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. Afterwards, 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 affect.
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 affect. 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 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 hand-holding may rebuild and strengthen connectedness—the base upon which future discussions depart from.”