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A recently published article in Psychological Science, by James Coan entitled “Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat,” confirmed the importance of close social contact between intimate partners, particularly human touch by a loved one in promoting improved physical health and emotional well-being.

Why handholding? Handholding is viewed as a common nonverbal form of expressing affection, support, soothing, comfort, and healing. The simple act of touch in this manner has been reported to reduce anxiety under stressful situations. The key markers of loving and lifelong attachment among long-term couples means, from a physiological point of view, that the hormone called the “cuddle hormone” or oxytocin promotes physical bonding and emotional connection is released when we touch and hug our partners, or close family members, like our children.

Oxytocin has been proposed as one of the mechanisms through which the positive benefits of social support are realized and serves as a mediator of the effects of threat related brain activity. We also recognize that the sense of safety and security comes from knowing that our partner is emotionally and physically responsive and available, with the added qualities of experiencing healthy relationships that come with mutual concern and support, openness, empathy and trust. Attachment to a loved one is often internalized and accessed in the soothing memories and sensory images of seeing yourself comforted in the arms of someone you love.

Lucy S. Raizman, LCSW, LMFT