Dear Tyler and Jay: My partner is touchy-feely. I’m not. How can we connect?

| November 30, 2023
Posted in: , , ,

Hello Blue Jays! We’re in the home stretch. Don’t work too hard on essays, presentations, and studying. We’re glad you’re taking a break and catching up with us and your peers and their relationships concerns.

Q: I really like my space and am not a touchy person whatsoever. My partner is someone who really values physical touch and thinks if I don’t interact with them in this way, then I’m not into them. What can I do to make them feel loved in this way?

A: This is such a great question! Not everyone is going to give and receive love in the same way, and that’s totally fine! While it’s up to us to ensure that our partner(s) feel cared for and respected, we can also set boundaries as to what will make everyone in the relationship comfortable. Talk to your partner about ways to show physical touch that won’t overwhelm you. This could look like holding their hand, a hug or a quick kiss when you are feeling affectionate, or being physically near them without touching. All of these options are small but meaningful interactions that show your partner you’re thinking of them without being all over them or feeling that you do not have ownership of your space.

We show up for our partners because we care and, if that’s how your partner identifies love, then make the effort to do that for them. Plus, it feels good doing things that make our partners happy, so take a step back from how you feel and try to recognize that they appreciate love in this way and it’s nice to show it. Communicate ideas for how you can compromise around ways to give and receive love, so that your partner also knows what your expectations are and how to ensure you both feel loved. A great way to start is by thinking about your own “love language” and learning about other ways to show love, as this will absolutely benefit your relationship and your general understanding of how to show someone else how much they mean to you.


Q: My man and I have been together for around four years. I love him so much and I know he loves me back. I feel bad for saying this but sometimes I feel bored in our relationship. I’ve had some really shitty exes and he is the first that treats me right, is patient with me, supportive, not controlling. All the good things, and I feel ungrateful. Any time I’ve felt a type of way about something in my life or in our relationship, he always encourages me to talk it through with him and listens like REALLY listens. I don’t know how to bring this up or why I’m feeling this way. Help?

A: Hey, congrats on four years. Even though things have been bad in the past, I want to acknowledge the fact that you’ve opened yourself back up again to the idea of having a relationship you deserve. And it sounds like it’s been going well. It’s not unusual to feel bored in healthy relationships. I have two explanations, and the context of past relationships helps with the first one.

The thing about the brain is that it’s wired to pick out patterns, to help us save time and energy by making assumptions. One way it does that is by making associations. Some associations are simple, like seeing someone wear purple in Baltimore and assuming it’s Ravens gear. Others are more complex, like how we relate to one another through groupthink, in-group and out-group biases, and stereotypes. It’s simultaneously a wonderful and awful feature, because it can work a little too well.

If past relationships have had some unhealthy elements to them, they probably activated your stress response (aka flight-or-fight mode). To try to protect us in the future, the brain takes note of different elements of a situation and generalizes them as signs of danger. Even healthy relationships can have their heated moments but when relationships are unsafe, the stress response is a lot stronger.

Let’s say an ex would lash out at you when they were in a bad mood. Your brain would take in things like, “That’s the way their mouth twitches before they yell” or “When they clench their fist and head towards me, they are making a physical threat.” And then the brain starts making associations like “Any time they show emotion [good or bad], lashing out is imminent” or “Any time we’re together, lashing out is a possibility.” Your brain can even extrapolate those experiences into something like, “Any time I’m in a relationship, lashing out will happen.”

When you enter a new relationship, your brain and body might starting ringing the alarm, creating a preemptive stress response. The body says, “This is a situation where we haven’t felt safe, and we need to stay ready for when it happens again.” This association is especially likely with repeated experiences, like having many awful exes (or even just seeing or hearing about others’ relationships).

However, that response seems to never have been triggered in your current relationship. It sounds like whenever a conflict arose that could have triggered that reaction, your partner led or participated in proper conflict management that maintained emotional safety. So learning that you are now in a safe situation, this boredom could actually be the feeling of safety. So don’t feel too bad. The brain also likes things we are familiar with, good or bad. Part of the confusion could be from the fact this healthy relationship is a new experience.

Another explanation is that the boredom could be things feeling too comfortable and perfunctory. Maybe the relationship has run its course. It happens, even if there is no real reason. That can be frustrating and confusing, especially if it is a healthy relationship. Maybe conversations aren’t as deep, or physical affection isn’t there. Maybe your personal passions aren’t getting enough time and energy, and that deficit affects your overall mood.

For either explanation, I have some suggestions to begin to address it:

  • Change the way you view it. Instead of saying “I’m bored,” you could try “I’m safe. I’m feeling this way because I’m safe.”
  • Find new, exhilarating things to do together for a healthy form of excitement. I’ll leave that up to you to decide what could be fun and exciting (but still safe) for you both.
  • Bring your partner into the conversation, to see if it’s something you can work on together. If he is feeling the same way, you both could make a conscious effort to address and work on the problem, or decide if you both have already given it everything you have.

Hope these ideas help.


As always, you can submit your questions to Dear Tyler + Jay using the link listed below.

Note: DT&J is intended to educate and spark discussion. The advice offered is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological, or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. If you need help getting started, you can email [email protected].