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Today's Family Magazine

The affection effect in marriage

By Christa Melnyk Hines

"They must still be dating,” my friend whispers to me. 

As we stand shivering at my son's soccer game, my brother-in-law and his fiancé cuddle together sharing a warm blanket and a chair. 

“No married couple would be that affectionate toward each other,” she says.

Her assessment seems a bit pessimistic to this romantic.  Must the spontaneity and sweetness of courtship die as we move out of the “shout from the rooftops” kind of young love into the demands of young parenthood?

Growing complacent about displaying affection isn't unusual as a marriage is peppered with children, crises, celebrations and day-to-day routine.  Nonetheless, simple expressions of love like hand-holding, hugs and kisses, and compliments are an important component to the health of a marriage and the family unit.

“Without intimacy, people can and often do begin to feel isolated, alone, bitter, depressed, used and simply uncared for,” says Amanda Deverich, a licensed marriage and family therapist.  “All the happiness that was amplified by the physicality in the early part of the marriage is no longer there to grease the wheels of family life.  What remains is grinding drudgery, financial stress and short tempers.”

Affection in the midst of parenthood

Many parents find that affection for each other can get lost in the mind-numbing whirlwind of sleepless nights and the general challenges of new parenthood.

“This is a natural phenomenon in the family life cycle as parents devote their energies to the newborn,”Deverich says.

After the initial adjustment period, nurture your relationship to avoid resentment and a sense of neglect.  Such feelings can quietly chip away at the positive family dynamic that your kids rely on to feel safe and secure. 

Why affection is healthy

“Couples believe affection is simply an inspired by-product of a feeling,” Deverich says.  “However, it can be the other way around. Love, connectedness, and caring can be sparked by physical touch.” 

While excessive public displays of intimacy can cause discomfort for those around you--including your kids--showing warmth toward one another gives children a sense of well-being, that all is well in their family unit. 

“When children see this model behavior where affection is easily expressed, that is a skill set that can translate into other arenas of their life,” says psychiatrist Dr. Bela Sood.  “They learn how to be kind, gentle, as well as, be happy with other people as they watch their own parents.”

When affection doesn't come naturally

Not everyone was raised in affectionate homes and others simply aren't wired to display warmth toward others, including the ones they love the most. 

“Understand the uniqueness and differences in the other person without being judgmental about that,” Sood says.

But that doesn't mean you can't work on meeting your spouse's needs for affection.  Recall what attracted the two of you in the first place.  Physical touch and tenderness toward each other can reaffirm your love and create instant connectedness.

“We forget that we have control over many things that go on in our lives if we are willing to make that sacrifice,” Sood says.  “And why are we willing to make that sacrifice? Because we love that person.”

17 simple ways to rekindle that lovin' feelin'

  • Hold hands
  • Hug and kiss
  • Look each other in the eyes
  • Get involved in a hobby together
  • Listen when your spouse talks about his or her interests
  • Flirt with each other
  • Laugh together
  • Pen a love note and leave it on your spouse's pillow
  • Send a flirty text message
  • Email a link to a sweet love song to your mate
  • Give your spouse a back rub
  • Offer a sincere compliment
  • Help each other around the house and with the kids
  • Call each other during the day just to check in
  • Court each other
  • Tell your kids what you love about your spouse
  • Say "I love you"

Freelance writer, Christa Melnyk Hines, and her husband of 22 years are the parents of two boys. Christa's latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.