To have a sense of another’s vulnerability, and how it’s similar to yours, generates kindness. Empathy helps us understand the great truth of relationships: We are the same. Yes, we have different personalities, life experiences, values and core beliefs. And yet we are still more similar than different. We all want to love and be loved, to be safe, to have healthy children, and to be happy.

Others are just as “real” as you are. The emotional experience of others is as true for them as yours is to you.  Feelings are a fact that cannot be argued. Having empathy means accepting the emotional truth of another, and attempting to understand it. If you can do that, you can connect with people on a deep level and help them feel genuinely loved and cared for by you.

Cultivate Empathy For Others By Tuning Into Yourself

How to cultivate this ability, and be able to connect emotionally with another person?  Start with yourself. Do you know how you feel? Without that awareness it is almost impossible to understand someone else. I bet the woman in the waiting room knew her own feelings—that was how she could understand mine. Like a bell that vibrates when held close to a singing voice, your emotional awareness resonates with the felt experience of others.

Practice noticing and naming the layers of emotion within you. Notice what hurts or scares or pleases you. Use your self-awareness to become more sensitive to how others may be feeling in similar situations. Then allow that knowledge to influence your words and deeds. When you develop more empathy for others, you are able to treat them with the dignity, respect, and understanding that you yourself desire. When you can put yourself in someone else’s emotional shoes, you will become softer and kinder, you will be able to relate to others more easily, and your relationships will improve.

If Communication in Your Relationship Has Been Feeling Hard Lately, Try This:

Do you feel like there’s a new fight always simmering under the surface with your partner lately? Or like they’re so quick to take offense, or shut down? Do you find yourself feeling that lately, whatever you say or do (or don’t do) is misunderstood and taken the wrong way? I get it. (Yes, I have empathy for you because I have felt that way in my own marriage before, too).

Reach for empathy to turn things around in your relationship.

The next time your partner responds badly to whatever they’ve interpreted you as having said or done, instead of reflexively getting upset back at them, try to use your power of empathy to understand how they feel. Take a guess, and say it out loud: “I’ve hurt your feelings, haven’t I?” Or, “What I said just now made you feel criticized by me, didn’t it?” Or, “I’m guessing that you just stopped talking right now and turned away because you’re worried that this is going to turn into another argument, or that I’m going to get upset.” Whatever you are guessing is true for your partner, just say it. (In a kind, genuinely curious, and non-judgemental or accusatory way).

If you just take your best guess and then stop talking, something interesting might happen. Your partner might say….”Yeah. That is how I feel.” And even more amazingly, your tiny little bit of empathy just might make them feel safe enough with you in that moment to tell you more about how they feel, giving YOU the opportunity to do more non-reactive reflecting about how they feel. Then, before you know it, you might be having a really honest, important, connecting conversation — instead of another fight. [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage].

This is what happens when you’re in the room with a good marriage counselor or couples therapist: They hone into each of your feelings, to help you understand each other more compassionately and in an emotionally safe way. But you don’t necessarily need to have a marriage counselor in the room with you do foster empathy and understanding in your relationship.

Try it, and see what happens. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes, if you’d like to share anything with me and your fellow readers in the comments below.

Yours always,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. To deepen your understanding of empathy, how powerful it is, and how it works in real life, check out this super-cute video about Empathy by Brene Brown

3 Steps to Effective Arguing

3 Steps to Effective Arguing

Fair Fighting Rules For Couples

Have you ever had an argument with your partner that feels like it is going in circles? Or have you ever had a big sense of deja-vu when you and your partner argue, like you have had the same argument ten times? It is very common for couples to fall into a slump when it comes to communication and they feel like they are not getting through to each other.

In my experience as a marriage counselor, premarital counselor, and couples therapist, couples tend to express how hard it is to communicate with each other because the conversations “always” turn into arguments. But, something that may come as a surprise is that arguments are a form of communication and can be very productive if done right. In fact, if you know how to handle yourself in potentially difficult moments, you can turn a nasty argument into a productive discussion.

“Right Fighting” in Relationships

Yes, I am saying there is a right way to argue, and a wrong way. And you may be saying to yourself, “arguments are never good” or “if we are arguing, it can’t be right.” Although I agree that excessive, hurtful, and intense arguments can be a sign of discord in your relationship, I also suggest that when done right, arguments (aka, “passionate conversations”) can be an effective and productive way to improve and even enhance your relationship. So what do I mean by done “right?” Here are three steps that will help bring structure and purpose to your next disagreement with your partner.

3 Steps to Productive Conflict in Your Relationship

Step 1: Timing

Does it feel like you arguments always seem to happen at the wrong time, in the wrong place? When we have something to say we want to say it now. And it is important to get your feelings out, but think about the timing. Be aware of when your partner seems to be more available to talk. And I even suggest trying to get a read of how emotionally available your partner is too.

As intimate partners, we have a great sense of when our partner is in a good mood. It can be helpful to “test the waters” and let them know that you have something important to talk about, just to see if the time is right. I’m not saying you should sit on things or bury your feelings if the time just never seems right. But, we can all agree that trying to have an important conversation with your partner while their favorite sports team is on, or when they walk in the door mentally exhausted from work is very difficult.

Step one of having a productive discussion instead of a hurtful argument is being aware of the timing, and try to be intentional about when you bring up the “hot topics.”

Step 2: Message Received

Remember the old cell phone commercial where people in different locations were shouting, “Can you hear me now??” When a discussion has turned into a fight that is going badly, it can feel like we want to yell that at our partner sometimes. It just feels like they don’t hear us, or they don’t get it.

When couples come to me feeling unheard by their partner it tends to be related to the way they communicate feelings and how their partner receives the message. You send it, they receive it. A great way for couples to ensure they are each heard in conversations and arguments, is to check in on what you hear. When your partner is done talking, you can ask, “Is this what you mean?” Or, say, “I hear you saying this… is that right?” Carefully checking in to make sure you’re understanding your partner gives clarity, and the chance to correct each other if your wires ever get crossed.

Step 3: What now?

The last step to productive discussions is simply saying, “What now?” It is important to have a clear plan going forward after every argument. Think of it like a game plan for your relationship. When you have picked a good time, made sure the message was received correctly, and that you’ve both heard each other, say… ”what now?”

When you shift the conversation away from how you’re feeling, towards what you can each do to solve the problem or improve the situation is what ultimately makes any conflict productive. Saying “what now” allows you to brainstorm ideas, get back on the same page, and actually fix things so that you don’t have to have the same argument over and over again.

Having a clear conclusion to every argument is crucial. When we leave things open, or we don’t talk about what we are going to do moving forward, it creates a negative cycle: Sooner or later, you’re going to disappoint each other again. Even if the “what now” comes a couple days later (after you’re both feeling calmer), it is important to make sure you come back together and have a solution-focused conversation.

While arguments can feel challenging in the moment, they’re a great opportunity for you both to get your feelings and needs out in the open. Then, you can use the new information that came from your “passionate conversation” as a roadmap to make positive changes to your relationship that deepen your connection.

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
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