Hold hands? No thanks!

Hold hands? No thanks!

My parents used to hold hands walking down the street, which, as a mean-spirited child, used to embarrass me. You don’t see so much hand-holding these days, except between heads of state and their wives. Barack and Michelle Obama are forever doing it, while Carla Bruni is all over President Sarkozy. Both Gordon and David hold hands proudly with their wives. For once, politicians are setting a good example. Passion may be powerful, but it’s affection that helps couples stay the course.

Yet today’s couples may be more comfortable being passionate than affectionate.
Surveys of students show they believe holding hands is a statement of commitment. The average student is more comfortable heavy petting in public than giving their date’s hand a squeeze. Leila Collins, a psychotherapist and principal lecturer at Middlesex University, believes that affectionate displays are increasingly rare. “We have become more self-conscious and detached, so we see affection less often,” she says. “Love is a fragile thing, and if there is warmth and affection, then the partnership is more likely to survive.”

John Gottman, an American psychologist who has video-taped scores of couples in his ‘love laboratory’ at Washington University, found that couples who used humour or were affectionate when they argued were more likely to stay together than those who didn’t. But asking couples to act affectionately to each other didn’t make their relationships any better — they had genuinely to feel it for it to work.

Affection may also help reduce stress, according to research in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Hand-holding was found to reduce levels of cortisol, high levels of which are implicated in heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Traditionally, it is women who have particularly valued affection, while men are often accused of initiating it in the hope it will lead to sex. Dr Max Blumberg, a psychologist who specialises in relationships, believes this view may be outdated.
With growing families and busy lives, affection often fades or is diverted to the children. Psychologists who studied couples with and without children while out in the park noted that those without children were much more likely to kiss and cuddle each other than those out with their offspring.

So it may come as a relief to hear that Blumberg questions whether affection has that central a role in relationships. “Affection is only one thing, and not the big thing — the ability to communicate and provide emotional support is bigger — but it is a desirable component in a long-standing relationship.”