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Just A Traumatized “Black Cat” Flinching from My Partner’s “Golden Retriever” Energy

Physical Touch, Love Languages, and the Impact of Trauma on Future Relationships

By Veronica WrenPublished 2 months ago Updated about a month ago 9 min read
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“Do you want to cuddle yet?” Photo by author: Veronica Wren

What a world where the most emotionally safe, gentle, and secure person I've ever dated loves physical touch, and my nervous system is like, wait, wtf ouch.

My sweet, sweet partner is currently lovingly stroking my calf. It's our compromise for him wanting me to fully lay with my head in his lap while we watch a movie.

Our relationship has been such a joy in my life so far. He’s thoughtful, great at communication, and truly puts in the effort to be an equal partner and advocate.

I say all this to preface the silly complaint I’m about to make about him because, my goodness, That man’s love language is physical touch so much.

When I try to get up in the morning, every single morning, he protests just a few more minutes of cuddling. No matter that, we cuddled all night. No matter if we’ve already been awake sleepily talking and touching and snoozing our alarms for 30 minutes. No matter if we’ve just had sex.

A few more minutes. A few more touches. Wait, come back.

When he leaves a room, he almost unfailingly wants a long, romantic goodbye with long hugging (that often turns into dancing), face-holding, and 3 kisses minimum. They’d better be full and meaningful, too, with longing eye contact.

If I try to show some affection with a drive-by smooch, he unfailingly grabs my face or hand to pull me back into more kisses, hugs, and loving proclamations. He’s always going to go back in for just one more.

I know, right?: What an asshole. I’m fully aware that I sound ungrateful as hell right now; I promise I adore and cherish my partner so much.

I truly want to make him feel as happy as he makes me, but how can I possibly match the amount of affection he desires and deserves when physical touch is such an obstacle for me as a trauma survivor?

He’s so physically affectionate that sometimes it makes my traumatized brain angry for reasons that barely make sense to me, and it’s something I feel is important to explore for both of our sakes.

So Much, Yet Never Enough

To me, a great relationship is like the best kind of competition where you’re both competing to make the other person’s life better.

You’re cooking dinner? Incredible, I’m lighting candles and turning on music to set the mood.

You got me a book by an author I love? Holy cow… That’s hot. I’m going to get you back by reading one of your favorites so we can discuss it and connect emotionally.

That’s why it makes me feel so incredibly inadequate that I can never apparently sate my partner’s desire for more, more, more affection.

I feel so much guilt over being the one who always has to put my foot down: to break the kiss, to leave the bed, reject the touch. Then, I feel as though I hurt my partner, making it even worse that I have intrusive thoughts of annoyance about the non-stop love.

Sweet Talk: Intimacy, Sex Talks, and the Bristle Reaction

As mentioned earlier, my partner (sexily) loves my bookish nature, and we’ve already read a few books together so we could discuss them. One of those that we really enjoyed discussing was Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life by Vanessa Marin, LMFT, and her husband, Xander Marin.

I discovered this read in an adorable shop called Nowhere Book Shop while on a recent trip to San Antonio. I was instantly drawn to the idea of delving into the conversations with my partner.

I think my favorite concept Marin emphasizes in her book (and on her social media pages) is the idea of being “touched out” and the risk of it contributing to a “bristle reaction” between partners.

This bristling tends to be caused by a person’s belief that touch always has an ulterior motive and that the only time their partner touches them is to initiate sex. This learned belief can result in a hypervigilance to your partner’s touch over time:

“Most people feel pretty embarrassed initiating sex, so they do it in these kinda roundabout ways, like trying to extend a hug a bit longer or trying to slip a little tongue into a kiss.

You just try to hint at what you really want. Because if you don’t fully put yourself out there and ask for it, it won’t hurt as much if you get turned down.

But if the other partner isn’t immediately interested sex in that exact moment, they try to shut down the physical contact as quickly as possible. They pull away from the hug or kiss.

This gets even more complicated when you have mismatched sex drives.” — Marin

As this dance continues between a couple over time, it may result in frustration and dysfunction between partners.

The higher sex drive partner (in this case, my partner) may feel hurt at their advances being rejected. If they have an anxious attachment style, this may lead to them initiating more and more physical touch in an attempt to soothe their triggered nervous system.

The lower drive partner may start to pull away from their partner’s touch more and more. They may even begin to view sex as more of an obligation than something to be enjoyed, causing them to want to initiate even less, hence continuing the negative feedback loop.

Marin discusses the many ways effective communication can bridge these disconnects and improve the overall health of relationships. She also recommends incorporating more intentional non-sexual touch time into the relationship, during which it’s agreed that the physical affection won’t lead to sex.

This can help take some of the pressure off and bring intimate touch back to being a positive, pleasurable exchange for both parties.

Touched Out: Trauma History and Sexual Functioning

As an abuse survivor who was introverted to begin with, in general, I require a lot of alone time and physical space for my nervous system to feel safe.

My trauma history and CPTSD diagnosis contribute to many obstacles with sexual function: hypervigilance, trust issues, feeling disconnected from my body, insomnia, somatic pain, and low libido, to name a few.

I’ve experienced years of sexual and physical trauma at the hands of violent men who made constant demands of my body. As a result, it’s difficult to believe in physical attention not coming with a price tag or a punishment for denial.

My hackles go up defensively when someone tries to demand something of me, especially when it comes to wanting things from my body. Often, it takes quite a while for touch, even safe, desired touch, to feel genuinely relaxing to me.

It’s truly not my partner’s fault my body responds the way it does, and when I get those guilty feelings, I have to remember that it’s not my fault either.

Hypervigilance: Physical Arousal and Mental Fatigue

It feels as though every individual time someone touches me, my body has to decide again whether it’s ok with that touch in that place from that trusted person. Then, it has to try to figure out whether it genuinely wants that touch or if it’s feeling pressured to perform, which can be more difficult than it sounds.

This is all done while I’m simultaneously fighting off painful and intrusive memories of sexual abuse. I have to hold on tight to stay in the present moment, or I may panic.

Then, my body needs to either muster up the energy to reciprocate or the communication and courage to gently and safely shut the interaction down.

All that introspection requires so much conscious effort that even when I decide the touch is desired, I’ve already been taken out of the moment, so I have to work to tune back in.

This swirling dance of anxieties is draining to be doing constantly and makes me feel so touched out. I end up dysregulated and impatient from exhaustion.

Black Cat vs. Golden Retriever Energy

“Hey… Can you finish writing already?” Photo by author: Veronica Wren

In talking about this struggle with a friend, she sagely pointed out, “He’s not entirely golden retriever energy, but you guys have that golden retriever black cat dynamic a bit when it comes to this.”

This was a nod to the recently trending idea that in a relationship, there tends to be a golden retriever: someone who’s more social, affectionate, and bubbly. Then there’s the black cat, who tends to be more introverted, reserved, and particular about who they interact with.

An April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer situation, so to speak.

While this is obviously a simplification of our behavior, energies, and the multitude of reasons behind them, it did make me laugh to think about how apt an analogy it was.

My partner wants to make me feel good just as much as I want him to. To him, physical touch, in part, means emotional closeness and fulfillment, so when I am feeling it and enthusiastically reciprocate the affection to him, that means, “Great, it worked; I should do that more!”

He doesn’t realize it’s becoming overwhelming, and sometimes, when I do become dysregulated, I struggle to communicate that.

We’ve openly talked about this difference in our love languages several times, and I know his touch comes from a place of love and not intentional pressure. This article is even a result of us talking and discussing this pain point in our relationship, which I shared and discussed with him before publishing.

Let Me Love You: Finding Common Ground in Love Languages

If you spend, on average, 18+ hours a day with someone, at some point, you’ll need to be in another room or learn to sit together in comfortable silence, or you’ll drive each other insane.

Since our recent move into an apartment together, we’ve started incorporating the idea of parallel play more. This helps us have a little more intentional focus on things we individually want to do while still feeling that sense of closeness. We also regularly check in on how we’ve been adjusting to the new situation, which was how I was able to safely bring this conversation up.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s new. I do suspect, however, that the space he gives will only make me want to seek him out more, bringing us even closer together.

Honestly, if this is our biggest pain point so far, I feel pretty good about it. 🐈‍⬛

I’m Glad You’re Here

After years spent advocating for domestic violence victims while hiding my own suffering, I refuse to let anyone feel abandoned in their abuse or its aftermath.

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn’t. That’s why I’m making communicating about my own experiences as normal as possible while actively calling out abuse and inequity when I see it.

My aim is to give others a safe environment in which to develop these tools so we can start making some much-needed changes together.

Please support my continued writing (and help me inch my way toward my first book) by following and engaging with me on trauma and advocacy. I’d love to hear from you!

Subscribe in one click to receive your FREE digital copy of my new guided journal, “Empower and Heal: 90 Days of Transformational Prompts for Trauma Recovery, Self-Discovery, and Growth”, delivered straight to your inbox!

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About the Creator

Veronica Wren

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn't. Subscribe here for your FREE exclusive guided journal

❤️‍🩹 bio.link/veronicawren ❤️‍🩹

Domestic Abuse & CPTSD Recovery Coach

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  • Alex H Mittelman 2 months ago

    Well written. Trauma sucks!

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