How Physical Affection Keeps Your Relationship Strong

Woman on back of man both smiling and laughing.Are you a snuggler? A smoocher? What about a hand-holder?

If you’re thinking…hmm, there isn’t a whole lot of that going on recently…you might want to try a little harder. According to one study of about 300 college students, people in more physically affectionate relationships are happier and more satisfied.

How Affection Helps

To be clear, this is not about sex. The affection that was looked at in this study was limited to kissing, cuddling, back massages, hand-holding, and stroking and caressing. Almost all of these types of affection were associated with better relationships. (For some reason, hand-holding and stroking/caressing did not have the same significance.) The more physical affection, or PA, there was, the more likely these men and women were to say that they were happy and satisfied with their partner and their relationship—and that they thought their partner was satisfied, too.

What’s more, physically affectionate couples may even find it easier to work out arguments and disagreements. While affectionate couples in this study didn’t have any more or less conflict generally than others, those who gave and received more PA said they were more able to resolve their differences.

Know Your Partner

Men and women did show slightly different preferences when it came to different types of physical affection, or PA. For instance, men seem to like giving back massages more than women did, while women enjoyed hugging and hand-holding more than men did. Men and women also had somewhat different opinions on which types of PA expressed love the most towards their partner.

Of course, regardless of gender, different people will have different preferences, so ask your partner what he or she prefers to receive, and to give! Taking your partner’s likes and dislikes into account could improve your relationship, too. (Also, as study participants point out, there are more types of loving physical affection than those mentioned here! Slow dancing, playing with someone’s hair, and even play wrestling were some of the other PA types suggested.)

To Keep in Mind

It’s important to note that this study does not actually prove that being physically affectionate causes better relationships—just that the two things seem to be associated. It could be the case, for instance, that people in happy relationships are just more likely to be affectionate.

However, given what we already know about how touch calms us and bonds us, and the fact that physical affection is enjoyable, it’s worth upping the “PA” in your own relationship. It’s easy, fun, and of course, free. In the future, therapists might even “prescribe” increasing physical affection to couples who are struggling. But you can start now!


From University of Florida UF/IFAS.  For more relationship articles, visit


Gulledge, A. K., Gulledge, M. H., & Stahmannn, R. F.  (2003) Romantic physical affection types and relationship satisfaction, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 31:4, 233-242, DOI: 10.1080/01926180390201936