Physical Touch in Your Long-Distance Relationship
Written by Team Tangible & our friends at OURS
If you’ve ever been in a long-distance relationship, you know what it’s like to miss “the little things” when you’re separated from your partner – especially everyday expressions of physical affection like giving them a quick kiss goodbye when they leave the house, squeezing their hand when they need reassurance, or hugging them as soon as you get home from work.
These small exchanges might have been part of your daily ritual, or something you did without much thought. However, studies show that touch offers both emotional and physiological benefits by decreasing cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increasing oxytocin (the bonding hormone).
While providing emotional support through regular video calls, voice calls, and text can help maintain feelings of connectedness and stability over distance, it can be difficult for even the most experienced and emotionally connected couples to feel like they’re truly there for each other.
When it’s not possible to share any of the small, silent physical interactions that serve as signals of mutual trust, warmth, and intimacy – LDR couples often find that it’s much harder to communicate and interpret one another’s emotional states.
But what if you could simulate the feeling of being physically present with your partner over distance?
A study of couples in long-distance relationships has found evidence to suggest that devices that allow LDR couples to share “social touch” (in this case, paired bracelets that transmit simulated “squeezes” between partners) can strengthen an established romantic relationship in multiple ways.
Tangible pillows being used as a 'social touch' device
Relationship salience, which indicates “how prominent a relationship is in a person’s mind,” was found to be significantly higher in couples that used these social touch devices. This means that these couples found that they were thinking of one another more often, likely because they could send “thinking of you” sensations at any time.
Significant increases in feelings of closeness over time were also established.
In addition, a recent Stanford study found that people can identify simulated patterns of touch – such as “squeezes, strokes, shakes, [and] pokes” – with emotions and intentions like “attention seeking, gratitude, happiness, calming, love and sadness,” even without training or practice in associating these meanings. This suggests that even simple social touch devices function as a form of body language that can enhance communication and empathy in a relationship.
How does this relate to your long-distance relationship? While the long-term benefits of remote social touch solutions are not yet known, these touch devices give couples the ability to use physical affection and nonverbal communication over distance in ways that were never possible before.
Many couples experience disparities in how much they value physical touch – that is, one partner tends to both find more fulfillment in the relationship through touch overall and miss it more often and more intensely when they’re separated – and therefore partners have very different emotional reactions to going long-distance.
Whether you’re long-distance or in-person now, it’s worth discussing social touch needs with your partner:
What forms of touch do each of you find comforting?
What forms of touch do you think about or miss most when you’re apart?
How similar are your physical affection needs?
Do you ever feel like the absence of touch impacts your ability to communicate emotions effectively?
While being in a long distance relationship can at times feel challenging, with intentionality, commitment, and creativity, you can nourish a loving and healthy coupledom.
OURS is a relationship wellness platform that helps couples (including those who are in long-distance relationships) learn skills, prioritize their coupledom and enhance connectedness. It offers a four-week course that includes two live sessions with a therapist and a customized curriculum of four remote, self-guided sessions.
Each session includes components that have been found to have a significant effect on increasing emotional intimacy, such as sharing a physical activity experience. For instance, couples are guided to practice synchronized breathing - an exercise that helps harmonize energies without needing to be physically present. Couples are also led to practice the butterfly hug - a technique that offers stress-reducing benefits and can be completed individually.
Tangible is a magical pillow that lets you feel physically present with far-away loved ones. Pair it with your phone or tablet to enjoy Teleportation Calls, which let you share hugs, warmth, and physical touch over distance.
Tangible wraps around your body like a real-life embrace, and has the comforting gravity of a weighted blanket. Immersive touch sensors inside the pillow create hug-like squeezes & delightful sensations throughout your upper body.
We just launched on Kickstarter and are now accepting holiday orders!