Standing in front of the bathroom mirror combing my hair, my wife leaned in to kiss my neck. It was a lovely expression of affection — but I cringed. My wife Mo (who goes by the pronouns they/them) stiffened their body and made direct eye contact with me. A look of concern washed across their face.
"Are you okay? Is there something I've done?" Mo asked. I shrugged and responded, "You didn't do anything wrong, I just don't want to be touched."
A few nights later when my wife tried to initiate sex, I just stared back thinking about how I'd rather organize and itemize my taxes than have anyone else touch me. I rejected the advances, and time and time again over the next month, it was the same scenario. Mo would initiate some form of affection and my body would react. The fight or flight feeling in my brain screamed, "I love you, but please don't touch me!"
The idea of intimacy made my skin crawl and left my partner feeling a bit rejected and really concerned. I was experiencing what many caregivers regularly experience, but few people know what to call. I was feeling touched out.
Feeling touched out surprised me with my first child. I went from pregnancy to co-sleeping to full-time breastfeeding and attachment babywearing. By the time I got my firstborn asleep and I had my body all to myself, experiencing a touch from anyone else was the furthest thing from my mind. Craving physical space when your body is the site of comfort and caregiving for so many others is normal.
These days, the fact remains that even when I feel touched out, I still have a full-time breastfeeding fourth child, as well as an 11-year-old, 8-year-old, and 7-year-old who naturally also want my affection. Now that we are on baby number four though, I'm fully aware of this phenomenon, and I created a plan to manage the repulsion and frustration I experience when I hit the wall with physical contact.
The first thing I had to learn to do was accurately communicate my feelings and express my needs to everyone in my family. I made it clear to Mo that the physical responses my body gave were not about how attractive or desirable they were. Affirming this to my partner helped put my reactions in perspective.
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I also explained to my children what feeling touched out felt like to my body, and requested that they ask permission before touching me, or be understanding when I said, "not right now" to a hug. Then I reminded them that I loved them, even if I couldn't cuddle every time they asked.
Finally, I established a routine of self-care that was solely about taking care of my body that didn't relate to a function it had to perform. My partner started giving me foot massages every night as a way to do something for my body instead of to my body. I took the time to find a luxurious lotion to apply at the end of the day or took extra long showers by myself. I looked for ways to reclaim my body and remind myself it belongs to me.
After years of feeling touched out, I realized that this phenomenon doesn't have to be some kind curse that is impossible to surmount. Instead, each time I find myself feeling touched out, I take the feeling as a reminder that it is time to check in with myself, take good care of my needs, and affirm myself as more than just a warm body carrying out tasks for everyone else.