Question: What are Healthy Physical Touching Boundaries?

Having questions, being curious, thinking – these are things I never really did very much when I was in full addict cycle.

Maybe that’s not true.

Maybe my questions were more self-centered or to prove that I was right and others were wrong.

Either way, I’m learning that asking questions about recovery is always a good thing: it means I’m thinking about recovery, it means I want to learn, it means I don’t think I have it all figured out and can “move on” or “go back to normal.”

Today’s discussion has been started by one of our readers.

Mark in AZ asks:

What are healthy physical touching boundaries?

Differences between intimate and playful…pestering and playful, pestering and intimate. Too much vs too little. Focused on relationship with the spouse.

Any response from good books, sound experiences. What worked what didn’t…

healthy physical touching

We’ll open this type of discussion topic up and let your comments provide the content. Comments that contain inappropriate answers will be filtered.

What’s been your experience?

Thanks again for the question.

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REMINDER: “Stay away from explicit sexual descriptions, specific websites, or vulgarities that may be a trigger or be offensive to others. If [we] feel [a comment] is getting too explicit, [the comment won’t be posted].” (SAL Men’s Script)

18 thoughts on “Question: What are Healthy Physical Touching Boundaries?”

  1. I needed different things as different times as I passed through new layers of healing. For example, I was okay to have sex right after I found out about the addiction; however, after a few years of my husband’s consistent sobriety and beginning recovery I would usually cry during or after sex.

    The important thing with all of this is that we communicated as a couple. I needed to speak up and voice discomfort. My husband needed to be sensitive and not take it personally or go into shame. I think this question needs to be addressed personally: what worked for one couple may not work for your relationship. What worked last week may not work today. What does she need and how can you be sensitive ahead of time and during a time of her need? Good luck!

  2. This is a fantastic and difficult question indeed. I’ve found that I need to remember 3 things whenever I am confronted with a situation about appropriate touch:

    1. Intentions (fighting objectification and self-gratification, seeking mutual respect)
    2. Needs of the other person in the moment (safety and communication)
    3. Patience and generosity with myself, because I’m going to make mistakes

    There’s a lot that could be said about each, but if I focus on these larger categories of mindfulness and action then I tend to be in a lot better shape overall.

  3. This has been very important for me and my wife. The “drying out”period taught me there are other forms of intamacy than just sex. My wife enjoys foot and back rubs. I try to give those as often as she wants. Anything more than that I let her decide. I’ve really been focusing on letting my wife initiate physical intimacy. For so long in our marriage I guilted, manipulated, and bartered for sex. Sex became a chore and not intimacy. It’s been important to me to show acts of love without any expectation of sex in return. I pretty much try to let my wife be the driver.

    I’m not always perfect at this, and when I mess up it’s always a set back. It makes my wife feel like a lustful object. Talk with your wife and find out what she’s comfortable with.

    1. Joel; I too have had this struggle with my spouse. I am a very sexual person and initiate sex with my wife 9 out of 10 times. She has told me that she is only “doing it” for me many times and it has a psychological effect on me that leads to inappropriate “lustful” consequences. I am working on letting her be the initiator and I take the backseat as the recipient of her intimate proposals. It is very hard for me to do but when it does happen that way it is so much more intimate. My fiery sexual nature makes this very hard to concede to but I have to be patient and allow intimacy to take its course through her. There will be times she wants me to initiate but I am working on being able to see these times vs me thrusting myself upon her. It’s a tough balance but hopefully in time we can find a happy medium that will benefit both of us.

  4. I love physical touch. I like the connection between my wife and I. However, I have found that talking about touching in non-sexual ways helps us understand the appropriate timing and kind of touch for the moment. Asking for a hug is good for hug-sakes. I understand the need for healthy boundaries – that not all touching leads to sex. In addition, touching can be intimate without sex too. It is possible to hold one another and not go straight to the bedroom.

    I really struggle with this topic. I have for too long, playfully (from my addict perspective) thought it was fine to come up from behind and pinch or grab or grope or smack… ADDICT! But that was self serving. The habits are difficult to break. But the wrestle for affection is still there.

    I have found that humility is super important because it requires so much vulnerability to say no or say yes.

  5. This is a question i’ve struggled with ever since disclosure with my wife over a year ago. She feels strongly that any intimacy should be only if it’s for the purpose of us connecting and getting closer to one another which I can see where she’s coming from on this, but at same time it’s caused a great internal struggle for myself. All my life I’ve been an addict and i don’t think I ever felt the sole need to be intimate with someone so we could emotionally connect. Physical attraction and enjoying the entire intimacy process was always my draw so to be driven to be intimate by the need/want to emotionally connect with someone is a new concept to me. Now this doesn’t mean that after my wife and I do have sex now that I don’t feel more emotionally connected to her because I can honestly say I do, but to this day when I think or feel i want to have sex with her the driving force behind that isn’t because i’m feeling a strong need to emotionally connect and this is where she and I get frustrated with one another and conflict happens.

    So this has now caused confusion between us when it comes to the question of the day about what is healthy physical touch. I’m still physically attracted to my wife and therefore i find myself wanting to hold hands with her or hug or cuddle with her etc which i think is healthy but i know she’s always wondering if im doing this because i’m expecting sex or if i’m truly wanting to emotionally connect with her like i described before. She always wants to know my intention and if i’m lusting or what my true motives are. In honesty my motives almost always are that physical touch is one of my love languages and helps me feel loved and important even if it doesn’t lead to sex (there have been times, especially before disclosure that my intentions were to hopefully have us be intimate). So now I find myself in a catch 22 if you’d say. I feel my desires for physical touch are within healthy boundaries and help me feel closer to her, and at same time i know she’s always questioning my motives on why i’m touching her and so i find myself pulling away just to avoid conflict. We obviously need more help with a therapist to help us through the issue but i’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on how they deal with physical touch in a safe healthy way that works for both couples. I feel its very important for healing but i never want to come across as pushing my wife into doing anything that makes her question my motives or makes her feel uncomfortable. Hope this makes sense. Thanks again for this forum to discuss important topics like this.

  6. This topic has been so tricky for us! In my SAL group, we read in our script that “we believed sex was the most important sign of love.” And that has proved true for me -an unhealthy pathway was created in my own brain. I believed that sexuality was where my worth was as well.

    My husband had tunnel vision as well. I felt like I was constantly doing figurative jumping jacks in front of him, just trying to get him to see me… hoping he would. Hoping he would tell me I was enough, hoping he’d stop rejecting me in favor of fake women.
    But it seemed like he only “saw” me when I was in that tunnel with him. I fell into a pattern of unhealthy behavior, trying to get him to notice me, see me, by cracking inappropriate jokes, making lewd references.

    This has been such a hard trap! It’s confusing and something I’m working on. When my husband isn’t safe, when he has his “tunnel vision” it triggers that old behavior in me as well.
    I want connection so badly and I go about getting in the wrong ways. When I realize what I’m doing, I pull back and my husband gets really frustrated because he feels I’m sending mixed signals. We have fought about this a few times. It’s frustrating.

    It’s something I have to work on. I am working on it.

    It’s just so messy. I’m grateful brain patterns can be changed, and I can feel mine changing and shifting, but I’m not healed yet. Boundaries have been helpful for me as I work my own stuff, taking space from my husband when I don’t feel safe instead of trying to engage with him.

    I wish there were more resources on this subject -healing physical stuff in a marriage marred by sexual addiction -it’s muddy waters. It’s also ALL so personal and different for all couples, so there’s no one book that fits all. I can just keep working my own recovery to heal that unhealthy pattern in my own brain.
    My intuition is my best guide, and I do best when I take time to check in with myself and my sponsor.

  7. Adam Moore says it isn’t healthy to be physically intimate for the purpose of connecting. Rather, physical intimacy is a way to celebrate connection. That has been pretty central to how we have thought about it lately. If my wife doesn’t feel safe and connected, then there is very limited physical touch or intimacy. Further, if I am engaging in any acting out or addictive behaviors, there is a stop to intimacy for an indefinite amount of time, often at least weeks but typically months. That is hard but helpful. As I rebuild trust and move towards reconnecting physically, I have to focus on emotional connection, giving rather than taking, avoiding any lust, and not pushing things too fast. At first I have to ask for any physical touch. Eventually that loosens a bit, but, I still have to let her lead. This is all much different than in the past, before we know more about addiction and recovery. It is hard and a work in progress but seems to be very helpful for both of us.

  8. In my marriage, until about 4 years ago, physical touch always had an agenda of expecting it to lead to sex.

    EXPECTATIONS are the pathway to resentment.

    I’m learning that physical touch can be a way to let my wife know I’m here and that I see her as long as there are no expectations. I’m also learning that this requires patience, practice and a lot of prayer – asking for God’s help to surrender the outcome.

    As far as re-connecting intimately with my wife, the first question I have to ask myself is this:

    “How is the emotional connection with her going?”

    For me, this has been an ESSENTIAL part of recovery – connecting emotionally first before even thinking about the physical connection or intimacy.

    If I’m trying to manipulate her by doing all these great things around the house with the expectation of sex, she feels that.

    This, for me, is LUSTING after my wife, using her as an object.

    This has been my experience – it’s a work in progress for sure…

    1. This was really helpful insight for me as the harmed partner. My husband has not fully dealt with or acknowledged his behaviors as harmful. We will be married 34 yrs this year and this pattern has been around since the beginning of treating me like an object (smacking, grabbing, groping etc) and always With some kind of expectation that he was entitled to it and that I should be somehow thankful or grateful that he found me so sexy. It never felt like that, it always felt like I was an object. I seriously had never even thought about the idea that he was lusting after me in order to get his own needs met and that’s why I felt like it was off.

    2. I feel this above comment for sure. I want to emotionally connect with my husband, not the days i feel he is pursuing me. Not the honey do list, then he gets sex
      Then the whole Intimacy act is me pushing him away. Him getting more and more frustrated, finally mad thst I didn’t deliver. I have to feel emotionally connection and safety in order to have sex
      I don’t wanna feel him guilt tripping me because I won’t let him touch me. He will says the words I choose to not let him.
      It’s so confusing and frustrating I want to feel safe, but he has to understand no, and my body language.

  9. I will not engage sexually with you when I feel coerced or when you beg.

    If you act out, I will ask that you do not sleep in our bed until I feel safe with you again. I do not know when that will be. I will let you know. (It is the addict’s job to create safety).

  10. I am learning that sex is not the problem, lust is. Learning that there is a fine line when it comes to healthy physical touch in a marriage that has been affected by sexual addiction. Am I becoming a part of feeding his lust? So much to learn. Learning to listen to the spirit when it does not feel right.

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