[Here is a recent paper I co-authored on touch among married couples]

 

Married Couples' Perceptions of Touch Behavior and Marital Satisfaction

by

Jenny A. Taylor Enochson

Speech Communication Department (EC-199)

California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton, CA 92834-6868

 

and

 

Richard L. Wiseman

Speech Communication Department (EC-199)

California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton, CA 92834-6868

(714) 278-3902

rwiseman@fullerton.edu

 

Paper presented to the Interpersonal Communication Division for the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago, November 1999.


Married Couples' Perceptions of Touch Behavior

and Marital Satisfaction

 

ABSTRACT

 

            This study examined the relationship between marital spouses' perceptions of their tactile communication and their satisfaction with the marriage.  Utilizing Similarity Theory and Coorientation Theory, the study predicts three hypotheses: (1) that there would be a positive  relationship between the similarity of touching behaviors of married couples and their marital satisfaction; (2) wives will be more satisfied than husbands with their marriage to the degree that the married partners share similar perceptions regarding touching behavior; and (3) congruence on metaperceptions regarding touching behavior will be positively related to marital satisfaction.  A total of 80 married couples completed questionnaires assessing own and spouses' touching behavior and the degree of marital satisfaction.  Using factor analysis and multiple regression analysis, the results found support for the first and third hypotheses, but no support for the second hypothesis positing gender differences.  These results are integrated with extant literature and explored in terms of their implications for marital communication and satisfaction.


Married Couples' Perceptions of Touch Behavior

and Marital Satisfaction

            Research focusing on marital satisfaction has a long history, dating back to the late 1930s when Terman, Buttenweiser, Ferguson, Johnson and Wilson (1938) asked:  What distinguishes a happy marriage from one that is unhappy?  Literature suggests there are many factors that contribute to a happy or satisfying marriage, e.g., effective communication, interaction, gender roles, conflict management, problem solving, and intimate play (Fowers, 1990; Gottman & Krokoff, 1989; Holman & Brock, 1986; Metts & Cupach, 1986).  There does not seem to be one magic factor that guarantees marital bliss.  This study examines the role of perceptions of spousal touch in contributing to satisfactory marriages, i.e., is there a relationship between similar tactile communication behavior among married partners and their marital satisfaction?

There is a definite need to research the nonverbal elements involved in the interpersonal communication process.  Researchers often fail to examine the nonverbal cues of interpersonal communication, especially as they relate to marital satisfaction research.  Research has tended to focus on the verbal elements rather than the nonverbal elements.  When scholars focus solely on one aspect of communication (i.e., verbal communication) the results can be misleading.  With regards to touch, Thayer (1986) described it well, "our bodies end with our skin, an impressive 18 square feet of it, a vast surface on which to receive messages.  And the skin is in a constant state of readiness to receive messages.  It cannot shut its eyes or cover its ears; it is always on" (p.13). 

Communication scholars stress the importance of nonverbal communication (Burgoon, 1985), particularly when it is in direct contradiction with the verbal messages.  While communicating, individuals tend to believe the nonverbal cues rather than the verbal cues.  According to Burgoon, Buller, and Woodall (1989), adults place more reliance on nonverbal cues when communicating than verbal cues to determine the meaning of the verbal message.  For example, Burgoon (1994, p. 259)  noted, “The absence of a hug at bedtime may by more telling to a spouse about the intimacy of the marriage than any other present cue.” While nonverbal communication is a multi-channel and complex phenomenon, tactile communication is an important starting point for further research in marital relations.  Tactile communication is not the only factor related to marital satisfaction, nor will tactile communication solve all of the problems in unsatisfactory marriages.  However, this study is an attempt to help decrease the uncertainty among the various factors that lead to marital satisfaction by examining spouses' perceptions of tactile communication in their marriage. 

Similarity Theory

            Similarity Theory has attempted to explain the bases for interpersonal attraction by positing that individuals are attracted to and form relationships with people who are perceived as similar to themselves (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1990).  Numerous studies support the idea of similar and dissimilar attitudes functioning as positive and negative reinforcers in relationships (Byrne, 1971).  The motive involved is satisfied by agreement and aggravated by disagreement.  Similar and dissimilar attitudes are considered, respectively, as positive and negative reinforcers that elicit positive and negative affective responses in subjects (Lamberth, Gouaux, & Padd, 1971).  Similarity, therefore, is positively reinforcing, while dissimilarity is negatively reinforcing.  In relationships, we tend to be attracted to individuals who have similar attitudes to our own and unattracted to individuals whose attitudes are dissimilar from our own. According to Burleson, Samter, and Lucchetti (1992), acquaintances engage in a variety of communication activities, and are most likely to have enjoyable interactions with each other, becoming friends if similar views are shared about communication activities.  Ultimately, this similarity leads to more interactions and increases the opportunity to unveil more similarities resulting in further attraction.  

In fact, Duck's (1977) filter theory maintained that when a developmentally appropriate form of similarity is discovered and confirmed, this leads to consensual validation and positive reinforcement and, in turn, to greater intimacy in and attraction to the relationship.  Several studies (Duck 1973, 1979; Duck & Craig, 1978; Duck & Spencer, 1972; Lea & Duck, 1982) have produced supporting results.  Neimeyer and Neimeyer (1981) developed Duck’s filter theory in a series of studies researching friendship and relationship development.  Results supported the hypothesis that similarity in the differentiation of interpersonal constructs predicts interpersonal attraction in later stages of the acquaintance process (Neimeyer & Mitchell, 1988; Neimeyer & Neimeyer, 1981, 1983). 

In another examination of friendship, Burleson et al. (1992) researched the likelihood of similar communication skills and overall attraction.  Their research revealed friends are significantly more similar than nonfriends in their evaluations of four communication skills: conflict management, comforting, persuasive skill, and ego support skill.  Even further, the study concluded that friends were significantly more similar than nonfriends in their evaluations of the general categories of affectively and instrumentally oriented communication skills.  Persons holding similar values about the communicative activities of friends find their interactions more enjoyable, and thus are more inclined to develop intimate relationships with each other (Bureleson et al., 1992).  In other words, interaction among individuals who share similar communication skills will be easier and more pleasurable than with individuals having dissimilar skills.  These findings reinforce the notion that similarity is a factor in relationship satisfaction not only because of its ability to validate but also because of its ability to enhance the quality of interaction.  Burleson et al. noted that acquaintances engage in a variety of communication activities, and are most likely to have enjoyable interactions with each other and become friends if they have similar views about the significance of various communication activities in close relationships.

Based on Burleson et al.’s (1992) findings with same sex friends, Burleson, Kunkel, and Birch (1994) set out to replicate and extend the previous results to the context of romantic relationships.  Their study revealed similar results.  Communication skills relate to romantic couples’ attraction and satisfaction, reinforcing the belief that people who enjoy interacting with one another are more attracted to one another.  The enjoyment is a direct result of the similarity.  Burleson et al. (1994) extended earlier findings that couples who were more similar in their evaluations of effectively oriented communication skills reported higher levels of partner attraction and relationship satisfaction.         

            A number of studies have been conducted to examine nonverbal communication and its relevance to attraction.  Mehrabian (1968a, 1968b) concluded the more favorable a relationship, the closer the distance between people, the greater body accessibility is, and the greater the eye contact and attraction.  Along similar lines, individuals who are in love, exhibit considerably more mutual eye gazing than individuals less attracted to one another (Rubin, 1970).  In addition, several researchers have found that romantically involved couples display certain cognitive similarities and, on this basis, have inferred that such similarities contribute to attraction and relationship satisfaction (Hobart, 1956; Kerckhoff & Davis, 1962).

Tactile Communication

            Tactile communication, or touch, is one of the most carefully monitored forms of nonverbal communication available to our species, because it “both influences and reflects the nature of social relationships between individuals” (Thayer, 1986, p. 13).  Scholars have examined relationships and tactile communication (Guerrero & Andersen, 1994; Willis & Briggs, 1992).  Willis and Briggs (1992) focused on tactile communication between men and women as a function of their relationship.  Their results indicated that couples who have been married for one year or more were less likely to touch one another and suggestions were made that the findings may provide a sign of trouble in the relationship.

Touching behavior among married couples and serious dating couples should be similar.  According to Guerrero and Andersen (1994), touching behavior among partners in relationships increases as the relationship develops.  Their findings support research positing that nonverbal communication becomes more similar and synchronized as a relationship moves from an impersonal to a personal level (Altman & Taylor, 1973; Knapp & Vangelisti, 1992).  The present study posits that if touching behaviors among married couples are similar as the relationship continues to develop, marital satisfaction will increase.  If a partner does not engage in touching while the other does, the nontouching partner is viewed negatively (Burgoon et al., 1989; Willis & Briggs, 1992).       

The reciprocity of tactile communication that occurs among married partners is relevant.  According to Patterson and Reid (1970), “Reciprocity describes dyadic interaction in which persons A and B reinforce each other, at an equitable rate” (p. 133).  The similarity of touching behaviors among married partners will be analyzed by looking for a direct link between similar and dissimilar touching behaviors among married partners and their marital satisfaction. 

Marital Satisfaction

            Marital relationships have long been a topic of concern in the field of interpersonal communication.  Over the past three decades there has been a proliferation of research on marital happiness and stability (see Glenn, 1990; Hicks & Platt, 1970; Spanier & Lewis, 1980, for a review of this research).  Additionally, research has focused on the factors and partner attributions that are related to marital satisfaction (Arias & Beach, 1987; Baucom & Epstein, 1990; Fincham, Bradbury, & Scott, 1990).  Many factors have been linked to satisfaction in a marriage.  Gottman and Krokoff (1989) indicated conflict that is indicative of defensiveness, stubbornness, and withdrawal may be dysfunctional in the long run.  In a relationship, withdrawal ultimately leads to less interaction resulting in less tactile communication.  There is a positive relationship between marital interaction and marital happiness/satisfaction (Zuo, 1992).  Interaction is defined as the amount of time a couple spends together in joint activities, and therefore leads to an opportunity to engage in tactile communication.  Zuo’s (1992) findings provide a strong indication of the possible relationship between touching behavior among married couples and marital satisfaction.

            Body contact is a means of expressing liking and acceptance.  Withholding touch, on the other hand, communicates an assortment of negative feelings such as resentment, hostility, anger, or mistrust (Richmond, McCroskey, & Payne, 1991).  Based on the above research and elements of the Similarity Theory, it only seems natural that similarity among married partners would lead to greater relationship satisfaction.  According to Berscheid and Walster (1969), similarity of personality, like similarity in attitude, allows two people more easily to reward each other in marriage, and thus personality similarity leads to marital stability and happiness  (see also, Cattell & Nesselroade, 1967; Dymond, 1954).  Existing research has attempted to discover predictors of marital satisfaction.  The concern of the present study, however, is the association between tactile communication (independent variable) and marital satisfaction (dependent variable).  Thus,  the following hypothesis is proposed:

Hypothesis 1:  There will be a positive relationship between the similarity of touching behaviors between married partners and their reported marital satisfaction.

Gender

            Tannen (1990) explained that males and females interact differently and expect different ways of communicating.  This begins at a rather young age.  Maltz and Borker (1982) studied the ways in which boys and girls interact with friends.  Boys tend to play outside, in large groups with a hierarchical structure.  Girls, however, tend to play in small groups and/or in pairs, place a great importance on their best friend, and solicit intimacy.  Boys were more apt to boast of their ability and tend to play games that have a clear winner and loser.  Girls rarely boast and are more apt to participate in activities that do not have a clear winner or loser.  Boys also give orders to one another further establishing the hierarchy, while girls tend to express their preferences as suggestions.

            Pruett (1989) reported that expectations of traditional gender roles impact perceptions of individual communication styles.  His results indicated that men's communication, as perceived by self and others, was rated consistent with traditional masculine stereotypes of men as more powerful, contentious, and dominant.  Women's communication was consistent with the traditionally feminine roles of being attentive, responsive, open, and friendly.  Although Pruett’s sample focused on adults, his findings were similar to the findings from Maltz and Borker’s (1982) study of children.

            Gender differences have been revealed in studies of spontaneous expression of emotion as well (Larrance & Zuckerman, 1981; Zuckerman, Hall, DeFrank, & Rosenthal, 1976; Zuckerman, Larrance, Hall, DeFrank, & Rosenthal, 1979).  Differences in the way males and females express themselves have been found in children as young as preschool (Buck, 1975, 1977).  Many scholars attribute these differences to socialization and the fact that males are taught to mask or hide their sensitive feelings more so than females are (see Hall, 1984, for a review of the literature).  As scholars continued to examine expressiveness, results indicated that females are more expressive with some emotions while men are more expressive with others.  Wagner, MacDonald, and Manstead (1986) found a significant female advantage for the expression of surprise and a marginal advantage in communicating disgust, a male advantage for expressing sadness, and no significance difference in the way males and females express fear, anger, or happiness.  Tucker and Riggio (1988) found a female predisposition for expressing disgust and happiness, and Wagner, Buck, and Winterbotham (1993) revealed females as a whole were more expressive than males when communicating emotions.  It is clear there are differences between the way males and females express their emotional states.  

             Males and females demonstrate different nonverbal communication patterns.  Females interact at closer distances than males (Aiello & Jones, 1971; Evans & Howard, 1973; Mehrabian & Diamond, 1971) and allow closer approaches from others than men allow (Doesy & Meisels, 1969; Patterson & Edinger, 1987; Willis, 1966).  In a study of young children, Tannen (1990) found females sit closer to one another and engage in more eye contact.  Males, on the other hand, sit at angles to one another, often parallel, and do not look directly into each other’s faces when communicating.  Females anchor their gaze on one another’s face occasionally glancing away, while males anchor their gaze elsewhere in the room and occasionally glance at each other.  These communication differences can lead to frustration when communicating with the opposite sex.  For example, females who tend to engage in eye contact and prefer to face one another when communicating, may interpret a male’s nonverbal communication behavior of lesser eye contact and a parallel position as signs of disinterest.

Gender differences have also been found in regards to touch.  First,  research further indicates females touch more than males (Elzinga, 1975; Hall & Veccia, 1990; Henley, 1973; Jones, 1971; Mehrabian & Friar, 1969), which would be expected based on the socialization differences discussed above.  Second,  Nguyen, Heslin, and Ngyuen (1975) investigated non-reciprocal touch between opposite-sex, unmarried friends.  Females attribute meaning based on where the touch occurred on the body, males on the other hand, ascribe meaning by focusing on the mode of touch.  So, a male may interpret a touch to the knee as sexual in nature, while a female may interpret that same touch as a gesture of friendship because it lacked what she would describe as a sexual connotation.  Finally, Pisano, Wall, and Foster (1986) extended Nguyen et al.’s work and found females were more likely to associate touching behavior as a means of expressing warmth and/or love, whereas males were more likely to associate touching behavior as a means of expressing sexual desire.

            Early identification of communication differences between genders can increase the likelihood of understanding, ultimately leading to satisfaction.  Researchers agree that effective communication is important in marital relationships (Karlsson, 1951; Margolin, Christensen, & Weiss, 1975; Olson, 1970; Peterson, 1968; Thomas, 1977).  Empirical evidence suggests an abundance of  gender-based stereotypic expectations regarding communication, the question remains as to whether or not such gender-based expectations generalize to communication patterns of married couples.  Fitzpatrick and Indvik (1982) found that wives perceived themselves as using more “expressive and nurturant” communication, while husbands saw themselves as being more “task oriented and instrumental” in their communication.  More research is needed to determine the extent to which wives and husbands hold stereotyped expectations of their communication behavior and how the expectations impact their marital satisfaction.  Ignoring differences in gender communication behavior leads to ineffective communication and ineffective communication may lead to disharmony and dissatisfaction (Gottman et al., 1976).  Thus, the following hypothesis was examined:  

Hypothesis 2: There will be a tendency for females to be less satisfied with their marriage if there are differences in the touching behaviors between marital partners.

Accuracy of Spousal Metaperceptions of Touch

Metaperception, a term coined by Laing, Phillipson, and Lee  (1966), is the perception that people have of another person’s perception of someone.  The concern is with the perceptions of the target’s perception of the perceiver.  For example, a husband’s conduct is guided not only by the husband’s view of the wife, but also by what the husband thinks of the wife’s view of him (Laing et al., 1966).  In other words, “what I think of you” probably includes “what I think you think of me.”  A number of researchers have confirmed the influence of social metaperspectives on one's social perceptions and expectations for communication (DePaulo, Kenny, Hoover, Webb, & Oliver, 1987; Kenny & Albright, 1987; Laing et al., 1966).

In Cahn’s (1981) theory of perceived understanding, perceived understanding is defined as “the communicator’s assessment of success or failure when attempting to communicate to another person” (p. 1).  Feeling understood promotes attraction to others and relationship satisfaction, while feeling misunderstood promotes alienation and frustration leading to a decrease in communication.  Cahn and Frey (1990b) claimed satisfied spouses tend to feel more understood by their partners than less satisfied spouses.  Interviews with divorced individuals further suggest that their former spouses failed to understand them.  Thus, “there may be a reason to believe that a relationship exists between feeling understood, certain communication behavior and relationship satisfaction” (p. 24).  In interpersonal relationships, perceived understanding may be a necessity for satisfactory relationships.  In fact, as relationships develop and mature, perceived understanding becomes more important (Cahn, 1983; Cahn & Hanford, 1984).  According to Cahn and Frey (1982), individuals who felt their partners understood them were more attracted to and more trusting of others than individuals who felt misunderstood.

In 1990, Sillars, Weisberg, Burggraf, and Zietlow considered the extent to which individual perceptions and metaperceptions (i.e., one spouse’s perception of the other’s perception) are bridged by direct communication.  Thus, the more two people share information the better they will understand one another.  Their results indicated that marital satisfaction was related to the husband’s understanding on instrumental topics (activities and tasks that are part of marriage, e.g., paying bills, housework, coordinating work schedules) and the couple’s agreement (and perceived agreement) on companionship topics (affective and expressive qualities of marriage, i.e., sharing, affection, trust).  Thus, the following hypothesis is analyzed:

Hypothesis 3: There will be a positive relationship between partners' perceptions of their touching patterns and the metaperceptions of touching patterns.   

METHOD

Sample

            The overall sample size consisted of 80 married couples (80 males and 80 females).  The couples were recruited by having high school students in Southern California request that their parents complete the communication surveys.  The high school students who had their parents complete and return the questionnaire received extra credit points.  In addition to students’ parent participation, several teachers and their spouses completed the surveys.

            In the study it was crucial to obtain responses from both husband and wife to assess the compatibility of the couples’ touching behavior.  With this in mind, only couples with both participants available and/or only surveys completed by both spouses were used.  This process eliminated couples that were divorced or separated.  Returned questionnaires with significant missing data were not used.  Further, only heterosexual couples were included in the study.        In terms of the resultant sample's demography, the average age was 46.4 (sd = 10.6) for the wives and 48.4 (sd = 10.8) for the husbands.  The couples were married an average of 17.6 years (sd = 10.5) and 85.0% were European American.

Questionnaires were placed in a numbered, sealed envelope containing directions, two questionnaires, and two business size envelopes.  Participants were advised to respond to the items based on the current status of their marital relationships and asked not to compare or consult with their spouse during the completion of the survey.  Once complete, participants were instructed to place the survey in one of the business sized envelopes, seal it , and put it in the large numbered envelope.  Once both participants were finished the large numbered envelope was returned.  Lastly, participants were assured that their responses would be kept confidential.

Operationalizations

Touching Measures.  A number of mathematical operationalizations of touching behavior (e.g., perceptions of own, perceptions of other, accuracy of perceptions) were computed from the data, however, the original bases for these data transformations were a set of ten items focusing on the touching behavior between the marital couple.  The items included different types of touching and various types of situations where touching may occur.  For example, "I put my arm around my spouse while watching television" or "when walking in public I enjoy holding hands with my spouse."  Some items related to enjoyment or pleasure of touching behavior, e.g., "I enjoy receiving a backrub from my spouse," and "I find it enjoyable when my spouse and I embrace."  Items such as, "I touch my spouse frequently" and "I often put my arm around my spouse" were created to address the frequency or regularity of touching among the couple. In addition, some items were used that had an emotional tie, e.g., "to show my affection, I like to touch my spouse" and "when my spouse and I make up from an argument, I like to hug my spouse."

            The ten items were used to measure perceptions of  own touching behavior and other's touching behavior.  This was accomplished by replacing the  “I” with “my spouse.”  So, instead of the item, "I enjoy holding hands with my spouse," the new item would read, "my spouse enjoys holding hands."  The responses to the own and other touching behavior items were coded on a five-point scale ranging from never (1) to always (5).

Marital Satisfaction.  The Marital Satisfaction Measures scale designed by Rubin, Palmgreen, and Sypher (1994) was used to assess each spouse’s marital satisfaction.  The scale consisted of five items and responses were recorded on a five-point Likert-type scale that ranged from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1).  The items asked the respondents to evaluate various aspects of their marriage, e.g., its stability, quality, strength, happiness, and attractiveness.  The reliability for the Marital Satisfaction Scale was very high; the reliability for the husband's Marital Satisfaction Scale was .96 and the reliability for the  wife’s Marital Satisfaction Scale was .95.  Given satisfactory reliability, mean summed scores were computed for the scale such that the higher the value of the scale, the greater the marital satisfaction.

RESULTS

Hypothesis 1

            Hypothesis 1 predicted that there would be a positive relationship between the similarity of touching behaviors between married partners and their marital satisfaction. To determine the similarity of the touching behaviors between married partners, the absolute differences were computed between each of the ten items from the self- and other-oriented touching behaviors.  These absolute differences were computed with the following formula:

                        ADTi =  5 - * STi - OTi  *

where ADTi is five minus the absolute difference between perceptions of self and other's touching behavior i, STi is the perception of self-oriented touching behavior i, and OTi is the perception of spouse's touching behavior i.  The data transformations were made so that the higher the values of ADT, the greater the similarity in the perceived touching behaviors between the marital partners.  The absolute differences of the ten items were then factor analyzed using generalized least squares extraction with Promax rotation.  A four-factor solution proved to be a satisfactory fit of the data (Chi-square = 15.4, df = 11, p = .165 [n.s.]).          

            The factor loadings for the four factors are presented in Table 1.  Factor 1 accounted for 27.3% of the total variance in the ten difference items (eigenvalue = 2.7) and had three significant loading items (>.40): "To show affection, we like to touch" (loading = .602), "We touch frequently" (.549), and "We find it enjoyable when we embrace" (.547).  It was felt this factor reflected differences in affectionate touch.  The second factor accounted for 13.8% of the total variance (eigenvalue = 1.4) and had two significant loading items: "We often put arms around each other" (loading = .945) and "We put arms around each other while watching television" (.484).  The second factor seemed to reflect differences in casual holding.  The third factor accounted for 11.3% of the variance (eigenvalue = 1.1) and had only one significant loading item: "We enjoy receiving backrubs" (loading = .989), suggesting differences in therapeutic touch.  Finally, the fourth factor accounted for 11.1% of the total variance (eigenvalue = 1.1) and had two significant loading items: "When we go to work or out for the day, we hug good-bye" (loading = .638) and "When we make up from an argument, we like to touch (.401).  This fourth factor seemed to reflect differences in hugging.

            To determine the relationship between similarities in marital partners' perceived touching behavior and the partners' satisfaction with their marriage, a stepwise multiple regression was computed.  The results indicated that differences on three types of touching behavior were significant predictors of marital satisfaction.  More specifically, marital satisfaction was found to be significantly related to similarities in therapeutic touch (beta = .426, t = 6.4, p < .001, adjusted R2 = .241), similarities in hugging (beta = .280, t = 4.2, p < .001, adjusted R2 change = .069), and differences in casual holding (beta = -.141, t = -2.1, p < .05, adjusted R2 change = .015).  The results suggest that greater similarities in therapeutic touch and hugging were associated with greater marital satisfaction, while greater differences in casual touching were associated with greater marital satisfaction.  The three types of touching accounted for 33.3% of the variance in marital satisfaction.  These results suggested partial support for Hypothesis 1.

Hypothesis 2

Hypothesis 2 predicted that there would be a greater tendency for females to be less satisfied with their marriage if there were differences in the touching behaviors between marital partners.  Table 2 presents the correlations between differences in touching behaviors (self versus other) and marital satisfaction for wives and husbands.  There were no significant differences between husbands and wives for the correlations between differences in touching behaviors and marital satisfaction.  Thus, Hypothesis 2 was not supported by the results of this study.

Part of the explanation for a lack of differences between husbands and wives in the correlations for touching behaviors and marital satisfaction may be found in the fact that there were few significant differences in the perceptions of own and other's touching behavior.  Paired t-tests revealed that spouses had similar perceptions of the touching exhibited in their relationship.  Further, the spouses had similar levels of satisfaction with their marriage.

Hypothesis 3

Hypothesis 3 predicted that there would be a positive relationship between partners' perceptions of their touching patterns and the metaperceptions of touching patterns. To determine the agreement of one's perceptions of one's own touching behaviors and the other's perception of one's touching behaviors, the absolute differences were computed between each of the ten items from one's perception of one's own touching behavior and the spouse's perception of one's own touching behavior.  Mathematically, these absolute differences were computed with the following formula:

                        ASOi =  5 - * STi - OTi  *

where ASOi is five minus the absolute difference between one's perceptions of one's own touching behavior and other's perceptions of one's own touching behavior i, STi is one's perception of one's own touching behavior i, and OTi is the other's perception of one's own touching behavior i.  For example, one computation would be to compute the difference between one's perception of "I touch my spouse frequently" (ST) and the spouse's perception of "My spouse touches me frequently" (OT).  The absolute differences were subtracted from five (the scale range) in order to transform the data to congruence scores, i.e., the higher the value (ASO), the greater the congruence between own and other's perceptions.  The congruence scores for the twenty (ten for wife and ten for husband) touching behaviors were then factor analyzed using generalized least squares extraction with Promax rotation.  A seven-factor solution proved to be a satisfactory fit of the data (Chi-square = 86.0, df = 71, p = .109 [n.s.]). 

            The factor loadings for the seven factors are presented in Table 3.  Factor 1 accounted for 22.5% of the total variance in the twenty difference items (eigenvalue = 4.5) and had four significant loading items (>.40): "To show affection, husband likes to touch spouse" (loading = .851), "Husband touches wife frequently" (.787), "Husband often puts arm around wife" (.689), and "When wife feels insecure, husband embraces wife" (.670).  It was felt this factor reflected agreement of perceptions on husband's affectionate touching.  The second factor accounted for 11.5% of the total variance (eigenvalue = 2.3) and had three significant loading items: "When partners leave for the day, wife hugs husband good-bye" (loading = .935), "When partners leave for the day, husband hugs wife good-bye" (.834), and "Wife touches husband frequently" (.406).  The second factor seemed to reflect agreement in perceptions on parting touches.  The third factor accounted for 10.5% of the variance (eigenvalue = 2.1) and had only one significant loading item: "Wife finds it enjoyable when partners embrace" (loading = .977), suggesting agreement on wife's perceptions of pleasure from embracing.  The fourth factor accounted for 9.4% of the total variance (eigenvalue = 1.9) and had two significant loading items: "When making up after an argument, wife likes to hug husband" (loading = .998) and "When making up after an argument, husband likes to hug wife (.420).  This fourth factor seemed to reflect agreement on perceptions of reconciliatory touch.

            The fifth factor accounted for 7.4% of the total variance in the twenty items (eigenvalue = 1.5) and had three items with significant loadings on it: "Husband enjoys receiving a backrub from wife" (loading = .801), "Husband finds it enjoyable when wife and he embrace" (.482), and "Wife often puts her arm around husband" (.410).  This factor seemed to reflect agreement on husband’s perception of enjoyable touch.  The sixth factor accounted for 6.4% of the variance (eigenvalue = 1.2) and had two items with significant loadings: "When husband is feeling insecure, wife embraces him" (loading = .972) and "Husband puts his arm around wife while watching television" (.403).  It was decided to label this factor, agreement on partner’s perceptions of support touch.  Finally, the seventh factor accounted for 5.4% of the variance (eigenvalue = 1.1) and had three items with significant loadings: "Wife puts her arm around husband while watching television" (loading = .567), "When walking in public, husband enjoys holding hands with wife" (.552), and "When walking in public, wife enjoys holding hands with husband" (.543).  This factor was labeled, congruence on perceptions of casual touching.

            To determine the relationship between the congruences of perceptions of marital partners' touching behavior and the partners' satisfaction with their marriage, two stepwise multiple regressions were computed--one for husbands' marital satisfaction and one for wives' marital satisfaction.  In terms of husbands' marital satisfaction, the results indicated that congruences on three types of touching behavior were significant predictors of marital satisfaction. More specifically, husbands' marital satisfaction was found to be significantly related to congruences in perceptions of parting touch (beta = .323, t = 3.1, p < .002, adjusted R2 = .108), wife's perceptions of pleasure from embracing (beta = .236, t = 2.3, p < .03, adjusted R2 change = .042), and partner’s perceptions of support touch (beta = .192, t = 2.0, p < .05, adjusted R2 change = .023).  The results suggest that greater congruence in the perceptions of certain types of touching behavior, more specifically touching behavior that includes a dimension of affection, is related to greater degrees of husbands' marital satisfaction. The congruence in the perceptions of the three types of touching accounted for 20.5% of the variance in husbands' marital satisfaction. 

In terms of wives' marital satisfaction, the results indicated that congruences on three types of touching behavior were significant predictors of wives' marital satisfaction.  More specifically, wives' marital satisfaction was found to be significantly related to congruences in perceptions of husband’s perception of enjoyable touch (beta = .246, t = 2.4, p < .03, adjusted R2 = .061), casual touching (beta = .218, t = 2.1, p < .05, adjusted R2 change = .036), and partner’s perceptions of support touch (beta = .197, t = 2.0, p < .05, adjusted R2 change = .018).  The results suggest that greater congruence in the perceptions of certain types of touching behavior, more specifically self initiated touch, is related to greater degrees of wives' marital satisfaction. The congruence in the perceptions of the three types of touching accounted for 15.1% of the variance in wives' marital satisfaction. The results of the two multiple regressions suggest support for Hypothesis 3.

DISCUSSION

The results suggested three types of touching behavior were significant predictors of marital satisfaction: similarities in therapeutic touch, similarities in hugging, and differences in casual holding between partners.  Greater marital satisfaction was associated with greater similarity in the spouses' perceptions of therapeutic touch and hugging in their marital relationship.  These results are not surprising.  According to previous research, love-intimacy touching behavior is exemplified by hugging, kissing, and caressing (Heslin, 1974; Johnson & Edwards, 1991).  These behaviors are believed to be used to communicate deep affection and emotional attraction.

            The two significant loading items labeled as differences in hugging included:  “When we go to work or out for the day, we hug goodbye” and “When we make up from an argument, we like to touch.”  The first type of touching behavior can be characterized as departure/affection touching.  According to Jones and Yarbrough (1985), departure/affection touch expresses affection for and acknowledgement of another.  Departure touch occurs at the end of a focused encounter (e.g., when partners leave for the day) and includes some form of closure or reference to continuance of the relationship (e.g., “See you later”).   Jones and Yarbrough (1985) further described departing/affection touching as somewhat intimate, affectionate, and often including hugs and/or kisses.  The second type of touching behavior is best described as support touch.  Support touch serves to nurture, reassure, or promise protection and typically includes “consoling” (e.g., “It’s O.K.") (Jones & Yarbrough, 1985).

 The above results are also an extension of the findings of Burleson et al. (1992), who reported friends were significantly more similar than nonfriends in their evaluations of comforting skills.  Both therapeutic touch and hugging are means of comforting and are physical behaviors that represent important communication skills.  Thus, these results provide further support for the idea that individuals are attracted to and satisfied with similar others, i.e., married couples with similar therapeutic touching behaviors and similar hugging patterns were more satisfied with their marriage.

Contrary to our expectations, the results reveal that greater differences in casual touching, such as putting an arm around a partner, were associated with greater marital satisfaction.  A possible explanation for why differences in casual touching behavior leads to greater satisfaction can be found in Schutz’s (1966) notion that we have expressive and receptive needs.  Schutz (1966) proposed there are three basic interpersonal needs: inclusion, control, and affection.  These three needs form the basis for exploring the realm of interpersonal relations and methods full human potential may be reached.  Fulfillment of interpersonal needs is accomplished through complementary behavior (Schutz, 1966).  Of the three types of needs,  affection refers to close personal feelings between two individuals and includes the need to initiate and maintain relationships.  It is conveyed by mutual support.  According to Schutz (1967), the primary interaction of affection is an embrace, either literal or symbolic (p. 176).  Affection includes the expression of emotional feelings and is both expressive and receptive.  

With regard to affection, Schutz believed most individuals have difficulty giving and receiving affection.  Although this might be true, demonstrating affection allows individuals to experience their potential for giving and receiving love.  Additionally, individuals may have different needs in terms of expressing and wanting to receive touch.  For example, husbands' initiation of touch by putting their arm around their spouse is a nonverbal cue for their expressive need for affection.  While wives' acceptance of the touching behavior is a nonverbal cue for their receptive need for affection. In this case, the difference in touching behavior represents a complementary action chain (expression-reception of touch), leading to marital satisfaction.  

A second possible explanation for a difference in touching behavior leading to marital satisfaction could be something called gender-based stereotypic expectations.  It could be that a man putting an arm around a woman is a gender-based stereotypic expectation.  Henley (1977) claimed that males have the prerogative to initiate touch (e.g., putting arm around partner).  Since the behavior is expected of men and not women, a difference in the touching behavior between the genders is acceptable.  One principle of Expectancy Violations Theory is that interactants in interpersonal encounters hold expectancies about the nonverbal behaviors of others (e.g., male putting arm around female).  Expectancies are posited to vary as a function of communicator characteristics, interpersonal relationships (e.g., married couples as opposed to strangers), and contexts.  Here, it is expected that the husband would put his arm around the wife and the wife would be expected to be the one held.    

Another principle of Expectancy Violations Theory is that consequences of touch are predicted on the interpretations and evaluations that are assigned.  If touch is positively valenced, it should produce more favorable outcomes than the absence of touch; if it is negatively valenced, it should produce less favorable outcomes relative to no touch.  Given the highly normative nature of touch usage (Bradac, O’Donnell, & Tardy, 1984; Burgoon et al., 1989; Derlega, Lewis, Harrison, Winstead, & Costanza, 1989; Henley, 1977; Heslin & Alper, 1983), interactants should have highly internalized expectations about when, where, and from whom touch should occur.  For example, married partners expect and accept the touching behavior of husbands (males) putting their arm around their wife (female).  Since this type of touching behavior is a highly internalized expectation married partners possess about when, where, and from whom touch should occur, the complementary touch pattern results in positive attributions.  For example, husbands initiating and putting their arm around their wife, while the wife does not reciprocate the behavior, is an accepted and expected difference in touching behavior and, thus, does not create dissatisfaction but actually produces marital satisfaction by conforming to relational expectations.

            With regard to the second issue motivating this research, no evidence was found to support the likelihood that females would be less satisfied with their marriage if differences in touching behavior were prevalent between marital partners.  There were no significant differences between husbands and wives concerning the correlations between differences in touching behaviors and satisfaction.  Part of the explanation for the lack of differences between husbands and wives in the correlations of touching behaviors and marital satisfaction may be found in the fact that results suggest that both spouses had similar associations between touch and marital satisfaction.  It is possible that individuals may be more willing to attribute a satisfying marriage to their own behaviors and less willing to take personal responsibility when they are not satisfied.

With regard to the third issue, it was found that there were positive associations between partners’ marital satisfaction and their metaperceptions of touching behavior in the marriage. This study's examination of marital metaperceptions builds upon extant research on social perception to phenomena that involve a social metaperspective (DePaulo et al., 1987; Kenny & Albright, 1987; Laing et al., 1966).  More specifically, the results suggest that certain types of touching behavior and congruence in perceptions of those touching behaviors are significantly and positively associated with marital satisfaction.  Thus, various types of touching behavior will foster different results based on the meaning and value associated with that particular touching behavior.  These results are consistent with previous research (Derlega et al., 1989; Henley & Harmon, 1985; Jones & Yarborough, 1985) that demonstrates different types of touch produce different interpretations and reactions.   

In terms of husbands’ marital satisfaction, this study indicated that congruence between husband's metaperception and wife's perception on three types of touching behavior were significant predictors of marital satisfaction.  The three types of touching behavior were parting touch, pleasure from embracing, and support touch.  The same held true for wives’ marital satisfaction.  Congruence between wife's metaperceptions and husband's perceptions of three types of touching behavior were significant indicators of wives’ marital satisfaction.  The three types of touching behavior for the wife include enjoyable touch, casual touching, and support touch.

These findings suggest there is a positive association between partners’ perceptions of their touching patterns and the metaperceptions of touching patterns are consistent with Cahn and Frey (1982), who found individuals who felt their partners understood them were more attracted to and more trusting of others than individuals who felt misunderstood.  So, married couples who experience agreement on perceptions of touching behavior are more satisfied with their marriage.  This is consistent with Cahn and Frey’s (1990a) claim that satisfied spouses tend to feel more understood by their partners than less satisfied spouses.

            Two of the three touching behaviors that were significant predictors of marital satisfaction for males include a dimension of affection.  According to Jones and Yarbrough (1985), parting touch and affection touch include intimacy and affection.   Based on previous research and input from a number of clinicians and at a family therapy conference, Kaslow and Robison (1996) noted that the expression of appreciation/ affection was a critical factor in satisfactory marriages.  Further, Kaslow and Hammerschmidt (1992) concluded eight essential ingredients are necessary for a long-term satisfying marriage, including mutual appreciation/affection.  Our results support previous literature that identifies the expression of affection as a key ingredient to marital satisfaction (Kaslow & Hammerschmidt, 1992; Kaslow & Robison; 1996).

Both males and females identified support touch as being a contributing factor to marital satisfaction.  Support touch demonstrates concern for another.  In Kaslow and Robison’s (1996) study, results defined mutual support as an essential ingredient for marital satisfaction.  These results further support Kalsow and Robison’s (1996) conclusions.  It is interesting to note, however, that although the results support previous research regarding metaperception, different types of touching behavior were associated with satisfaction by husbands and wives.  Males and females seem to place different relevance on various types of touching behavior.  This is consistent with the 1984 study by Burgoon, Buller, Hale, and DeTurck, that demonstrated relational message interpretation of five nonverbal cues, one being touch, differed depending on gender.

Research also revealed that whereas each gender may well agree upon the affective interpretations of less intimate touching behavior (e.g., handshake), such agreement across gender is not to be expected for more intimate types of touch (e.g., hugging) (Johnson & Edwards, 1991; Nguyen, Heslin, & Nguyen, 1976; Pisano et al., 1986).  It seams that not only is there a fundamental gender variation in affective associations with touch based upon modality or location, for females the affective meanings of touching behavior are also significantly impacted by relational type and commitment (Johnson & Edwards, 1991).  Thus, the wives placing relevance on agreement in enjoyable, casual, and support types of touching behavior and marital satisfaction is not surprising and is consistent with Willis and Briggs (1992).  These results are also consistent with those reported by Henley (1973, 1977) and by Major, Schmidlin, and Williams (1990) in that gender asymmetry in touch occurred. 

Research maintains that effective communication is important in marital relationships (Karlsson, 1951; Margolin et al., 1975; Olson, 1970; Peterson, 1968; Thomas, 1977).  Since communication includes nonverbal elements, effective nonverbal communication is also important in marital relationships.  So, it is not surprising that married couples whose nonverbal touching behaviors are not only similar but perceived to be similar, rate their marriage as satisfying.  We tend to be attracted to individuals who have similar behaviors to our own and unattracted to individuals whose behaviors are dissimilar from our own.  Byrne (1971) suggested that similarities enhance interpersonal attraction because the discovery of these similarities validates each individual’s view of the world.  In fact, Burleson et al. (1992) claimed acquaintances engage in a variety of communication activities, and are most likely to have enjoyable interaction with each other, if they have similar views about the significance of different communication activities in close relationships.  So, married couples who have similar touching behaviors experience enjoyable interaction and attraction, leading to marital satisfaction.

Touch will continue to be important in the lives of humans.  Whether it is the loving caress of a mother, or the warm embrace from a spouse, touch has the innate power to communicate and strengthen relationships.  According to Thayer (1988), couples stay together and break apart for many reasons, including the way each partner expresses and reacts to affection and intimacy.  For some, feelings and words are enough; for others, touch and physical intimacy are more critical (p. 34).   Helping couples understand the tremendous power touch maintains will ultimately enable them to manage and maintain a satisfying marital relationship.   

 


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Table 1

 

Factor Loadings for Touching Difference Items

                                                                          Fac1    Fac2     Fac3    Fac4

 Put arms around each other while                   -.144     .484*    .071     .211                 watching television.

When walking in public we enjoy                    .205      .164     .062     .371                     holding hands.

 When we make up from an                               .291     .042    -.188     .401*             argument, we like to hug.

 To show affection, we like to touch.                 .602*    .006     .025     .135 

When we go to work or out for the day,           -.038     .076     .087     .638*                      we hug good-bye.

 When we feel insecure, we embrace.                 .378     .084    -.236      .315

 We often put arms around each other.               .127      .945*   -.041   -.017 

 We find it enjoyable when we embrace.            .547*   -.150     .162     .074

We enjoy receiving backrubs.                            .078      .043     .989*    .017

 

We touch frequently.                                          .549*    .130     .066     -.082

___________________________________________________________________

*A significant loading item (> .40).

 


Table 2

Correlations between Differences in Touching and Marital Satisfaction

                                                                     Correlations with MarSat

                                                                       

                                                                        Wives          Husbands                z         p      

 

Differences in Affectionate Touch                      -.106                -.077               .180     .857

 Differences in Casual Holding                             .261                .115                .906     .364

 Differences in Therapeutic Touch                      -.441                -.550                .676     .501

 Differences in Hugging                                      -.263                -.421                .980     .327

 


Table 3

Factor Loadings for Congruence Items

 

Wife's Self/Husband's Other             Fac1    Fac2      Fac3    Fac4      Fac5    Fac6     Fac7

 Put arms around each other while    -.100     .229     -.097     .047     -.054     .037     .567*    watching television.

When walking in public we enjoy     .163    -.097      .028     .007      .121    -.149     .543*   holding hands.

When we make up from an               .026    -.027     -.006     .998*    .008    -.057     .010   argument, we like to hug.

To show affection, we touch            -.204    -.085      .240    -.011     .015      .183     .250

When we go to work or out for the  -.080     .935*     .150     .146    -.026      .082     .233   day, we hug good-bye.

When insecure, we embrace.             .051     .003      -.086    .035      .034      .972*  -.143

We put arms around each other.        .207    -.013       .115    .284      .410*    .190     .160

We enjoy when embracing.               .042     .045       .977* -.024      .073     -.068    -.106

We touch frequently.                       -.079     .406*     .034     .234      .109      .138     .313

 

Husband's Self/Wife's Other

 

Put arms around each other while     .187     .143      .138    -.198      .259     .403*     .230   Watching television.

When walking in public we enjoy     .083     .017     -.315    -.047      .042    -.155      .552*   Holding hands.

When we make up from an               .090     .176     -.128     .420*     .313     .065     -.082    argument, we like to hug.

To show affection, we touch             .851*   .165     -.015    -.066     .054     -.064      .037

When we go to work or out for the   .082     .834*   -.074    -.095     .161     -.006     -.144       day, we hug good-bye.

When insecure, we embrace.             .670*   .182      -.061    .236     -.069      .204    -.087

We put arms around each other.        .689*  -.074      .335    -.008     -.056      .062    -.011

We enjoy when embracing.              -.015   -.084       .269    -.025      .482*    .240     .299

We enjoy receiving backrubs.           .151     .161       .120     .115      .801*    .005     .061

We touch frequently.                        .787*  -.231      -.045     .078      .113      .031     .079

 

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*A significant loading item (> .40).

 

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