Feeling touched out? How to cope with physical burnout – and prevent it from ruining your relationship
Have you ever felt “touched out”?
It’s the experience that many primary caretakers get after being in physical contact with their kids all day long. You’ve been touched, poked, prodded, latched onto, and grabbed at for hours, and the thought of having any more physical contact makes your skin crawl!
If you have a baby, they may literally rely on your body for nourishment and comfort, and you may be in skin-to-skin contact with them the majority of the day.
If you’ve recently given birth, you may already feel disconnected from your body, which can complicate the sensation of being touched out even more.
While people most frequently refer to feeling “touched out” from kids, you can also experience it from physical contact with your partner, someone you’re taking care of, or even clingy pets! (I’m looking at you, pugs…)
And you can get that sensation even from enjoyable physical contact – like snuggling or cuddling – too. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the contact is “bad”, simply that your “touch tank” is FULL!
Feeling touched out is an awful feeling in and of itself, but it makes connection with your partner feel even more complicated.
For example, let’s say you’ve been watching the kids all day, and your partner comes home from work and wants a big hug. Or wants you to cuddle on the sofa with them for a few minutes. Or wants to have sex.
Even if you love your partner – and even if you love physical intimacy with them – you may find yourself recoiling.
I’ve heard people say things like:
“My partner touches me and I want to throw up.”
“I almost screamed when my partner tried to give me a hug.”
“I would rather cut off my pinky than have sex.”
Feeling touched out is INTENSE!
So what the heck do you do if you’re touched out?
First, we need to understand what this reaction actually means.
Being “touched out” is often your body’s way of calling attention to the fact that you’re veering into burnout territory. It’s the body’s cry for help.
Being a parent or caretaker is incredibly demanding, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by how much you’re needed.
Yes, it’s about feeling physically over-touched, but it’s also about feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
The bottom line is that if you’re feeling touched out, you need more support.
You’re probably not ever going to get to a place where you never feel touched out, but you can definitely lessen the frequency and/or the intensity.
“Getting more support” can obviously mean a LOT of different things, and I know it’s something FAR easier said than done. I’m not throwing it out there as some easy peasy solution!
That being said, one of the most effective solutions is to get some time to yourself.
You need the opportunity to come home to your body, and reconnect with yourself, before you continue connecting with anyone else.
A 2018 survey (note that this is pre-pandemic!) found that, on average, parents only have 32 minutes per day to themselves. I’m guessing that feels downright luxurious for many of you right now!
Whatever it takes, try to get more alone time. Even if all you can manage some days is one extra minute, that’s something!
Try to do something involving your body, like taking a nap, going for a walk around the block, dancing to your favorite song, or even taking 5 deep breaths.
You also need to get more support from your partner.
Regardless of how you and your partner split up childcare duties, they need to support you in managing and avoiding burnout.
A lot of people (women in particular) are hesitant to talk to their partner about feeling touched out, because they’re worried about hurting their partner’s feelings.
But your partner already knows something is up!
And what do you think is worse for them – feeling you physically recoil from them with no idea why, or feeling you recoil but understanding that it’s not personal?
The transition from parents to partners needs to be a team process. Not yet another item on your solo “to do” list.
So together with your partner, brainstorm ways you can each support each other in taking great care of yourselves and transitioning back into being a couple.
For example, maybe you can switch off tuck-in duties, leaving the other partner to have some alone time. Maybe you create a touch-free couples ritual, like sharing a pot of tea on your back porch together, or listening to 5 minutes of a podcast together.
Let me be clear – THIS IS HARD WORK! There is no sugar-coating it.
But you deserve a little more peace and comfort in your own body. Even if that’s just one extra deep breath today.