7 Ways To Respond To A Partner Who Is More Touchy-Feely Than You, Without Hurting Their Feelings

by Kristine Fellizar
BDG Media, Inc.

If you are experiencing the type of relationship when one partner is more affectionate than the other, it might cause a bit of a disconnect. As marriage and family therapist, Dr. Jane Greer, tells Bustle, "The person who isn't touchy-feely may feel uncomfortable or awkward with the affection, while the person who is touchy-feely will feel deprived when they don't receive this attention. They'll feel like they're missing out on feeling loved and secure." Nobody who truly loves their partner wants their partner to feel that way. So what's the best way to respond to your physically affectionate partner when you're just not like that?

According to Greer, the goal is for the touchy-feely partner to find ways to express affection in a way that's comfortable for both people in the relationship. "It needs to be something [the person who is not touchy-feely] can learn to not just tolerate, but truly enjoy," she says.

If you're not the affectionate type, it's important for you to work with your partner to find the affectionate gestures that are comfortable for both of you. You can start by finding the small physical gestures that come most naturally to you. For instance, holding hands or a hug. Just allow your partner to initiate and go from there, letting your partner know if there's anything you're not OK with.

"Eventually, the touchy-feely person may start to reach out themselves," Greer says. "Part of this is helping them get comfortable with it."

So here are some of the best ways experts say to respond to a partner who is more affectionate than you, without hurting their feelings.


Verbally Tell Your Partner That You Care About Them

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If you're not physically affectionate, but your partner is, dating and relationship coach, Carla Romo, tells Bustle, "A great way to respond to this is to first tell your partner that you care a lot about them. Then, clearly state that you do not prefer showing affection by being touchy feely and then state what you prefer." According to Romo, this allows you to work together as a team to find what works best for the two of you, while helping your partner respect your boundaries.


Acknowledge Your Partner's Needs

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Other than telling your partner that you love them, Adam Lippin, CEO and Founder of The Cuddlist tells Bustle, it's also important to acknowledge your partner's needs. "Let them know that you understand they want more physical contact and that there's nothing wrong with having the need for more touch." That way it won't make your partner feel that your desire for less physical contact doesn't mean you don't love or care for them. Also, it will show your partner that you understand that's how they express that they care.


Negotiate A Mutual "Yes"

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"Negotiate how it's possible for both of you to get your needs met," Lippin says. Is holding hands OK? Is a long hug too much? If you're the uncomfortable one, have an open discussion with your partner about the types of physical contact they like and the ones you don't. You're sure to find a mutual "yes" in there somewhere. And if you're OK with it, talk about physical contact that you might be comfortable exploring over time.


Make Sure To Use "I" Statements When You're Discussing The Issue

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As Licensed Psychotherapist, Eliza Boqun, MA, LMFT, tells Bustle, it's important to make it about you. If you're the one who's uncomfortable with a ton of physical affection, it's important to use "I" statements (i.e. "When I'm hugged from behind without expecting it, I get startled and overwhelmed") and avoid "blaming language" (i.e. "You always grab me from behind! You know I hate that.")

"If you have a strong aversion to physical touch, you may want to do some personal exploration to get to the root of why it makes you so uncomfortable," Boqun says. Is there a history of trauma? Are there any sensory issues? Did you grow up without receiving a lot of physical touch? Were your physical boundaries violated regularly? "Working with a licensed psychotherapist is one way to find out what may be blocking you from enjoying simple pleasures of physical touch," she says. But also remember, there's nothing wrong with you because you are not the type to be physically affectionate. Make sure your comfort is a priority in your relationship.


Ask Your Partner Why Physical Touch Is So Important To Them

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In case you weren't aware, physical touch is one of the five love languages. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are five love languages — words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and receiving gifts — and they are the ways that people express their love, and interpret the feelings of others. If your partner's love language is physical touch, and yours isn't, it may be difficult to understand each other.

"The best things to do is to address this affection difference by identifying where it comes from," couples consultant and coach, Lesli Doares, tells Bustle. "What makes touching important to your partner? Being curious about what physical touch conveys to you both is a great place to start." If you know your partner's love language, it will be a lot easier for you to understand them and it won't make you react in an unintentionally offensive way.


Don't Keep The Issue In

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"If you are feeling uncomfortable with your partner being more touchy-feely than you, the instinct may be to not say anything for fear they will get upset or hurt," marriage and family therapist, Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC tells Bustle. "But if it's truly making you uncomfortable, you will start pulling away without even noticing it, and over time this can be harmful to the relationship." So don't keep it in. It's the easiest way to prevent your partner from feeling hurt. Be open with your needs sooner rather than later, this way both you and your partner can feel more heard.


Learn To Accept It

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Even if you discuss something over and over again, a person can't change how they just naturally are. That's why relationship expert and author, Kevin Darné, tells Bustle it's important to decide if having a partner who is touchy-feely is a dealbreaker or not.

"Generally speaking people don't change unless they are unhappy," he says. "There are far more worse things in relationships than having a partner who can't get enough holding, kissing, and touching you. We either get what we want or we learn to be happy with what we have." So it's up to you to decide if you can accept your partner the way they are or not.

Everyone comes into relationships with their own set of likes and dislikes. People also have different ways they like to give and receive love. The best thing for you and your partner to do is to figure out what will make each of you happy. Compromise is key.