[Here is a recent paper I
co-authored on touch among married couples]
Couples' Perceptions of Touch Behavior and
Jenny A. Taylor Enochson
Communication Department (EC-199)
State University, Fullerton
Communication Department (EC-199)
State University, Fullerton
presented to the Interpersonal Communication Division for the annual meeting of
the National Communication Association, Chicago, November 1999.
Couples' Perceptions of Touch Behavior
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
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
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 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,
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, 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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
5 - *
STi - OTi *
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
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 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 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
5 - *
STi - OTi *
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
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.
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
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).
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
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
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
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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Factor Loadings for Touching Difference Items
arms around each other while
walking in public we enjoy
we make up from an
show affection, we like to touch.
we go to work or out for the day,
we feel insecure, we embrace.
often put arms around each other.
find it enjoyable when we embrace.
enjoy receiving backrubs.
significant loading item (> .40).
Correlations between Differences in Touching and
Correlations with MarSat
in Affectionate Touch
in Casual Holding
in Therapeutic Touch
Factor Loadings for Congruence Items
Fac1 Fac2 Fac3
Fac5 Fac6 Fac7
arms around each other while
-.054 .037 .567*
walking in public we enjoy
.121 -.149 .543*
we make up from an
we like to hug.
show affection, we touch
.015 .183 .250
we go to work or out for the -.080
.935* .150 .146
day, we hug good-bye.
insecure, we embrace.
put arms around each other.
enjoy when embracing.
.109 .138 .313
arms around each other while
.259 .403* .230 Watching
walking in public we enjoy
.042 -.155 .552*
we make up from an
.313 .065 -.082
show affection, we touch
.054 -.064 .037
we go to work or out for the .082
day, we hug good-bye.
insecure, we embrace.
put arms around each other.
enjoy when embracing.
.269 -.025 .482*
enjoy receiving backrubs.
significant loading item (> .40).
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