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I woke up this morning thinking about that term "non-sexual touch."
(Don't ask me why. Is there any rhyme or reason as to why these things come to me when they do?!)
The term "non-sexual touch" usually is brought up when a couple has struggled with getting on the same page about sexual intimacy.
Usually it is wives who are longing for more non-sexual touch, meaning they want their husbands to touch them at times without the motive of it eventually leading to sex.
"I wish a hug could just be a hug."
"I wish he desired me with my clothes on as much as when my clothes are off."
"Is that all you think about?" (a wife laments as her husband comes up behind her and puts his hands around her waist in a loving embrace)
"I wish he would touch me without expecting sex."
To be fair to wives here, I am completely aware that there are husbands whose only motive when they touch their wives -- whether it be in the kitchen or in the bedroom -- is to clearly send the message that they want sex. And they want it soon.
And to be fair to husbands who do value touch beyond sexual touch, I am also aware of the painful rejection that occurs when their wives get unreasonably defensive.
"Doesn't she want to be desired by me?"
"I wish I could touch her other than when we have sex."
"It would be nice if she wouldn't just go through the motions. I wish she would touch me when my clothes are on, instead of just 'check sex of her to-do list' when we make love."
Here is the problem with the term "non-sexual touch."
I think we lose sight of what genuine affection means. When we start to draw clear category lines around touch, it diminishes the purpose of touch.
And I hate to say it, but that easily can lead to a place of "keeping track" or "keeping score" of what is happening. Even worse, it reduces it all to what is happening physically, when we know full well that touch in a marriage was never meant to be solely a physical experience.
When this issue of "non-sexual touch" versus "sexual touch" comes up, I think a couple is coming face-to-face with a dynamic in their marriage that they cannot ignore (at least not without the great risk of a fractured relationship).
They are staring at their need to better understand affection that reflects 1 Corinthians 7.
When a couple marries, they are agreeing that their bodies are not just their own. Ownership has been extended to their spouse as well. (For sake of my argument here, I'm not talking about marriages where abuse and betrayal is taking place. Those are complex issues -- issues that aren't present in many, many marriages where physical intimacy is suffering).
When we nurture a deep sense of freedom in giving and receiving touch -- all kinds of touch -- we can begin to let our guard down.
We can begin to expand our communication instead of stiffen our backs and shut down emotionally. We can stop blanketing every touch with a negative interpretation, where we question our spouse's motive instead of appreciate their desire.
Ponder all this with me a moment, okay? (You've already read this far, you might as well finish).
If you are a husband who only touches your wife when you want sex, there is room for growth.
If you are a wife who is resistant to your husband's touch, there is room for growth.
What is it going to take to get to a place where you can within your marriage not only have greater freedom in touch -- but also more verbal communication in those moments so that you can appreciate each other's desires and needs?
It's not an issue of one person being right and one person being wrong.
A very basic place to start is to say what you like. Get specific about not only the types of touches you like, but why you like it.
"I like it when you kiss the back of my neck, because it makes me feel treasured."
"I like it when you hold my hand at church, because it makes me feel like we are united."
"I like it when you caress my leg when we are resting on the couch, because it is relaxing."
"I like it when you run your fingernails on my back because it is arousing."
Good Lord, I could go on and on with this.
"I like to touch your body because you are beautiful."
"I like to kiss you outside of our bedroom because you mean the world to me."
"I love the way I feel in your arms. I love the way you feel in my arms."
If touch is a big issue in your marriage -- the lack of it, the misinterpretation of it, the limited types of it -- then make it your heartfelt investment in your marriage to change that trend.
Get creative. Get real. Get intentional.
Why not start right now? Go touch your spouse in a way you've rarely or never touched them. Then be brave and talk about it.
Copyright 2011, Julie Sibert, Intimacy in Marriage Blog.