Why You Might Want To Consider Holding Hands During Your Next Fight
Arguments happen, and that's OK. But when they do arise, particularly between couples, it's important to have a tool belt of approaches and tactics to ensure the argument is productive—not destructive.
And according to new research by the University of Amsterdam, one way to help do that may be as simple as holding hands.
How holding hands affects an argument.
Touch is one of the five love languages, and it's a powerful way to show affection and care. So researchers wanted to look at how holding hands during and after a conflict between a couple would influence three factors: reactivity, how positively or negatively the partners respond to each other, and the quality of the communication.
The researchers had 100 heterosexual couples come into the lab and discuss a topic of disagreement while researchers monitored their heart rates and communication. Some couples were instructed to hold hands during or after the argument; others weren't. Afterward, each person in each couple reported how they felt during and after the argument.
Holding hands during conflict was found to have lots of positive effects for the men in the study. They were physiologically calmer, had a more positive attitude during the conversation, and the communication was less negative. For women, interestingly, holding hands did improve communication but didn't have much effect on reactivity and actually showed a drop in positive effect.
In the paper on their findings, the study authors note this could be because the women in the study did not feel inclined to touch their partner while arguing, causing a negative effect. However, the communication itself did still improve. One potential explanation for this, they add, is that "merely the intimacy of holding hands makes it harder to discuss matters harshly."
And when it came to holding hands after the discussion, the positive impacts were seen across the board. Both men's and women's heart rates were less reactive and more stable, and there was more positivity between partners. While the communication was over at that point, the authors noted, "Post-discussion handholding may rebuild and strengthen connectedness—the base upon which future discussions depart from."
The positive effects of touch.
Why would holding hands have such a big impact on how a fight played out?
"An important effect of touch is the buffering of stress," the researchers write. Past studies have similarly linked touch to reduced blood pressure and heart rate, they note. "These attenuating effects presumably are driven by increased oxytocin and reduced cortisol levels. Observational studies found associations between touch and such neuroendocrine changes."
Beyond the physiological changes, though, the researchers also say that touch encourages trust, cooperation, security, and connectedness—all traits that can help us keep our cool during an argument and remind us that the person we're arguing with is also someone we love.
The bottom line.
"What matters is that handholding helps couples to achieve a more constructive discussion," the study authors say, adding that it seems to be a "promising add-on intervention in couple therapy."
While it may not be a cure-all for every fight, holding hands can lend itself to calmer, more positive communication and help to keep an argument from escalating—and thus, more constructive discussions overall. Even holding hands when you're done talking, it seems, can help repair any hard feelings in the aftermath.
So while it might seem weird at first to hold hands while you're arguing, give it a shot. You may find you and your partner communicate much better for it.
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