The psychology of relationships: strokes
Applying the concept of strokes
By now you may have seen our page on the concept of strokes and the stroke economy, and done the stroke profile exercise.
Let’s think a bit more about the concept of stroking in your relationship.
I mentioned at the end of the stroke profile section that people have different needs for strokes and relatedness. It’s probably quite rare that two people in a relationship will want exactly the same amount of strokes and contact with each other.
Indeed, this seems pretty impossible to me!
However, a relationship will not work very well if there is one partner who always feels neglected or under-stroked in some way. You will have to find a compromise which feels comfortable for both of you.
Remember too, that you are not the only two people on the planet.
If one of you wants a lot of contact with people and the other one doesn’t, the more sociable partner could spend time with other people to satisfy his or her needs for contact.
However, for a respectful relationship it is important that you negotiate each other’s boundaries in an open and honest manner.
Within our culture it’s generally not ok to go and fulfill your sexual needs with someone else without agreement from your partner. However, having a good chat or a game of tennis with your best friend is a different matter.
The more positive strokes there are in your life, the better. Keep in mind that positive strokes don’t cost you anything and they might make your partner very happy.
However, be aware also what you want to give, and only give what feels right for you. Honesty is still the best strategy.
If you discover you and your partner differ in how you give and receive strokes, talk about it. Find a good middle way.
Also, your new stroking rules may need to be practiced. What may feel like an awkward thing for you today, might be easy and pleasant to do next week.
Another huge area of interest is our need for physical stroking, for physical touch and skin-to-skin contact. We engage in so little non-sexual touch with each other it’s no wonder that western societies are so neurotic!
Physical touch – especially skin-to-skin contact – is a primary way of feeling comfort and closeness with another human being.
It is essential for our well-being to touch and be touched in a respectful way. We may engage in different forms of touch, from gentle to passionate to playful.
We all need non-sexual touch, and it’s sad to think that a lot of adults in our society have absolutely no non-sexual physical contact with anybody else. With a set-up like this it becomes easy to assume all touch has an agenda about sex.
Think about the importance of non-sexual physical touch in your life and your relationship. If there isn’t enough of it, make some space for it.
You could go on a massage or reflexology course to get more comfortable with touching your partner (or someone else), and being touched in return.
Talk with your partner about your need for touch and make sure it is ok for both of you to touch each other without it leading to sex.
An expectation to be sexual can be experienced as very pressurizing by both men and women. It’s great to be able to just cuddle up with one another without an extra agenda.
If you have problems keeping the two apart, work out a code word or sentence to make sure the other one knows what you are after, such as “I just want to cuddle” to state your non-sexual intentions.
I believe that non-sexual touch is also very important for the sexual touch in your life. It means you do not have to engage in sex to meet your basic needs for contact.
And you will also be able to feel safe and relaxed with your partner sharing a physical sense of closeness, which will be a great place to start from when you do feel like exploring your sexuality.
It is very important for both men and women to have non-sexual, relaxing and safe touch with a partner, so that they can also feel really passionate and sexy with their partner.