Want to inject some happiness into your relationship? Touch your partner more. So finds sex and gender research institution The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, which recently conducted a study on sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships.
While there are a number of interesting findings in this study — which examined more than 1,000 couples from the United States, Germany, Japan, Brazil and Spain who had been together for an average of 25 years — one discovery that jumped out was that for men, cuddling and kissing scored high on what made them happy in their relationships. And for women? Sex — particularly satisfying sex — is what made them happy.
These findings are really of no surprise to Sue McGarvie, the Ottawa-based relationship therapist and host of the Love and Lipstick radio show. I asked her to help us figure out what the study means and how we can boost the happiness in our relationships.
Q: What was your reaction to this study?
A: A lot of people think men are all about sex, and in some ways that’s true. But what differentiates your intimate partner from friends and colleagues is the sex and the touch. Women get touch from other women — women will hug, and curl up on a couch together if they’re hanging out. Men don’t get that and there’s a need for touch. It’s how do you feel loved? If you tell me you love me, I melt. For a girlfriend, she says shovel my car off when there’s three feet or snow or pick up dinner when the kids are rangy — that’s love for her. Another friend says she wants love notes. But for men universally it’s touch. Men need that tactile sensation and if they don’t get touch, they don’t always know how to ask for it.
Q: So for men it’s touch and not so for women? The study noted that both men and women who reported frequent touching, cuddling and kissing in their relationships had higher sexual satisfaction.
A: Women get touch in many aspects of their lives. Men don’t. What you get from your partner is sex — you get touch elsewhere but your partner is the only one you have sex with. The study highlighted that men wanted cuddles and women wanted sex — good sex. I think with women when they get older they do like sex more. (Note: the study does report that “Women who had been with their partner for less than 15 years were less likely to report sexual satisfaction, but after 15 years, the percentage went up significantly.”)
Q: What’s the connection to happiness?
A: Start asking people how they feel loved because that’s how they will feel happy. People want to be happy and they’re craving connection and for many people that means touch.
Q: So how can we make our long-term relationships happier?
A: I’m a big believer in structured activity — we’re all busy! For instance, I have my patients schedule date nights and give them “touch programs” to try and touch for three minutes, non-genital touch. Even if it’s at the end of your day and you’ve been touched out by your kids say, you can do this for three minutes — set a timer. This isn’t about sex but about touch for each of you. It’s about not feeling disconnected.
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