For freelance writer Brooke Blanton, holding hands with her boyfriend doesn’t just bring them closer together, it’s also healing.
One night, a crippling migraine left Blanton in severe pain. Not knowing what else to do, the As One Loves founder curled up next to her boyfriend in bed.
She describes the pain as an “icepick in your head.’
“All you want to do is sleep, but that’s the last thing you can do,” Blanton told NBC News BETTER.
“I was feeling terrible and I just could not sleep,” she says, “and all I needed to do was lie down next to him, and he held my hand, and I was out in a couple of minutes.”
How physical touch heals pain
Blanton says holding her partner’s hand created a phenomenon called “interpersonal synchronization.” According to a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports, when an emphatic partner holds your hand while you experience stress, your breathing and heart rate sync together, which can alleviate your anxiety.
Blanton says it was incredible how simply holding hands with someone she loved soothed her pain.
“Just that tiny little connection can completely affect your mind and your well being,” says Blanton.
Physical touch doesn’t come naturally to everyone
Many people need and crave physical touch to alleviate not only physical discomfort but also emotional pain. But it doesn’t come natural to everyone, says Blanton, including her boyfriend.
“But what’s so great about him is he’s so empathetic,” she says. “He will completely validate what I’m experiencing, and he’s learned over the years that physical touch is a major thing for me.”
She says her boyfriend’s natural way of expressing love is by doing nice things for others, like cleaning up or buying gifts.
“He’s really not as touchy and feely as me, but I know that he knows that it works for me because he’s always holding my hand and everything even though he might not really want to,” she says.
She says it’s important for her to understand how he likes to feel loved, as well. On some days, that could mean cleaning the kitchen, she says, or simply asking him how his day was.
“I would feel bad if it was all about me and my boyfriend always has to be holding my hand and I never gave him what he needed,” Blanton says. “So, I learned over the years what he needs when he’s upset and what makes him feel loved and what makes him feel appreciated.”
While it’s been a process, she says, he has learned to know when she needs affection, too.
“He immediately goes to hold my hand or rub my back or something, and just that physical touch, I don’t know, it creates this connection and immediately calms me down no matter what I’m feeling at the time,” Blanton says.
Tell your partner when you need to be held
For the less touchy partner, knowing when to be affectionate can be a learning process, according to Blanton. You shouldn’t be shy about asking for affection, she says. Oftentimes, she says, she will simply ask her boyfriend to cuddle with her.
“My boyfriend … he wouldn’t know how to deal with this so I have to be open with him in telling him what I need and he has to be open with me in listening to what I need, and in turn telling me what he needs in life,” Blanton says.
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