At a workshop for parents of middle schoolers last week, I got a question about the Duggar family’s rules on dating. The Duggars, I was told, don’t allow kissing or even hand-holding in their daughters’ relationships. (I went home and looked up the story, which you can read here.)
The parent asked, “Is that extreme, or do you really think there is a method to what they’re doing?”
Certainly, compared to the vast majority of today’s dating couples, the rules sound extreme. But to be fair to the Duggars, I thought I would share a little bit about the science that might make their methods make sense.
Physical touch is a powerful component in any relationship. Studies of infants who grow up with little or no physical affection have shown us that touch is even more complex and powerful than we could have imagined, affecting everything from the ability to heal cuts and bruises to the development of social and emotional skills. Touch has the power to evoke sexual arousal, to increase feelings of trust and attachment, and to solidify more positive memories with a person. All of these things should cause us to think carefully about who we touch, how and when.
Dr. John Van Epp, author of How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, developed a helpful diagram for understanding how to build a healthy relationship. His main idea (which we teach in all of our classes) is to get to know someone first, before you start to trust them. Trust someone before you rely on them. Test that person’s reliability before you commit to them. And make sure your level of physical intimacy is lower than your level of commitment. In the Duggar family, saving a first kiss for marriage means the level of physical touch will be much lower than their level of commitment, until the end of the marriage vows. Does that make them crazy, or brilliant?
As parents, we would do well to help our children understand the power of physical touch. Talk with your child before he or she starts dating about setting physical boundaries and why those boundaries matter. For example, how long should a couple wait to hold hands? Is it appropriate to lay in bed together watching a movie on the second date? What about on the tenth date? Should a couple ever kiss on a first date?
What are your guidelines for dating and physical intimacy?