Almost a third of couples say they can go for days without touching one another. But what’s getting in the way? We investigate this worrying trend…
So, you’re having a quiet night in for Valentine’s Day. It’s just the two of you on the sofa – with a bottle of wine and a Breaking Bad box-set. You did briefly toy with the idea of snuggling up, but it’s just a lot easier if you sit at either end so you
MIND THE GAP
Relationships say they can go for days without touching one another, according to the Durex Embrace Skin Intimacy Report, a recent survey of 2,000 British couples. And more than a fifth admit they always watch TV from opposite ends of the sofa. So what’s really keeping us apart? When Asked what stopped them from cuddling up, many of the survey respondents cited the usual culprits: stress, tiredness and our oh-so-busy modern lives. ‘There Are lots of reasons why couples lose intimacy,’ says Durex Embrace sex and relationship expert Susan Quilliam. ’And Some are definitely to do with the pace of modern life. We have never been busier, never tried to cram so much into our days and never expected so much of ourselves work-wise.’And then there’s that other major player in modern-day mores and morals technology. The advent of smartphones and tablets has changed the way we live our lives. We no longer automatically switch off from the outside world when we get home after a busy day. We’re still potentially connected to everyone and everything we know and care about – and a whole lot more besides. Meanwhile, on- demand TV and box-sets allow us to indulge in entire evenings of uninterrupted viewing. Life no longer comes with natural breaks when we’d once have taken the opportunity to snuggle up and make small-talk while waiting for the kettle to boil.Down-time doesn’t really exist – unless we actively allow it to.
ITUNE IN, SWITCH OFF
‘Modern life offers so much choice that we often don’t know where our focus should lie,’ says relationship counsellor Denise Knowles from Relate (relate.org. uk). ‘So we have to actively choose to be intimate with one another, and that takes some self-discipline. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it’s important to know when to switch off from it.‘Surfing the internet can be addictive. You think you’re only going to be five minutes, but then you get sucked in. Having all that information at our fingertips appeals to our natural curiosity. Of course, we want to learn. But we can learn far more about ourselves and our relationships if we block out the distractions every once in a while.’There is a flip-side to this, however. Some would argue that, far from driving couples apart, modern technology allows us to be more in touch with one another throughout the day than ever before. Indeed, the Durex survey found that a quarter of British couples are more likely to communicate with one another through social media, text or email than by talking on the telephone or face-to-face.And, in a 2011 study at Brigham Young University in the US, both men and women agreed that sending loving text messages helped keep romance alive. It was also widely regarded as a form of ‘relationship maintenance’.
IS MODERN LIFE DESTROYING intimacy? Photo Gallery
‘While it may seem on the surface that we engage less with each other nowadays, that isn’t necessarily so,’ says Jenni Trent Hughes, relationship expert at dating website eHarmony. Tn many ways, technology has greatly enhanced 21st-century relationships because it’s made it easier for us to meet people we wouldn’t normally have met, and allows us to keep in touch more readily than before. After all, who hasn’t felt that rush of excitement at a text popping up from a partner or love interest?’So, does it really matter how we communicate with one another,as long as we’re communicating in some way? The problem, says Denise Knowles, is that emails, texts and social media are two-dimensional: ‘This form of communication is flat. There’s no colour or depth to it – no facial clues, no body language, no tone of voice and, perhaps above all, no physical touch. It’s so easy to take the written word the wrong way, to read something into it that wasn’t intended. Actually speaking to someone one-to-one enables you to gain clarification and closeness. That’s why technology should always be regarded as an ’‘add-on” to traditional forms of communication, not as a replacement.’
However, there’s yet another school of thought surrounding the decline of intimacy. Could it simply be part of a wider trend that sees many of us – particularly women – place higher value on our independence nowadays?Perhaps the idea of everyone yearning after a romantic relationship is simply outmoded. Maybe we just don’t need intimacy as much as we once did…In the UK, married couple households are now in the minority for the first time, according to the 2011 Census. Official figures show that couples in marriages or civil partnerships now make up just 47 per cent of all households.
Meanwhile, there’s been a dramatic rise in one-person households, with more than 500,000 new ones created between 2001 and 2011.‘For women in particular, careers are often now the focus in their lives,’ says Quilliam. ‘A few decades ago, we’d have been more home-based and concentrating on our relationships.’ Quilliam is quick to point out that this shift away from domesticity isn’t a bad thing. Nevertheless, any major social transition inevitably has its knock-on effects.In Japan, the media has coined the phrase ‘celibacy syndrome’ to describe the growing preference for independence and freedom over the intimacy of romance and marriage.And the number of single people in the country has now reached a record high. A recent study by the Meiji Yasuda Life insurance company found that a third of Japanese people under the age of 30 have never dated anyone. And 45 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 claim they’re ‘not interested in or despise sexual contact’, according to Japan’s recent National Fertility Survey Why? Experts cite a variety of reasons but, for many, it seems that intimacy is equated with being tied-down and out-of-step. There’s a whole world of opportunities out there. Why get ‘trapped’ with just one person?
EVERYBODY NEEDS somebody
OK, so maybe we just don’t need intimacy in the way we once did? Categorically not so, says Quilliam: ‘A growing body of research proves that in order to keep physically and mentally healthy, we need to be touched. Studies suggest that babies who don’t experience intimacy in early life fail to thrive.Touch relaxes us,’ she explains.‘It helps us avoid stress, anxiety and depression. By releasing vital hormones, it also protects us against many illnesses by improving the cardiovascular system and boosting immunity.’So whether you’re single or in a relationship, the importance of one-to- one, face-to-face contact with friends and family can’t be overstated. A hug when you’re feeling down or need reassurance is so much more beneficial than a row of kisses at the end of a text or email.But what about intimacy between couples specifically? Is it possible to be in a loving, supportive relationship without kissing, cuddling or simply touching one another on a regular basis?‘Touch sends out particular messages,’ explains Quilliam. ‘It says, “I care”, “I’m here to stay”, “I’m with you”, “I believe in you”, “l support you”. Receiving these messages helps us feel good about our partners and bonds us to them. Partners who touch regularly are better able to survive conflict and crisis,’ she continues. ‘Touch keeps couples together.’Ultimately, if intimacy is missing from your relationship, it may simply be that you’ve both allowed yourselves to get distracted by the many other interruptions and demands on your time presented by the modern world. Yes, we have far more choice nowadays but the trick is to consciously make time to be intimate and communicate. And if it doesn’t come easily? You need to work at it.However, if the problem persists, it’s time to stop looking for scapegoats and focus on what’s really happening here. ‘When couples lose intimacy long-term, the main issue isn’t with modern life, but with the relationship itself,’ warns Quilliam. ‘The real lack of intimacy occurs when the cracks start to show, and you begin to feel negative or angry with one another.‘in that case, modern technology may allow you to keep your emotional distance, but it’s not the real reason you’re staying apart.’
HOW TO BE MORE HANDS-ON
* SWITCH IT OFF! Agree to turn your evening into an interruption-free zone. Turn your
mobiles off and kick the cat out. Nothing is that urgent that it can’t wait an hour or so.
TAKE THINGS SLOWLY Cranking up the intimacy with your partner? Don’t attempt to go from 0 to 100, or it will feel too strange. Cuddle up on the sofa. Hold hands. Have a longer kiss instead of just a peck on the lips.
– BE CREATIVE When you’re communicating with a close friend or partner by text or email, remember to be friendly and affectionate, rather than to-the-point and mundane. Make use of technology to enrich your relationships. But, if there’s an opportunity to call rather than text, do that instead.
GET PHYSICAL Actively encourage more physical connection in your life. Hug your friends like you mean it. Look into people’s eyes when you speak to them. Book in for a massage after your workout.