In 1977 the Canadian songwriter Dan Hill wrote and performed the simple love song, “Sometimes When We Touch.” It quickly became a massive hit, rising to #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, but was so overplayed it became a wearisome parody of itself, also nearing the top of many “worst songs” lists.
Nevertheless this little ballad topped the charts in the UK and in Australia, and has been recorded by some the biggest names, from Cleo Lane to Tina Turner, Engelbert Humperdinck and even Rod Stewart.
A few weeks ago I met with a young, attractive and engaging couple… who never touch. Except accidentally.
Same bed, but no sex or cuddling; tender and affectionate toward their children, but even here managing to avoid an accidental and careless brushing together. And civil, effective and amicable through all their daily and weekly routines and coming and going, but… no touching.
They didn’t really know, except… it made them feel awkward and uncomfortable, they had done it less and less, and in the end had got quite used to a life without it. Except, they weren’t doing too well, and they (sorta) wanted to try to have sex. They thought that as a young married couple, they really should. But they sounded reluctant.
This kind of “touchless marriage” may sound bizarre, but therapists working with couples know how very common is this kind of functional marriage.
To offer a kind touch challenges us to push resentment and cool indifference into the background. It challenges us to live with a forgiving heart toward each other, and to be much more thoughtful about the other. It demands honesty, and the naked transparency that this intimacy invites. No wonder many avoid this. So many marriages, not only “sexless” but “touchless.” And altogether common. And so, we go to work, or into other distractions.
In “Any Woman’s Blues” Erica Jong describes one modern couple… “They own things together rather than fuck. This is their form of sex.” And of course there are countless variations on this. “They work, they drive their kids hundreds of miles each week, they host parties, go on trips, fix their house up, decorate, and work-out… rather than touch each other.”
I thought of some of the words from Dan Hill’s old song while I met with my “touchless” couple. “Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide…”
The honesty’s too much!
And so we brush by each other, perhaps aching to be touched, caressed, held and even ravaged! But this is not who we are anymore. This is not who we have become.
In the apostle Paul’s 1st Century letter to the Church in Corinth, Greece, he warns couples; “don’t stop having frequent sex, except for special times of prayer.” I suspect that most of the sexless and touchless couples I work with aren’t suffering this poverty because they’re busy praying!
Interesting though, that in this little town 50 miles south of Athens, some 2000 years ago, couples were being warned to care for this touching, lest they begin to drift apart, not only in body but in their hearts. The physical part of who we are, and the physical part of our relationship is of paramount importance.
As the field of psychology developed and defined itself over the last century, countless studies (we needed “studies?”) demonstrated the need for touch. Without it animals died, infants failed to thrive, and couples slowly crept apart, first into separate beds and routines, and then to the lawyers.
How much do you and your spouse touch?
Have you been touching more or less this past year? Who generally initiates this touching? How, when, where and why do we touch? How have you touched each other today? These last few hours?
“Have you touched your spouse lately?” (bumper sticker, somewhere).
In the same way that a “kind word dissolves wrath,” a kind touch, in just a brief moment, soothes in a way the mere words simply can’t. I’m not talking about a quick grope in the kitchen while supper’s on the way, or the perfunctory hug and “kiss” which may be imbedded mindlessly into your daily “going out the door” routine; good as these habits may be. Rather, the kind of patient, unrushed and thoughtful touching which reminds us both that we are in this together, that we have each other, that we truly love and are grateful for each other, and that we want to help. In a simple gesture, and in a moment, we communicate that we are glad to be with them.
What is quite amazing about touching, is that any effort we make to just try to begin to touch each other more, without any explanation or fuss, begins to soothe and to bring warmth and peace and hope to sometimes quite shattered souls and bodies.
Try it! Just for one week.
It is risky business! It’s easier to pretend that the status quo is nothing too far out of the ordinary. That you are just (of course) very busy, and very tired. But this is of course fear and cowardice. So think about stepping out, without expert counselling intervention, without any explanation, and without “solving” any of the countless and unresolved issues which you may have together.
Just do it. One week.
Your relationship will gain strength and warmth, momentum and hopefulness, and more. It’s perhaps the easiest one thing you could do with the greatest return on investment. Or, you could pretend that “we’re ok,” etc., while you’re both so well aware that you’re losing altitude day after day after day.
Sometimes when we touch…
“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Carl G. Jung (1875 – 1961)
Dr. Todd Sellick is a marriage and family therapist in Winnipeg. He and his wife developed a game for couples to promote intimacy, called "A Private Affair". You can read more of his blog posts or check out the game here.