Relationship-Smart Women Podcast
Before we get into feeling “touched out”, I have another podcast appearance to tell you about.
I recently had a wonderful chat with Nicole Mathieson, relationship therapist and host of the Relationship-Smart Women podcast.
Nicole and I spoke about what happens to your relationship and sex life after you have kids, and what you can do to cope with all of the change and stress that comes with it. Plus I shared some of my own story of how I got into doing this work, and some of the challenges that I’ve been through in my own relationship.
Catch Relationship-Smart Women episode 47 with me, Catherine Topham Sly, wherever you get your podcasts, including on apple devices here or in your web browser here.
Feeling “Touched Out” And What To Do About It
If you’ve ever felt – at the end of a long day caring for little ones – like you just couldn’t bear to be touched one more time, you know what it is to feel “touched out”.
If this is something that either you or your partner has experienced, read on to find out what causes it and what you can to do remedy it – and to prevent it happening in future.
What Causes Feeling “Touched Out”
Young children are really demanding, and often in very physical ways.
We lift them, hold them, carry them, bathe them, wipe their hands, their faces, their bottoms. We rub their knees, stroke their faces, wipe their tears.
Breastfeeding in particular requires us to release our bodies from our clothes on demand, many times a day and often all through the night too.
And some days our children cling to us, crying if we try to put them down for even a minute.
Small children are dependent on us for everything – and most of that care involves physical touch.
It’s not uncommon for this to leave you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, irritable, and desperate to keep your body inside your clothes.
At the end of the day you might feel desperate for some adult conversation, to feel close to someone who cares for you.
Or maybe you’re the type who recharges by vegging out in front of the TV.
Either way, there are days when you just want some physical space, and the idea of another second in physical contact with another human being feels completely overwhelming.
The idea of cuddling, kissing or have any other physical touch – including getting naked – with your partner might be the last thing on your mind.
This can become stressful and upsetting for both of you. And especially so if it plays into a pattern where your partner reaches for you and you recoil, leaving them feeling rejected and hurt, and you feeling misunderstood and frustrated.
Understanding Feeling “Touched Out”
The solution to feeling “touched out” (as to so many things) lies in understanding it.
Of course we all have our limits, but human beings are wired for connection, and actually love nothing more than to touch and be touched.
If you think back to the early days of your relationship with your partner, there were most likely times when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other.
The difference between that touch and when you feel “touched out” is that you were choosing to touch and be touched by your new partner.
The reality of looking after young children is that they often want more physical contact than their parents are truly comfortable with.
And so much of that touch is about meeting their needs.
So over time we can come to associate that neediness with the physical touch, and feel like anyone who is trying to touch us is asking something of us.
Feeling “touched out” isn’t really about touch.
It’s about whether we’re giving or receiving.
Whether we’re meeting others’ needs, or getting ours met.
The Remedy To Feeling “Touched Out”
As counterintuitive as it sounds, physical touch is actually one of the best remedies when you feel touched out.
But it has to be the right kind of physical touch.
It has to be physical touch which feels giving to you, rather than taking from you.
It might be massage, cuddles, holding… but the important thing is that you’re receiving not giving.
In order to do this we have to firstly know what kind of touch feels good to us. What kind of touch feels nurturing, comforting, and recharging.
Then we have to believe that we are worthy of receiving that touch, see the value in asking our partners to meet that need for us, and find a way to have the conversation.
My sex after kids workbook Back In The Sack will support you to do all of those things.
You need nurturing touch just as much as your baby does.
Pleasure is how we recharge.
Sometimes we have to get that need for touch that feels good to us met in order to get the message on a felt, experiential level that physical closeness with others can feel good, and fill you up again.
Preventing Feeling “Touched Out”
Parental burnout is real – especially during a pandemic – and it can have serious consequences.
In order to stay emotionally available, responsive to, and engaged with your children, you need to take care of yourself first.
As well as being essential to your ability to nurture your child(ren), your self-care routine is vital if you are going to show up as your best self to your partner, to keep your relationship thriving.
Get enough sleep, or at least rest. Eat well. Do some exercise. Go outside every day. Prioritise things that matter to you, including your social connections. Ringfence the alone time you need. Do fun stuff. Drink plenty of water, and not too much alcohol. Find a way to process your thoughts, whether it’s journaling, therapy, or something else. Ask for what you need, and set limits on the things that drain you.
Feeling touched out is about being constantly in demand. You might not be able to dial down your kids’ demands, so think about the ones you can – check your boundaries around work; turn off your notifications; have regular time with your phone off.
Listen to your body. When you feel “touched out”, it’s trying to tell you something.
Talk To Your Partner
If feeling touched out has been causing disconnection in your relationship, make sure you keep communicating about it. Here are a couple of examples of ways you might address it:
“I’ve been meeting the baby’s needs all day and they’re all so physical. It leaves me feeling like I don’t want to be touched any more. This isn’t about how I feel about you and I don’t want to get disconnected from you. I’m aware that I’ve come to associate all touch with meeting needs, and I need to get back to associating it with me getting my needs met too. I really like it when you hold me and stroke my hair. Could you do that for me?”
“I feel so overwhelmed on days like this when the little one just won’t be put down. It seems like I might be getting burnt out, because I feel like if anyone else tries to touch me I’ll scream. I need some time to myself to recharge. I’m going to book a massage for this weekend. Please will you do bedtime tonight while I take a bath?”
The “Touched Out” Feeling Is A Messenger
Feeling “touched out” at some point is probably unavoidable for primary caregivers of young children.
But if we let it become the norm, problems can follow.
All feelings are messengers, and feeling “touched out” is no different.
It’s a message from your system that you’re overstretched, you’re giving too much and not receiving enough.
Balance out the giving touch with receiving touch.
And recognise when your needs are not getting met, and ask for – or take – what you need.
Get In Touch
If you would like to join my waiting list for counselling (on your own or with a partner), book a relationships after kids coaching call, or find out more about online courses, you can contact me here, or hit reply if you’re reading this on email.
You can download Back In The Sack here.