Walking around any town or city, you are bound to see strolling couples almost unaware that they’re locked in palm-kiss. Why do romantic couples hold hands?
Meaning of Holding Hands for Romantic Couples
The act of holding hands can mean various things for different people. Here are some of them:
1.) It can give feelings of comfort, protection and safety
When we’re young, we often associate handholding with the protective action of a parent looking after us as we cross the road, or as we walk through busy areas. Holding hands represents “I’m holding onto you so that I’ll keep you safe from getting lost or getting hurt”. It could well be that people who have established such a learned association with handholding, will feel comforted by this action with a romantic partner.
Like a person who needs to be led through the dark, it represents someone being there to guide you if you ever need someone to lean on. Sometimes we need a hand to help steady ourselves as we climb through the rocky terrain of life, or to help us balance as we attempt new things, as you’d be grateful for when trying ice skating for the first time. We’re comforted to have someone offer a helping hand to catch us or at least help pull us up if we fall along the way. Being in “good hands”. That is part of what handholding represents.
Comfort need not necessarily be related to keeping safe. It can also be like a hand-hug. When you’re feeling scared about an interview, or going for an injection, if someone who cares about you holds your hand and gives it a squeeze, it can be comforting. It signifies “I’m here for you and I’ll be there for you at the other end too.” There is also the other dimension that holding their hand helps divert your attention away from the thing which is causing discomfort, and by focusing on it less, the intensity of the fear diminishes. “With spouse hand-holding you also stop looking for other signs of danger and you start feeling more secure,” says assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, James Coan, at the University of Virginia. “It makes your brain work a little less hard on coping”.
Biochemically, touch is known to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system which is associated with relaxation and unwinding. Touch, such as in massage has been found to lower blood pressure, slow breathing and make us feel more at ease.
2.) It says “I love you” or at the very least “I like you” without words
Because handholding is often associated with happy memories of parents or guardians looking after children out of love, it is associated with loving a person. When you’re a child, your love for your parents tends to be one of the strongest feelings of love you’ve experienced in your young life. It is no wonder then that when these children grow up, they use this similar loving act in romantic contexts.
Handholding is an expression of closeness and connection, allowing someone in through your personal boundaries, which are important factors in love.
NLP states that people can be divided into 3 groups: visual-dominants, audio-dominants, or touch-dominants. People who are audio-dominant may prefer to say “I love you”. People who are visual-dominant need to see it through body language: the look in a lover’s eyes and the expression on their face. People who are touch-dominant may find saying how they feel incredibly difficult and far prefer to say it with touch, by holding hands… amongst other ways!
3.) Touch intensifies your feelings for one another
Not only is handholding an expression of closeness that says “I like you”, but it also intensifies how much you like a person. Studies have shown that when waiters casually add friendly touch to the interaction with the people who they’re serving, tip size and frequency increases dramatically. One study found a 36% increase in tipping caused by touching. It is likely that a similar effect happens when we hold hands.
“Based on what we’ve seen, when we get more physical intimacy we get better relationships,” said Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
4.) It says “you’re not alone”, “you’re accepted”, “you belong”
You hold someone’s hand when you want them to keep up with you as you urge them to follow, or to ensure you stick together in a crowd. You do it to connect with someone in a moment in time so that you feel that in spite of experiencing an event in our own separate bodies, you are sharing this moment together. Handholding is an act of togetherness.
In his book “Love’s Executioner”, Dr Irvin Yalom suggests that we’re all afraid of existential isolation. He writes: “We are born alone and we must die alone. Yet even though you’re alone in your boat, it’s always comforting seeing the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.” Handholding is a vibrantly bright and warm light of a boat bobbing happily beside us.
The basic human need to belong was discussed in an earlier article, and handholding can certainly help fulfil this need as it makes you feel accepted and wanted.
From a palmistry perspective, the palm represents the microcosm of the self. By holding hands you are effectively putting together the microcosm of your world with the microcosm of their world. The ultimate expression of togetherness.
5.) It fulfils the basic human need for touch, which makes us feel good
The need to touch other members of your species is ingrained into us genetically. When observing the young of mammals of all species, snuggling behaviours are common to all. Studies have shown that touch is essential for good physical and mental health. Lack of demonstrative touch-related love has been found to be related to failure to thrive or mature psychologically in babies. Another research study found that elderly people reported increased well-being after massaging infants. Touch releases endorphin-like feel-good chemicals. Bottom-line: touch makes us feel good. Handholding therefore does too.
Human touch is such an important thing, that in cultures where handholding between sexes is not accepted, and the sexes are segregated, such as in strict Arab countries, handholding is acceptable amongst men as a sign of respect and as an expression of liking one another. This caused much controversy in the non-segregated West, when in 2005 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held hands with George W Bush before the cameras of the world!
6.) For some it’s a sign of ownership and domination
Some people like to hold hands possessively as if to say “You’re mine! And everyone will see it when I hold your hand!”
Along similar lines, especially amongst young romantic partners, handholding may be something that’s done to show off to your friends that you’ve found a “trophy” romantic partner.
Looking at the body language of hand-holding can reveal which partner is the “dominant” one. There are 3 main ways we can hold hands:
(1.) Holding hands with your palm facing backwards
(2.) Holding hands with your palm facing forwards
(3.) Holding hands with your palm facing towards your body
In Pease’s “The Definitive Book of Body Language” book, he states that “The person with the palm facing down (backwards) is dominating over the one with the palm forwards.” If both partners have their palms facing towards their body, the body language is saying that both are equally dominant.
7.) Social signal that you’re “taken”
From a social perspective, it may be a sign for others to back off when you’re “taken” and no longer on the market. Today, handholding is often seen as a more serious sign of connection than a kiss or a hug. Kisses are often given away freely and meaninglessly in drunken nights out in bars and clubs, but handholding has connotations of a more serious, committed connection.
8.) It sure beats gloves to warm your hands!
What? Hands are often warm!
See other articles in the body language, culture, and psychology sections, including:
- Why do we need a sense of belonging?
- Why do we have the engagement and wedding ring custom?
- Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
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I like this article on togetherness
Youre the one with the brains here. Im watcihng for your posts.
Posts like this brighten up my day. Thanks for taking the time to write this! Your drawing is also cute =)
I’ve seen a certain Celeb couple holding hands when ever their out in public. It always looks like he’s trying to keep her close to him, when it’s just the two of them taking a stroll. Then when theres a crowd of people around, like when the couple is leaving or going into a restaurant, he’s seen guiding her through the crowd.
What’s funny is that this is also a couple who is always accused of not looking so happy, when they are out. Now I can tell that the expressions on the couple’s faces are usually about the Paparazzi around them, and how they love to make comments to provoke a response from the Celeb’s.
What I don’t understand is, why the rest of the world is too stupid, to see that! This is a couple who always hold each other close and it never looks fake. More like something done out of habit.
Does it really make us as a society, feel good to see them so unhappy, if so….then how sad are we!
What an interesting article about holding hands! There are so many things that we overlook. What powerful discovery. Keep up the good work.