On Love and Affection: When PDA is Okay

“A healthy amount of PDA allows the couple to express their affection to each other, and also to the world. Best practices include using ‘on and off switches.’ Continual PDA loses its importance, and makes others uncomfortable.” ~ Susan Winter

How do you feel about public displays of affection? Are you the type of person that loves snuggling, holding hands or kissing your lover, no matter where you are and who might be watching? Or does the mere thought of holding hands in public give you actual anxiety? Odds are that you fall somewhere in the middle. It is completely natural and okay to want to be affectionate with someone you love. In fact, when you cuddle with someone you care about, oxytocin–the hormone that fosters feelings of love, bonding, and connection–is secreted, thus earning its nickname as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone. But even though PDA is normal and feels good, just keep in mind that there is a time, a place, and a limit for what is appropriate!

Falling in love is wonderful. When it happens, you may want the world to know. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, you are likely to always hold hands and exchanging loving glances. Most onlookers will admire your newfound love fondly. I have written before about how all human beings have an innate need to be loved and have meaningful physical interactions with others.  But there is such a thing as too much of a public display of affection while anyone/everyone is watching. Here is a safe, and slightly humorous, rule of thumb: Ask yourself if your grandmother would approve. 

Let’s talk about the specific ways to display affection and whether or not they are appropriate in public:

  • Kissing. There are certain times it is completely okay to kiss the person you love–such as when you are greeting someone or saying goodbye. However, long, drawn-out kissing in front of others can make them feel like they are involuntarily watching a scene from a RomCom. 
  • Touching. The resources at the end of this post were unanimous in saying that it is always okay to hold hands with someone. An arm draped around someone is okay when you are sitting or casually strolling through the park. It is never okay to touch anyone in a private area in public.
  • Groping. Groping is never acceptable in public. Certain gestures are even illegal in public.
  • Tasting and nibbling. Reminder: Your face is not a lollipop, and you are not a vampire, so experts kindly ask you to refrain from licking or biting the person you love in front of others.
  • Electronic Affection. You should never text, post, or communicate anything intimately personal in a public forum or on any social media platform. Not only can this make others uncomfortable, but you may also embarrass the person you love.

PDA is commonplace in many places –like during your engagement or wedding day, at farewells and homecomings, at the airport when one is about to be deployed, at the movies (especially romantic ones), on the dance floor, and when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. I would venture to say that if you stay within the boundaries for the above actions, PDA is welcomed pretty much anywhere. But remember to ask yourself if Grandma would approve of how you are expressing your affection!

Showing appropriate levels of PDA can be healthy for a relationship. Being affectionate in public strengthens your love, shows a level of comfort with your partner, and allows others to identify you as a unit. Additionally, if things are not perfect in your relationship, PDA might be a way to spark connection again. PDA is really an unconscious form of staying connected; a brief kiss on the cheek, a hand placed gently at the small of the back, and an exchanged glance can get the heart pounding. This might even be the healing touch that can lead to amends or forgiveness in a relationship.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that not everyone wants to receive PDA. I have written at length about love languages (see sources below) because I believe in them. The fact is that, for some people, physical touch is the last way they communicate or receive love. For these people, touching in public may be very unwelcomed! Certain factors like personality, general comfort in public, safety, and regard for others’ feelings play a role in how someone interacts with their significant other in social situations.  I highly encourage you and your partner to openly discuss to what degree you wish to give and receive touch in public, and then to respect those wishes. That might sound counterintuitive, or even scarier than simply reaching out to hold his/her hand, but figuring out someone’s PDA comfort level is an important step toward understanding their love languages. Unwelcome touching can potentially damage a relationship and push your partner away–especially where abuse or addiction is associated with PDA. 

Even after the beginning stages of a relationship, PDA can help couples reaffirm their love and commitment to each other whether life is breezy or if it is a time of disconnect. All humans need reinforcement. If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship, please contact me to schedule a session. I am here to help. Remember that, when PDA is consensual, well-timed public displays of affection can provide a spark of hope and connection in relationships. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Love Languages: Giving and Receiving Love

Love Languages - Giving and Receiving Love - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

Love Languages - Giving and Receiving Love - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

“Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.” -Dr. Gary Chapman

For the past six months, I have been focusing on each of Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. In February, I gave an overview. In March, I focused on Words of Affirmation. April was on the Love Language of Service. In May, I discussed Receiving Gifts. June was all about Quality Time, and last month we finished up this series with Physical Touch. Each Love Language is unique with its own pros and cons, but all offer us insight into our lover’s expectations, wants and wishes. I am such a firm believer that understanding love languages is powerful, and can have a profound impact on our relationships. Today I want to end this series with a couple of important takeaways.

For which relationships?

When I say relationships, I do not only mean our romantic relationships. Heavens no! I mean that applying our newfound knowledge of each of the 5 Love Languages can affect all of our relationships! This stuff is for real. It will change how you interact with your boss, your mom, your sister, your children, your friends, your neighbor, etc.  I have found that I have been able to connect so much better with my dad as I have come to understand how he receives and gives love, and our interactions are much more meaningful now that I am trying to speak his love language.

Not always bilateral!

Point number two, these Love Languages are not bilateral. Meaning, the way someone receives love may not always be the same way in which they naturally express love. Here’s an example to piggyback off what I just said about understanding my dad better. Because of his upbringing, he is not an affectionate person…at all. He does not say lovey things, nor is he physically demonstrative; he has maybe hugged me five times my whole life. But he expresses his love for me through gifts–he is very thoughtful about my birthday and Christmas gifts, and always nails it by giving meaningful and generous presents. Conversely, he does not receive love through gifts!!  He receives love through Quality Time; he just wants me to spend time with him. So I sit by him when I go visit him, and we chat about life for a little while, or I plan a family get together for his birthday where we eat, laugh and play games. We are able to strengthen our connection that way, and it has done wonders for our relationship.

You may have noticed this about yourself–that you naturally give love differently than you receive it. Or maybe you reciprocate the love language that you like! I receive love by quality time (ex: meaningful conversation during an ice cream outing) and I give it through a mixture of gifts and service (ex: going to the peach orchards and bringing some to a friend). The point is to be aware of the 5 Love Languages and to apply them to your relationships. Explore them, talk about them, practice them! The more you do, the more proficient you will become in expressing love in whichever way your loved one receives love. And you will find that it is incredibly satisfying and effective!

Start today

Remember, all of our relationships (both romantic and not!) can be improved. Again, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of the Love Languages. I recommend reading the book, perusing the website, and/or taking the quiz that will help identify one’s primary Love Language. While I am no expert, I certainly subscribe to the 5 Love Languages, and would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about them. If you and your partner–or even you and your sibling, parent, or friend–are having a difficult time connecting and having meaningful interactions, I recommend evaluating each other’s Love Languages and coming up with suggestions for how to meet each other’s expectations. My door is always open for a session as well. Understanding and applying the 5 Love Languages to each of our relationships is powerful. I wish you the best of luck as you go and apply what you have learned through this series!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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Love Languages: Living the Love Language of Physical Touch

Love Languages - Living the Love Language of Physical Touch - Cluff Counseling - Denton Therapist

Love Languages - Living the Love Language of Physical Touch - Cluff Counseling - Denton Therapist“It’s not always about sex. Sometimes the best type of intimacy is where you just lay back, laugh together at the stupidest things, hold each other, and enjoy each other’s company.” -Anon

When physical touch is referred to in a dating or marriage context, our minds go straight to the obvious: sex. But in actuality, the Love Language of Physical Touch is so much more than that and sometimes the simplest touch can make the biggest difference to a couple’s relationship satisfaction.

For the past five months, I have been focusing on Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. In February, I gave an overview. In March, I focused on Words of Affirmation. April was on the Love Language of Service. In May, I discussed Receiving Gifts. Last month was all about Quality Time, and now we are finishing up this series with Physical Touch. Each Love Language is unique with its own pros and cons; this Love Language is no different. The individuals who receive love through Physical Touch are not oversexed or have an insatiable appetite for sex. In fact, most of the people I know whose primary Love Language is that of Physical Touch simply want to be physically close to their partner–not necessarily through sexual intimacy.

The Love Language of Physical Touch is just that–physically touching. Here are some ideas:

  1. Holding your partner’s hand while you sit and talk. (Try this while talking about bills or a stressful day…there’s something so calming about it!)
  2. Kissing your spouse on the cheek/forehead/nose.
  3. Putting your foreheads together.
  4. Nibbling on your sweetie’s ear.
  5. Sitting on your partner’s lap.
  6. Giving each other a back-scratch, neck, or head massage.
  7. Putting your arm around each other.
  8. Slipping your hand along the belt-line under his or her shirt while you kiss.
  9. Holding on to a hug (and just hugging in general).
  10. Cuddling and talking about nothing.
  11. Slapping his bum while he empties the trash.
  12. Gently stroking his/her hair or face.
  13. Putting your arm on her shoulder as you pass her in the hallway.
  14. Holding your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend in your arms.
  15. Having a tickle fight.
  16. Touching them in a teasing or provocative way.
  17. And of course…sexual intimacy.

You may have noticed that when you and your partner are in a relationship funk (or fight), you literally distance yourself from each other. There are no hello hugs, goodbye kisses, or pillowtalk snuggles. It is in these moments that you can link arms with him while you walk, or snuggle her at night to signify that you want things to be good. And even when you are not fighting, such simple acts of physical touch can demonstrate your love for your partner and symbolize that you want to be even closer. And isn’t staying close and getting closer to one’s partner always the goal in marriage and relationships?!

Physical touch allows us to keep those “in-love” emotions and makes marriage (and life) much more enjoyable! So if you find yourself farther from your spouse than you’d like to be, try scooting a little closer…both figuratively and literally. Try any of the above methods or go ahead and be creative.

If you are not naturally affectionate in your platonic relationships, it is likely that you are not overly affectionate with your romantic partner, either. But if your partner’s primary Love Language is Physical Touch, you may need to learn a new Love Language! Being touchy-feely may be out of your comfort zone to begin with, but with time you can learn to speak this Love Language and it will become easier. He or she will certainly appreciate your sustained efforts!

Partners of those whose primary Love Language is Physical Touch may feel unloved, unwanted, or rejected if there is a mismatch of libido/sex drive. In particular, much frustration and resentment can result if one person almost always has to be the one to initiate, so making a conscious endeavour to do more of the above would be welcomed. And if you are the partner with Physical Touch as your primary Love Language, please remember your partner is not a mind-reader. You will need to clearly and respectfully communicate what it is you would like more or less of!

Every relationship has areas that work well and areas that could use improvement. Feeling more loved and appreciated is something all of us would like! If you do not know your partner’s (or your own) love language, I highly recommend taking the quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. Understanding love languages will enable you to directly and efficiently communicate how much you care about your significant other.  If your partner is learning to communicate your love language, offer gentle guidance and point out progress. If you are trying to speak your partner’s love language, be patient–it takes time to learn a new language. Learning to express love through Physical Touch can happen throughout the normal course of your day. Should you ever need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, you know my office door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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How to Give The Perfect Valentine’s Gift

If there were a way that your partner could know exactly how to please you or let you know he/she loves you, would you want to learn more about it? Imagine how happy it would make you feel if your partner communicated love to you in a way that really spoke to you! Well, such a thing exists–it is called Love Languages. Dr. Gary Chapman has done extensive research to find solid grounding for these five love languages, and has even designed a quiz to help you discover how you receive love. Understanding your love language (and your partner’s!) can lead to meaningful changes in your relationship…and what better gift to give this Valentine’s season than individually designed love tactics?

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner…are you ready? As usual, Hershey’s Kisses are flying off the shelves at grocery stores, Tiffany’s diamond advertisements are abounding, and florists everywhere are selling overpriced red roses. Is that stuff really what your partner wants? Is she or he a person who likes gifts in the first place? Maybe you are stressing over getting the “the perfect gift” when all they would really like is an intimate dinner date with you. Or maybe you ladies are out there sewing into the night to make your man a quilt when he really just wants to spend some quality time with you. The thing about Valentine’s Day, and every other day, is that you need to know how your person receives love. Knowing your partner’s love language can help you communicate love and affection in a way that is personally crafted to speak to him or her.

I imagine many of you have heard about Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts”. These five love languages came after years of research and practice and according to Chapman, each of us fall into one of the five categories: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I plan to delve deeper into each of these love languages in further posts, but for the purpose of today’s post, I simply want to give an overview of each of the five love languages and hopefully inspire you to consider your partner’s love language this Valentine’s Day:

  • Words of Affirmation. This one is particularly common amongst the ladies. Those who receive love through words of affirmation need unsolicited, sincere, and frequent praise. Hearing that they are loved and–more importantly–why they are loved is the best gift you can give them. Insults and criticism can leave them shattered and are not easily forgotten. Gift ideas: Leave love notes around your living space, write a song, keep a calendar with reasons you love him/her for each day, record yourself praising him/her, etc.
  • Acts of Service. Those who receive love through acts of service will really appreciate it when you do something for them–cook a meal, wash dishes, take out the garbage, mow the lawn, change the baby’s diaper, paint the bedroom, etc. Bonus points if you surprise your partner with acts of service. Gift ideas: A coupon/IOU book filled with acts of service you will do; kidnap his/her car and wash/vacuum it; prepare a special meal (particularly meaningful especially if you are not the one to normally cook); wash the dishes, etc.
  • Receiving Gifts. Those who receive love through acts of service primarily feel loved when they are given a thoughtful present. They look forward to birthdays and holidays where they will be given gifts. These individuals are often expert gift-givers themselves, and take great pride in planning and giving meaningful gifts. They may feel materialistic or vain for receiving love through tangible items that often cost money, but there is nothing inherently wrong with this method of receiving love. Gift ideas: You have to pay attention! What is that one thing he keeps saying he wants? Which shirt does she have saved on her Pinterest board? Notice and remember things they say they want and get it for them. It could be a shirt, a purse, perfume, that Tiffany’s necklace, or something specific to their hobbies that they need (like a GoPro stick for fun filming or a new beanie for skiing.) Make it personal and sparks will fly.
  • Quality Time. Those who receive love through quality time really just need you and they need all of you. Meaning put your phone down. Turn the tv off. Tell your friends to wait. Spend undistracted time with your partner and you will fill their cups right up. The great thing about this love language is that you can spend quality time together in the normal course of your day; you do not need to go out of your way doing something special, nor do you need to buy anything.  Gift ideas: Make dinner, fold laundry, play a game, or even clean together, and you will find that your partner will satisfied and feel connected to you. Easy as that. Make a gift out of it by telling your partner he or she has your undivided attention for the duration of your activity. This does wonders for relationships!
  • Physical Touch. Those who receive love through physical touch need you close. They are huggers, kissers, back-rubbers, forearm ticklers, and snugglers. If you are distant, they feel an undeniable lack of connection with you. If you initiate hand-holding, cheek-kissing, or move cuddling, they will feel your love. Gift ideas: Try gifting a couple’s massage, offering a back rub to your partner, or planning a special, undistracted night in the bedroom. Just be close.

This was a brief overview of each of these five love languages, and it was in no way intended to be comprehensive. There are an infinite amount of examples to define each love language, just as there are as many gift ideas as there are humans on the earth. Tailor your expression of love to your significant other. If you feel unsure what your love language is (or what your partner’s is), I would highly recommend taking the quiz on the 5 Love Languages website. It is particularly insightful to take the quiz alongside your partner–you will learn how they receive love and will be able to tailor your expressions of love to how he/she likes to receive it. And as always, talk about it. Have a candid conversation where you sit down, take the quiz together and discuss how you can be closer through speaking each other’s love languages. Understanding how one receives love, and communicating about making it happen, can really take your relationship to the next level.

If you have been together for years, it may be hard to get out of your routine. Or maybe you have never had a serious relationship. Whatever the case, love languages can be applied to all relationships, sexual or not. You will be better able to communicate with your brother, your mother, your boss, and your neighbor by understanding and applying these principles. If you feel uncertain about how to proceed or would like specific guidance on how to speak your partner’s love language, I am more than happy to help. Please contact me today or schedule your first session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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