Humor Helps Maintain Love Relationships

Men and women tend to love humorous people and perceive them as more attractive. They feel attracted to those with a good sense of humor and consider humor a desirable trait in romantic partners during the early stages of relationships.

How important is humor in a relationship over time? It is possible that we not only perceive humorous people as attractive but also tend to perceive someone we like as humorous (Li et al., 2009). For example, when we are happy in a relationship, we find our partner funny, even though she or he may not be objectively that funny in the first place.

How a Recent Study Conducted

A recent study conducted by Kenneth Tan, an assistant professor of psychology at Singapore Management University, and his colleagues Bryan Choy, and Norman Li. showed that humor also plays a role in maintaining and strengthening relationships. Partners use jokes and funny stories to signal continued interest in each other and improve their relationship.

Kenneth Tan and his colleagues conducted a study with a sample of 108 couples who were involved in romantic relationships with an average duration of 18.27 months. The researchers asked partners to complete daily assessments for seven consecutive evenings, reporting their perceptions of humor within their relationships and their levels of relationship commitment, perceived partner commitment, and relationship satisfaction.

This way, researchers investigated how humor and relationship quality fluctuate within established romantic relationships on a day-to-day basis. They found that humor functions as a means to signal and maintain the interest of partners in a romantic relationship.

The Study Found Complex Relations Between Humor and Relationship Quality

Their findings demonstrated that on days when partners reported higher levels of commitment, perceived partner commitment, or relationship satisfaction, they also more frequently used humor in communication with their partners. Furthermore, positive relationship quality between partners on one day increases the use of humor and perception the next day. Thus, relationship quality in current interactions positively influences the use of humor in subsequent interactions. This way, they use humor to express their continued interest in an ongoing relationship.

On days where partners were more satisfied and committed to the relationship, they found their romantic partner more humorous, both on the same day and the next. On days when they were less satisfied and committed to their relationship, they found their partner less humorous, both on the same day and the next.

The study did not reveal gender differences in its findings. Both women and men tend to use humor to maintain interest and strengthen their relationships.

In conclusion, one might typically think that humor is more important in the early phase of relationships to establish attraction than in the later stage of the relationship. However, the study found that humor did not show stronger effects on relationships that were shorter in length.

Humor, as well as smiling and laughter, improve our love relationship at any stage of a relationship.

Love Songs Are Not Universal Across Cultures

Music seems a universal language of love, and love songs are cross-culturally recognizable and understandable. The writer John Anderer illustrates that it might be right to refer to the iconic song “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” a song by English rock band Joy Division, released in June 1980.

Is Music a Universal Language Across Cultures?

Researchers from Yale University generally agree with the statement that music is universal. Their research revealed that, with the notable exception of love songs, people all over the world can recognize the themes found in songs and music regardless of national boundaries or cultural backgrounds.

As Samuel Mehr, an assistant professor adjunct at the Yale Child Study Center and a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Auckland, says:

All around the world, people sing in similar ways. Music is deeply rooted in human social interaction.

Researchers studied over 5,000 people from 49 nations, asking them to listen to 14-second snippets of vocals from songs originating from many cultures around the world. The participants were people from a variety of cultures around the world, including individuals from relatively small cultural communities.

Researchers asked participants to listen to the songs in 31 various languages. Then they asked to rank how likely it is that each sample of music belongs to one of four musical types: lullabies, dance, “healing” music, or love music.

The authors conclude that listeners’ ratings were largely accurate, consistent with one another, and not explained by their linguistic or geographical proximity to the singer. This result showed that musical diversity is underlain by universal psychological phenomena.”

The lead author, Lidya Yurdum, explains that

“Our minds have evolved to listen to music. It is not a recent invention. But if we only study songs from the western world and listeners from the western world, we can only draw conclusions about the western world — not humans in general.”

What Kind of Music Do People Easier Recognize?

Results of the study showed that people from various cultures around the world relatively easily recognize lullabies and dance music and, to a lesser degree, “healing” music. However, they showed the least ability to identify love songs.

These are surprising results. Lidya Yurdum, a graduate student at the University of Amsterdam who works as a research assistant at the Yale Child Study Center, explains the results this way:

“One reason for this could be that love songs may be a particularly fuzzy category that includes songs that express happiness and attraction, but also sadness and jealousy. Listeners who heard love songs from neighboring countries and in languages related to their own actually did a little better, likely because of the familiar linguistic and cultural clues.”

The Courage to Love

Sometimes love requires strong actions. When we love someone, it is easy to mistake the respect we feel we should have towards the other person’s choices, with cowardice and fear. In the case of parental love, for instance, it is crucial to be able to distinguish between interfering and intervening. This is one of the themes present in Follow your Heart, an Italian novel that despite its astonishing commercial successithas been translated into eighteen languages and sold over sixteen million copies worldwide – is often dismissed as excessively sentimental and soppy. A more careful reading uncovers the true themes at its core: incapacity to deal with human emotions – often disguised as modesty – going hand in hand with familial histories of abuse within a patriarchal arrangement of relationships harmful to women as well as men.

An extensive article on the novel is included in the collective volume Love and the Politics of Intimacy (2023), an exploration of love in the 21st century. Incorporating academic writing and original creative work from scholars around the globe, the volume seeks inspiration for transforming and re-mapping the pathways of love.

Love Does Not Suit the Lazy

The novel tells the story of Olga, a grandmother who feels that her relationship to Marta, her granddaughter, has been recently infiltrated by sourness and misunderstandings. Sensing the nearness of her death, Olga recognises the urgency to communicate truthfully to her granddaughter. She therefore consigns to the pages of a diary the honest confession of her life. 

While telling her story to Marta, Olga exposes a palpable absence of love in all her most significant relationships. Between herself and her husband, as well as between herself and her parents, communication was formal and insincere. Olga recalls her mother dying “unsatisfied and holding a grudge” after a marriage characterized by unkindness and spite. As Olga’s account reaches its highpoint, the reader discovers that at the centre of Olga’s pain is an immense sense of guilt for having  caused – albeit involuntarily – the car accident in which her daughter died.

Wishing to leave behind an honest and coherent narrative of her life, for herself as well as for Marta, Olga recognizes, one by one, her faults and mistakes. First, she sees that behind her apparently progressive choice of respecting and not interfering with her daughter’s unhappiness was hidden a good amount of laziness and cowardice: “love doesn’t suit the lazy, sometimes it requires strong, precise actions. Do you see? I disguised my listless cowardice as noble sentiments about personal liberty” (Tamaro, 1994, p. 63-64).

Olga’s Lack of Courage

Ultimately, Olga blames her lack of courage and self-knowledge for her incapacity to really love her daughter, for not having understood the difference between interfering and intervening, and for having lived her life in fear: “most of my life has been like this, I didn’t swim, I floundered. With uncertain, confused movements, without elegance or joy, I have barely managed to keep myself afloat” (Tamaro, 1994, p.79).

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is that it does not shy away from describing the strong connection between emotional incompetence, its damaging and far-reaching power, and cruelty, one of its most frequent outcomes. Olga, who was a young woman in post-fascist Italy, connects her bitterness to the condition of women in general, vividly describing a world in which men could access opportunities of self-realization: “men had their professions, their politics, their wars, they had outlets for their energy. Women, to the contrary, for countless generations have been confined to the bedroom, the kitchen, and the bathroom; we have taken millions of steps, millions of gestures, each one encumbered by the same rancour and the same dissatisfaction” (Tamaro, 1994, 49-50).

The Courage of Reading without Prejudice

While reading the story of Olga, I thought that it could be of particular interest to the younger generations, more and more accustomed, when discussing familial or romantic relationships, to a language that highlights consent, self-affirmation, the transparency of feelings, as if these perspectives had always been widely shared and available to everyone. To the contrary, private histories have always been, and still are, fraught with conflicts, abuse, and ineptitude in dealing with human emotions. As such, narratives that investigate these aspects should be read without prejudice in order to better understand the complex and contradictory history of our relationships.

Francesca Pierini, Asian University for Women

Why People Love Romantic Comedies

Why are romantic comedies so popular among people? Do their narratives reflect men’s and women’s love?

Romantic comedies, also known as rom-coms, are among the most popular film genres. However, they have often been criticized for not being serious enough and for distorting people’s perceptions of love.

Anthropology of Romantic Comedies

Marianne Gabrielsson, a student from the School of Global Studies at University of Gothenburg studied these questions from an anthropological perspective. She explored:

  • Why do people watch romcoms?
  • In what way do people embody love as portrayed in romcoms?
  • How can we relate people’s perceptions of love to the romcom genre?

What the Study Revealed

Thus, according to the recent study conducted by Marianne Gabrielsson,

  • Romantic comedies have psychopharmacologic functions in the sense of escapism.
  • People embody romcoms in terms of EPIC love, disappointment, fear, non-realistic demands, resignation, false happiness, or joy.
  • Romantic comedies are often negatively loaded with ideals, traditionalism, stereotypes, and conformity.

The Functions that Romantic Comedies Have in People’ Lives

The concept of escapism serves as an indicator of underlying societal issues, wherein romantic comedies are often depicted as a potential solution rather than a contributing factor to these problems.

Paradoxically, romantic comedies present this solution in a stigmatized, negative tone, causing feelings of shame, blame, and belittleness, contextualizing romcoms as a ‘guilty pleasure’ for the female consumer.

As a result of this paradox, culture continues to rewrite cultural norms and reinforce stereotypes, reproducing the outdated idea of the Other. This way, romantic comedies divide people into intellectual, serious, and pragmatic consumers and the rest: the naive and stupid consumers of banal and superficial depictions of love.

This suggests a shift in the focus of discourse from a widely shared sentiment of love to a more practical and rational approach.

Nevertheless, the study found that love is related to pragmatism, disappointment, and love always being for someone else. The author conducted the interviews that revealed a prevalent views of love as aspirations, dreams, and a desire for a love that transcends societal norms and expectations.

Conclusions of the Study

The author concludes that the complexity exhibited by romantic comedies presents a promising path for future academic research. Within this realm, three specific aspects have emerged as particularly intriguing subjects of study:

  • 1) The phenomenon of culture consumption encompasses various forms such as film, literature, music, and social media. And it has its significant impact on society.
  • 2) The persistent practice of rewriting culture is an ongoing process that shapes and reshapes societal norms and values.
  • 3) Within the field of anthropology, there exists a notable gap in the discourse surrounding the potential universality of love as a human experience.

Mobility of Intimate Relationships in Online Dating Apps

Online dating applications facilitate interpersonal connections between individuals, enabling them to pursue various motivations, such as seeking sexual encounters, romantic relationships, emotional intimacy, or other forms of interpersonal connections.

Many women and men feel ambiguity regarding the opportunities associated with online dating apps. They frequently do not know exactly what they hope to gain from using a dating app. They might anticipate a connection that develops into a committed monogamous relationship, but these relationships can change over time and are flexible. Users can meet for sex, become friends, or friends with benefits, and possibly form a couple before deciding to become friends again without engaging in sexual activity with one another.

Andrea Newerla, a researcher from Paris Lodron University Salzburg in Salzburg, Austria, and Jenny van Hooff, a researcher from Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom, analyzed the dating app user experience in Germany and the United Kingdom.

They conducted an in-depth analysis of interviews with online app users in the United Kingdom (van Hooff, 2020) and Germany (Newerla, 2021), and their findings were quite intriguing. Researchers performed a thematic analysis on the data collected from both cultural samples.

In a previous article, I described the summary of their research findings about the ambiguities and opportunities men and women experience using dating apps.

In this article, we’ll look into the users’ perceptions of the mobility of intimate relationships.

Experiences of Mobility in Intimate Relationships

For many users, dating practices are marked by ambivalence as the potentialities and possibilities afforded by dating apps emerge as spaces for new forms of intimacy. Normativities are challenged, and spaces are opened up for forms of love and desire that cannot be subsumed under the ideal of the romantic or partnership model in their pursuit and realization of these potentials.

Friendships formed through dating apps, as previously stated, are an important experience for some of our participants. And the descriptions clearly show that these relationships, which were initially defined by sexual attraction, are malleable and can evolve into new forms of intimacy.

Matteo, a 34-year-old man, for example, began using dating apps in 2015. His main goal was to find a romantic partner:

‘I was not as sex-positive as I am now, and society was not at the point we are now. So the main goal was to find a partner’.

Matteo found himself in new cities more frequently as a result of geographical changes, and apps assisted him in meeting new people. He was open to casual sex at this point, but not to the possibility of a romantic relationship if the person was ‘right for him’. As he describes in his relationship with Beate, he developed a variety of ways to be intimate with people in Berlin, blurring the boundaries of friendship and couplehood:

‘It was only sexual, but there was a connection with Beate. She was a person that I was liking. When we started to play [sexually], I realized that I really enjoy this, the motion of playfulness and connection when it’s in consent. It’s clear what we are there for. (…) and from this moment on me and Beate started to have a sex relationship which also developed something more complex. I also developed feelings for Beate that were not immediately mutual (…) Beate was not interested in a relationship that was more romantic, but I was. But we found a common ground and we have been experimental quite a lot.’

(Matteo, M 34, German study).

Beate eventually fell in love with someone else, and Matteo became friends with her. ‘We are still in a good connection,’ Matteo says of this development. It was unclear at the time of the interview whether Beate’s new relationship is open to additional sex partners. Matteo describes the possibility of him and Beate sharing this level of sexual intimacy again. However, Matteo says in the interview that it could remain a platonic friendship without sexual physicality. It’s clear that he sees this intimate relationship as a process, that he’s open to its evolution because he likes Beate and wants to see how their relationship develops in the future.

Here Is How Rob Describes his Relationships on Dating Apps

Rob, who has used dating apps on and off since Tinder debuted in 2012, explained how the connections made on apps evolve and develop based on the circumstances:

‘Being on Tinder you can have a few girls that you’re messaging or seeing or whatever, and it’s actually good because you know you’re not going to get married, because you live in different cities, or you’re too different, but you still have this connection, when you’re bored you can chat, or sext, and there’s no expectation. I don’t know how you’d define it, but I’ve had a few of those kind of relationships, and they’re good because you’re both on the same page’.

(Rob, M 34, UK study).

Rob describes a liminal relationship that maintains an emotional and sexual connection but will not develop into a committed couple relationship. These relationships defy traditional heteronormative conventions, but they are meaningful to participants and are not time-limited. While these types of relationships are often portrayed negatively in popular culture as ‘breadcrumbing’ (sporadic contact with no follow-through), for Rob, they are meaningful ties that do not fit into normative understandings of relationships.

Here Is How Mona Experiences her Relationships on Dating Apps

Mona can easily organize various dates based on her immediate needs thanks to the variety of relationship forms available on dating apps. This is sometimes casual sex, but she prefers it when a relationship develops. Some dates have become friendships. There was no sexual contact in these cases, but they enjoyed each other’s company. However, these friendships are also physical: one friend, for example, comes over on a regular basis to cuddle and watch Netflix. She does not prioritize romantic relationships and emphasizes the importance of friendships throughout the interview:

‘It doesn’t have to be the romantic partner you wake up next to, it has to be a person you just get along with. (…) This realisation that I don’t have to expect a partner to fulfil all my needs, but that friendships are also a relationship that also fulfils needs like a romantic relationship, that was then for me like: bam. I communicate much more openly about this with my friends and also with the partners I am currently seeing.’

(Mona, F 33, German study)

Mona was dating four people at the time, all of whom she met through dating apps. Here, the apps have assisted her in finding people who think and live similarly to her, as they are all interested in multiple relationships, identify as polyamorous, and have openly communicated their relationship status through the apps. Their experiences have allowed them to communicate more openly about their own needs.

Here Is How Alex Explains her Relationships on Dating Apps

People came up with creative ways to use dating apps. Sexual relationships turned into friendships or, in Alex’s case, a professional network. Even though he hasn’t found the long-term relationship he was looking for through dating apps, his experiences show how relationships can change:

‘A long period on Tinder would be six plus dates, usually it doesn’t go anywhere. Usually relationships are sexual. I’d always chat to multiple people at once and occasionally see multiple partners at once. Most encounters have been enjoyable and interesting, some I’m still friends with, one is now our company solicitor, but most I don’t speak to.’

(Alex, M 29, UK study)

Alex is a marketer, and his professional and personal networks frequently cross and overlap. He describes it positively, saying that sexual encounters evolve as dates take on new roles in his life. The normative categorization of romantic and sexual relationships does not apply to Alex’s experience with dating apps, and the normative hierarchy of intimacy does not currently apply to his personal relationships. Alex also emphasizes the importance of transitioning into and out of different relationship forms as key moments of communication and connection in and of themselves.

Challenges to Being Open in Online Dating Apps

Online dating apps assist people to connect with each other, and individuals pursue their own motivations, whether for sex, love, intimacy, or any other kind of interpersonal motivation.

Do people use dating apps for love or for sex? Many men and women experience the ambivalences and possibilities of being involved in dating with online apps. They often do not have a clear idea of what they expect from using a dating app. They might expect a connection leading to a committed monogamous relationship, but these processes are mobile and flexible over time. Users can meet for sex, become friends, then friends with benefits, possibly form a couple, and later they decide to be friends again who do not have sex with each other, and so on.

These processes of communication in online apps are not clearly dichotomous, either for love or for sex. Contemporary intimate relationships are mobile and flexible and cannot be simply categorized as for love or for sex.

Andrea Newerla, the researcher from Paris Lodron University Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria, and Jenny van Hooff, the researcher from Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK, completed an analysis of the users’ experience with dating apps in Germany and the UK.

They conducted an in-depth analysis of interviews they administered among online app users in the UK (van Hooff, 2020), and Germany (Newerla, 2021), which showed quite interesting findings. Researchers did a thematic analysis of their data in both cultural samples.

Ambiguities and Opportunities in Dating App Practices

 Researchers revealed that using dating apps presents participants with both ambiguities and opportunities, particularly in “being open.”

The study reveals a tension between participants’ romantic love ideas and the more fluid, undefined relationships found on dating apps. Alternative relationship practices, such as monogamous romantic models, have become available to users who initially didn’t consider them. Participants often struggle to articulate what they perceive as an important intimate encounter.

In interviews, ambiguities and mobility in intimate relationship development are not seen negatively. For example, 26-year-old Thorsten, who uses dating apps to meet women, describes dating as a process rather than a rigid one. He enters a polyamorous constellation with a woman, meeting other people and not limiting themselves. Despite feeling insecure, Thorsten sees potential in insecure experiences:

“I also find insecurity an exciting thing. I know so many people who are security people. […] I don’t want to be so obsessed with everything always being safe. I just find it much more interesting to live with such openness, to live with such contingency. Of course it’s not always nice, it can also be very difficult, but that’s precisely why I think it’s good to learn to endure it, to be able to live with it, to be able to deal with it. And not to let it limit or dominate you, but to recognise it, to articulate it, to be able to talk about it and to live with it.“

(Thorsten, M 26, German study)

As one can see, Thorsten enjoys mobile dating’s openness, allowing for experimentation, intimacy development, and personal growth, while others find it ambiguous and uncertain, offering opportunities for self-reflection.

Mark, after a relationship breakdown, has used dating apps for four years, navigating casual and committed relationships and highlighting the app’s potential for offline connections:

‘It opens up possibilities. So first of all I’m thinking if I want a long-term relationship with this person, and if not I think if there are other possibilities. but that’s not a bad thing I think, we live in a world that’s too po faced about sex. There’s something about Tinder that suggests that people are more open to whatever might happen. If you’re on Tinder you’re in a contract with each other, sex is a possibility, in a way that doesn’t happen outside of online dating. I’d never heard of polyamory before I went on Tinder, but now you can be open about seeing multiple people, rather than lying. That can only be a good thing.’

(Mark, M 32, UK study)

As we can see, Mark embraces the potential for diverse relationships through apps, including polyamory, as he adjusts his expectations to nonnormative forms, fostering positive connections.

Susanne, a 35-year-old polyamorous woman, shares her experiences of recognizing the romantic ideal and embracing multiple relationships, primarily using dating apps for sex but also expressing openness.

‘I think it’s always a question of how you use it yourself and I usually go in there with the feeling of ok I’m open for what’s coming now. There are phases where I say ok now I only want it for sex. And I always find this ’only’ difficult. So I used it for sex. (…) I always call them ’regular sex partners’, because I don’t find one night stands so desirable myself, but they happen and that’s okay. But I would tend to be more interested in meeting more often and building up something sexually. So I’m actually open to that, but I always waver back and forth. For example, when I don’t have the emotional capacity to get involved with someone. If I’m processing a break-up or something and honestly want to leave myself the space for it.’

(Susanne, F 34, German study)

Susanne’s intimacy practices are broader, fluid, and mobile, embracing openness and the uncertainty of relationships beyond sexual experience. She welcomes this openness and views it as an opportunity to engage in diverse forms of relationships.

Irfan uses dating apps to meet potential partners outside his circle, experiencing freedom and short-term relationships while being relieved of long-term commitment pressure. Success comes from short-term connections:

‘Successful encounters have been girls that I’ve continued to date for several months after meeting. Really nice, genuine people that I enjoy spending time with. Removing the expectations that you’re going to get married or stay together means you can actually enjoy being with them.’

(Irfan, M 28, UK study)

Dating apps have broadened relationships beyond normative coupling, valuing connection over external expectations and transforming the way relationships are valued.

Mona discusses the development of intimate relationships through mobile dating, particularly through dating apps, as highlighted by a 33-year-old woman in an interview:

‘I know a lot more of my friends here in Berlin through Tinder, and it never developed into something amorous, but more like: ‘hey, we get along really well, we text all the time, we want to meet up, that’s really cool, but there’s just nothing.’ (…) Really good friendships have developed on Tinder and also good conversations. (…) In general, I don’t have any expectations, except to somehow get to know someone who is somehow quite nice. Someone who seems nice, okay, just a good evening, whatever it turns out to be. Whether it turns into friendship, as it does with some people because they understand each other well, but there’s nothing interpersonal about it, or a one-night stand or something longer-term. That is absolutely open to me. (…) Everything can happen, nothing has to.’

(Mona, F 33, German study)

Mona, like other participants, does not view openness as threatening in mobile dating. She sees it as a way for relationships to develop, varying depending on the person and time. This mobility in relationships is discussed in the next section.

Modern Intimate Practices in Online Dating Apps

According to previous research on online dating app practices, there are two groups of users. Some are seeking casual sex, while others are seeking a committed relationship, as an imposed normative framework suggests.

Intimate Relationships in Online-Mediated Cultures

Sociologists have long discussed the impact of technology on personal life in the context of online dating apps. Initially, they welcomed the internet’s emancipatory potential, predicting increased safety, control, and freedom. The internet’s romantic freedoms have made intimate relationships less traditional, thus weakening patriarchal sexual and gender orders.

However, some authors have negative and pessimistic views on the emergence of dating apps. They believe that such mobile services can damage intimate relationships.

Social networking and dating apps reclaimed the popularity of Christopher Lasch’s ‘ ideas of a culture of narcissism’ in the late 1970s. (Lasch, 1979) Increasing individualization and excessive consumerism have led to personal relationships crumbling due to emotional weight. It is asserted that technology has damaged interpersonal skills. The technologies prevent men and women from being fully present in relationships due to phone and internet-mediated distractions.

How Dating Apps Divide Love and Sex

The technological tools of dating apps allow us to organize intimate contacts by using rational procedures and question catalogs to calculate match probabilities. These tools have evolved from online dating to mobile dating, reducing physical and digital space. Many researchers focus on how people use dating apps and whether this challenges traditional commitment patterns.

According to some evidence, many users use online apps to engage in casual sex in addition to looking for a committed partnership. Mobile dating facilitates temporal, goal-oriented encounters for the easy establishment of relationships.

On the other hand, ‘real’ or authentic love seems possible only within romantic relationships, which some authors present as something to be preserved and protected. It is contrasted with casual sex as a commodified social form (Illouz, 2020) that accumulates capital in the form of multiple sexual partners.

Dating apps can help organize casual sex, avoiding long-term commitment. These sex-focused practices and relationships seem to be neoliberal, focusing on pleasure and satisfaction without real romance. These practices are aimless and fluid. They lack the goal of romantic relationships.

Casual sex, for many, is the choice of non-choice. Sexual partners relate to each other without pursuing a specific goal, such as initiating a romantic love relationship.

Some researchers suggest expanding traditional understandings of relationship formation and development to include the changes in interaction afforded by mobile dating.

A New Study on the Importance of Affectionate Touch in Romantic Love

Touch is an important way people communicate love and intimacy in romantic relationships. Affectionate touch, such as hugging, stroking, and kissing, is common worldwide. Romantic partners across many cultures frequently use affectionate touch to express their love for a romantic partner, passion, desire, and intimate feelings.

The affection exchange theory explains how affectionate touch is beneficial for our romantic relationships and mental and physical health in various respects. It turns out that both giving and receiving affectionate messages through touching behavior boost our mood and reinforce our relational bonds. In the same way as other forms of affectionate communication, affectionate touch nurtures our mutual affection in a relationship.

What the New Study Explored

In their recent publication, Agnieszka Sorokowska and her authors reported two studies in which they examined the relationship between romantic love and affectionate touch behaviors. They administered a cross-cultural survey, collecting data from 7880 participants from 37 countries.

The two studies that the authors conducted revealed interesting results. Generally, this extensive cross-cultural research demonstrates the significance of nurturing love for affectionate touch behaviors and, conversely, the importance of affectionate touch for nurturing love. Although it may seem intuitive that love and affectionate touch are directly related, this new study is one of the few scientific studies that has convincingly demonstrated this association using empirical data.

These studies found that affectionate touch is consistently associated with love in a diverse range of cultures around the world. Partners with high levels of passionate and intimate dispositions more frequently use various kinds of affectionate touch in their romantic communication. However, the partners’ degree of commitment does not make them inclined to use more touching behavior. These differences in effects of these three components of love make sense since the first two are more emotional and physical, while the third is more rational but less physical.

Individual Differences in Affectionate Touch

The authors importantly noted that these statistical relationships substantially varied within cultures, in some cases higher than in others. I believe this means that despite the cross-cultural universality of affective touching in romantic relationships, individuals within those cultures may substantially differ typologically in their preferences for the use of affective touching in daily intimate encounters.

People’s attitudes toward touch are highly individual. And touch can be perceived as not necessarily pleasant, as in cases of social anxiety and touch avoidance. Some men or women may prefer avoiding touch or react negatively to touch, even in romantic relationships. However, even for those individuals who experience attachment avoidance and are less open to touch, more touch in a relationship can promote well-being. Individuals within any society may have different needs for affectionate touch behaviors. Some, for instance, may have a lower preference for interpersonal touch.

Cultural Factors Influencing Affectionate Touch

Collectivistic and individualistic cultural norms of proxemic behavior can have an effect on the frequency and cultural contexts in which men and women use their affective touch. Other cultural factors also play a role.

As the authors conclude, in more conservative and religious societies, cultural norms encourage more physically restrained expressions of affection. Therefore, people tend to use more formalized, less freely expressed, and less diversely expressed affectionate behaviors, even in private and intimate relationships.

What Authors Conclude

The authors of this study finally conclude that various kinds of touching are very common behaviors in romantic relationships. Partners in such relationships experience more need for touch from their romantic partner than they do from other people with whom they communicate and interact.

How Affectionate Touch Influences Our Romantic Relationships

Men and women express their love for a partner in a relationship in a variety of verbal and nonverbal ways. Affectionate touch of various kinds is among the important nonverbal channels for lovers to express love in the intimate relationships. The previous article explained how affectionate touch in a relationship expresses our love for the loved one. Now we are talking about how interpersonal touch influences our romantic relationships.

What Affectionate Touch Tells Us About Love

Partners in romantic relationships often use touch to express their affection and intimacy. Touching various parts of the body, such as the abdomen and thighs, can evoke pleasurable feelings in both those who touch them and those who are touched.

A recent cross-cultural study found that touching behaviors like embraces, caresses, kisses, and hugs are universally present in various cultures around the world. Cultural differences, however, exist in how and when men and women affectionately touch each other. Even when lovers imagine a partner’s touch, they experience pleasurable and erogenous feelings.

Strangers can’t touch as much of your body as your romantic partner. Most people don’t mind when their partner touches their stomach and thighs, but they don’t like it when other people do. There are also more ways to show affection for a partner than in other social situations. A slow stroke is given to a romantic partner.

What Is Affection Exchange Theory?

Researchers employ the Affection Exchange Theory (AET) to understand the important effects and implications of affectionate touch in a relationship. The theory says that affectionate communication promotes the formation and maintenance of strong human pair bonds.

Expressions of affection are especially common in romantic couples. Such expressions affect the quality of a romantic relationship. Partners who are highly committed in a relationship often express various kinds of affection, including physical affection. Physical affection also positively affects relationships and partner satisfaction. However, partners with attachment insecurity less often use affectionate touch.

Most studies refer to affectionate communication as an array of behaviors and verbal displays of affection. For example, hugging was the only behavior explicitly related to touch among several affection communication domains which Horan and Booth-Butterfield’s study components examined.

How Touch Affects Our Relationships and Well-Being

In the study that specifically examined touch in romantic relationships, researchers found that the desire for touch is positively correlated with relationship quality. However, when partners experience attachment avoidance, they feel less desire for touch.

These promising results and the obvious value of touch in close interpersonal relationships encourage us to better understand the role of affectionate touch in romantic relationships.

Also, there appears to be a paucity of research on the psychological factors that influence the use of affectionate touch between partners. It is logical to assume, for instance, that loving partners would touch each other in their relationships. This would enhance communication and bring the benefits commonly associated with affectionate touch. In accordance with a study indicating that one’s own and one’s partner’s approach motives for touch predict greater daily relationship well-being, touch may also promote love between partners.

In an older study, Dainton, Stafford, and Canary found that physical affection (including touch behaviors) performed by a romantic partner and satisfaction with physical affection displays were positively associated with self-assessed love levels.

Thus, we see that our affectionate touch substantially influences our romantic relationships. How does our partner feel when we touch him or her? The previous article explained how affectionately touching the loved one lets him or her know about our love for them.

Surprisingly, however, little we know about the direct relationship between interpersonal touch and love, one of the most essential components of human romantic relationships, outside of this study.

In their recent study, Agnieszka Sorokowska and her colleagues investigated how affectionate touch influences romantic relationships across various cultures.

How You Feel You Are Loved

How do you feel you are loved? Do you?

Professor Mengya Xia and her colleagues from the University of Alabama recently conducted an interesting exploratory study on the core elements of love across family, romantic, and friend relationships. This research revealed how people know they are loved.

Their studies have shown the benefits of love across diverse populations. Love and being loved are both valuable feelings. Love is a complex concept with various types and constructs that research studies in various interpersonal relationships.

What Studies Explored?

In this study, researchers used a grounded theory analysis of 468 individuals. They revealed that love is an interpersonal process involving positive responsiveness and authentic connection. All participants in the study shared three core elements across family, romantic, and friendship relationships. This integrated theoretical conceptualization of love as a shared feeling and asset offers insights for love conceptualization, assessment, study design, intervention, and therapy.

This study explores love literature by identifying central features and examining core elements in various relationship types using qualitative, data-driven approaches.

  • What are the core elements of love, as perceived by lay people?
  • Are the core elements of love shared across family, romantic, and friend relationships?
  • Whether the weights of each element are the same or different across three relationships?

This study analyzed open-ended responses on love in family, romantic, and friend relationships, revealing three core elements: positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and stability. This theory contributes to understanding love as a feeling and asset in interpersonal processes. The theory informs strengths-based research, and sets the foundation for developing an assessment tool. The varying frequencies of love elements across relationships suggest that love in different relationships may have different distributions of the same components.

Grounded Theory on Core Elements of Love

The study reveals that love is an accumulative interpersonal process. In such love relationships, people consistently perceive positive responsiveness from others. They experience authentic connection with them, resulting in a positive sense of oneness. This grounded theory aligns with Reis and Shaver’s interpersonal process model of intimacy, which emphasizes mutual validation and understanding. The core elements of love include positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and a sense of stability. Positive responsiveness describes positive ways of responding to others’ needs, while authentic connection describes the process of forming a pleasurable, desired, and heart-to-heart connection. Mutual affinity emphasizes the enjoyable and mutually desired experience of togetherness, while being in tune with one another focuses on approaching and merging with someone to form a heart-to-heart connection.

A sense of stability describes the feeling that the interaction between two parties is durable, stable, and reliable, as echoed in attachment theory, unconditional love, and the commitment component. The study highlights the importance of considering the temporal history of interpersonal relationships and the need to incorporate the timing and dynamic components of love into the study design.

Comparison of Love Across Family, Romantic, and Friendship Relationships

The study reveals that love is a general feeling experienced in various interpersonal contexts, with core elements of feeling loved being more similar across interpersonal contexts than distinct between relationship types. The specific actions that elicit the feeling of love may vary depending on the type of relationship, but the message they convey is generalizable across relationship contexts. The frequency of each element across relationship types corresponds to how people typically conceptualize love in the respective relationship. In family and romantic relationships, “positive responsiveness” is most frequently mentioned, while “demonstrating affection” is more often mentioned in romantic relationships. In friend relationships, “authentic connection” and “a sense of stability” are most often mentioned, with spiritual union being the key to love in friend relationships.

The higher weight of “a sense of stability” in friend relationships is consistent with companionate love and friendship literature, where trust is viewed as an important component. While many categories weigh differently across three relationships, some similarities provide insights into the key aspects of love as a feeling shared across relationships. Support, mutual affinity, and being in tune with one another are at the core of several conceptualizations of love, emphasizing the importance of providing support, having quality time together, and truly understanding someone’s feeling of love. Additionally, “enhancing sense of worth” was mentioned by 23–30% of individuals in different relationships and did not differ significantly by relationship type.

Reference

Xia, M., Chen, Y., & Dunne, S. (2023). What makes people feel loved? An exploratory study on core elements of love across family, romantic, and friend relationships. Family Process, 00, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12873