Bonding behaviours signal a primitive part of the mammalian brain to relax, to approach, to trust. Also known as attachment cues, these behaviours evolved to help bond mammals to their offspring to improve survival odds.
Variations on these behaviours also bond mates in the few mammal species that pair bond. In humans, bonding behaviours might include the following (assuming lovers engage in these activities with benevolent intent, and not for selfish ends):
- Smiling, with eye contact
- Gazing into each other’s eyes for several moments (In the courtly love tradition in medieval Western Europe, eye-gazing was considered the most powerful courtship activity, and scientists have confirmed its potency.)
- Preparing your partner something to eat
- Kissing with lips and tongues
- Stroking or hugging with intent to comfort
- Wordless sounds of contentment and pleasure
- Skin-to-skin contact
- Making time together in bed a priority
- Gently placing your palm over, or holding, your lover’s genitals with intent to connect and comfort
- Touching and sucking of nipples and/or breasts
- Sexual meditation with genital contact
- Affectionate intercourse
- Holding, or spooning, each other in stillness
- Massaging with intent to comfort, especially feet, shoulders, and head
- Sharing a meal, or a walk, with your attention on each other
- Synchronised breathing
- Listening to your partner’s heartbeat for several moments
- Cradling, or gently rocking, your partner’s head and torso
- Providing a service or treat without being asked
- Unconditional forgiveness of momentary lapses
- Listening intently, and restating what you hear
- Unsolicited approval, via smiles or compliments
Interestingly, when couples go to sex counsellors complaining of disharmony, counsellors often recommend techniques like “sensate focus.” Such techniques are essentially bonding behaviours (mindful touch) without the goal of orgasm.
Because bonding behaviours are so powerful, it’s wise to employ them where partners mutually desire a committed relationship. Alternatively, deploy them apart from sexual activity. When mixed with casual sex, they can produce unintended consequences, such as broken hearts and sensations of betrayal.
Watch a down-to-earth video by a husband describing the power of these simple gestures in his long-term marriage.