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Expressions Of Affection

Given this positive moment–negative moment phenomenon, how can people maximize the positive moments and thereby keep not only their relationship intact, but also their relational partner satisfied? Two studies have addressed this to some degree by considering how one relational partner expresses love to the other (i.e., how to give positive moments through various expressions of affection). Kenneth Villard and Leland Whipple (1976) suggested ways that people express affection to each other. Gary Chapman (1997) followed the same vein, in his book entitled The Five Love Languages. Chapman developed categories of expressions of affection strikingly similar to Villard and Whipple's, including verbal expressions, quality time, gifts, service, and touch. Villard and Whipple had a sixth category, acts of aggression. Even these two lists may not provide an exhaustive understanding of how people express affection, but they do give a general framework for understanding tendencies in this area of relationships.

Verbal expressions. A verbal expression of affection is anything that could be said to or about the other person that could cause them to feel encouraged, loved, or validated. This includes, but is not limited to, the obvious statement "I love you." Many people long for this direct verbal expression of their spouse's feelings (Chapman 1997). The person who looks for verbal expressions of affection is happy with a compliment on appearance, a positive comment about a tasty meal, praise of victories achieved, or verbal support of a spouse's goals or dreams. Public praise or admiration of the spouse, even if it is not said directly to the spouse (either it is overheard or relayed by a third party), enhances the feelings of love felt by the recipient.

Quality time. Whereas some people feel loved when their spouse says positive things about them, others appreciate the second type of expression, quality time. For example, a husband who feels most loved through quality time, feels important when his wife takes time away from her other duties to spend time with him. Or a wife might feel loved through a silent walk on the beach. The quality time does not need to be spent with the couple in seclusion, although it could be spent that way. The most important element in quality time is togetherness. This might mean something as mundane as washing dishes together. While one washes and one dries, they could share stories about their day, dreams about life, or quietly go about the work in front of them with no words exchanged at all. Some research even suggests that such quality time is essential for development and maintenance of relationships (Baxter and Bullis 1986).

Gifts. Although some people see quality time as the primary expression of affection, others enjoy receiving gifts. Research indicates that there are many reasons why a person likes to receive gifts (Areni, Kieckner, and Palan 1998). A wife who feels loved by receiving gifts might be pleased because her husband spent money when it was totally out of character for him to do so. The giving of flowers to signify that the spouse remembered a special day (Mother's Day, birthday, or anniversary) could speak volumes to some partners. A gift could provide a positive moment because it indicates that the spouse thought of the other person when he or she was not present and that thought motivated the gift. Something as simple as picking up a candy bar can express affection.

Acts of service. Many people would say that gifts are perfectly fine, but "the clothes aren't going to fold themselves!" Acts of service, the fourth type of expression of affection, involves one partner performing specific actions for their spouse. The exertion of time and energy for the other's benefit is key. A husband who feels loved by what his wife does for him would experience the greatest feeling of love when his wife fixes dinner or surprises him by mowing the lawn. Likewise, a husband might express affection by changing soiled diapers or doing the laundry. These actions are not always the most wonderful or desirable things to do. Most people do not jump at the chance to clean the toilet or wash the car. However, the thought that a spouse would do something like this, even though he or she does not particularly like to, would make the other spouse feel loved. One researcher has indicated that supportive behaviors include tangible support (i.e., acts of service) through "offering assistance or resources" (Cutrona 1996). By offering time and energy through serving one another, marriage partners are likely to experience positive moments.

Touch. In addition to acts of service, many have the primary need for the fifth type of expression of affection, touch. Physical touch is positive touching. Positive touching does not necessarily have sexual overtones, though it does include this. Rather it is physical touch done for the purpose of showing positive feelings for someone. For instance, cuddling, hugging, an arm around the shoulder, or even holding hands fulfills a person's desire to be touched without a sexual level of involvement. These instances of touch let the other person know that he or she is loved. Touch is a symbolic behavior that sends several different messages. Researchers have outlined four particular categories of touch as a symbolic behavior: support, appreciation, inclusion, and sexual touch ( Jones and Yarbrough 1985). Supportive touch happens when one spouse shows care and concern for the other such as through a hug. Appreciation touching usually occurs with verbalized statement of gratitude. The touch might be a pat on the back or a kiss on the cheek accompanying "Thank you!" Inclusion touching is reserved for intimate friends, spouses, or other family members. It involves such behaviors as holding hands and sitting on laps to suggest special inclusion of deliberately chosen individuals. Sexual touch is designed to indicate sexual attraction and intent toward and including sexual intercourse. Although these are different types of touch, they all could signify a positive moment for some spouses.

A pregnant woman enjoys a foot massage from her partner. Research indicates that selfless gestures of affection are related to the degree of marital satisfaction. JENNIE WOODCOCK; REFLECTIONS PHOTOLIBRARY/CORBIS

Aggression. The final category, which could arguably fall under physical touch, has been separated out because some of its distinct qualities. Aggression, as Villard and Whipple (1967) use it, seems paradoxical. The goal of aggressive touch is not to injure or cause harm to a person (the very antithesis of love). Instead, aggression is affection that might best be described as "horse-play" or "rough-housing." This is the playful pinching, wrestling, or soft punching on the arm that are indicative of many friendships. It differs from physical touch in that it can often be misconstrued by outsiders or even by the recipient of this affection. A specific example of this is playfully wrestling the remote control from a reluctant spouse's hand (with more interest in the wrestling than in the remote control). Messing up a spouse's hair or tugging at their clothing can likewise send signals of affection. Certainly, acts of aggression come in various forms and cease to express love if the other spouse feels, in any way, violated as a result.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsAffection - Expressions Of Affection, Sex Differences And Expressions Of Affection, Marital Satisfaction