Holding Hands - Body Language
Part 1

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holding hands

Hi there, today we're going to talk about holding hands. What can we truly tell from it?

Eye contact is usually the first link in almost any human interaction, but the first physical contact will probably involve the touch of hand to hand. It's usually the initial physical contact to reveal positive intentions and establish some intimacy and trust.

When we reach our hand in greetings we acknowledge the person before us and show some confidence in them, in return we expect to receive the same treatment. This is why handshakes (and how they're done)  play such a vital part in business meetings - we want to feel that we can trust the other guy to make a deal.

To hold hands with our loved one is the "advanced form" for that matter - it shows more permanent fondness, rapport, respect, concern, trust and perhaps romantic feelings.

But as many things in body language, this expression of affection is not that simple. It seems to us that it's OK to hold one's  hand but not the other, even if we like them both very much. E.g. An heterosexual man in the western culture will almost never hold hands with another man, that's why the photo of George W Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hit waves in the US, but was received calmly in the Arab culture.

In this article we will do the explanations. What does it mean to hold hands in different contexts and of course, how can we apply it in our daily lives.

Romance and Affection

The most obvious meaning for this gesture is the involvement of romance.

You might remember the anxious anticipation to hold the hand of your first girl\boyfriend. It was the next 'big step' to reveal if they really like you and want you around. Absurd images of rejection probably went through your mind as you tentatively and very consciously wrapped your hand around theirs. Insignificant and stupid as it might look today, it was probably your first attempt in building romantic physical intimacy.

Today, I assume that  it comes much more naturally and easily than in the first time, but the effects and benefits of holding hands are still relevant even if you're married for years. Why?


Sign of Devotion

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1. It releases Oxytocin - an hormone that cements long term relationship and raises the amount of affection in a couple.

2. If you're already in one such happy relationship then holding hands has a reassuring effect by reducing stress hormones. You can read this study that involves happy couples, electrical shocks and holding hands (bizarre I know!) to demonstrate this effect. 

3. Holding hands is a declaration of devotion to each other. When a couple is going hand in hand in public they send a message to others around that they are together, not up for grabs.

4. Great for rapport. Rapport in body language is built around mirror imagining - matching each other's gestures and posture. When someone is acting like us (in a subtle fashion, not mimicking us!) we tend to like them more. It's only natural to like people who are similar to us because it makes us feel good about ourselves.

In this case, both individuals have to match their walking speed and rhythm of movement in order to walk comfortably.

Is interlocking fingers is better?

Generally speaking yes, it's more physically and emotionally bonding than simply walking hand in hand. But it doesn't apply to everyone, some people just uncomfortable doing it.

What if I don't like it?

And since we mentioned discomfort - let's remember that not everyone is comfortable holding hands in public. This can be a result of physical or emotional issues as:

  • Feeling embarrassment to show affection in public.
  • Avoid looking 'too committed' - this doesn't necessarily mean lack of devotion, but can be a sign for a 'free spirit' type of personality who like their own space.
  • Plain physical discomfort - like sweaty\cold hands or big height difference..

If this is the case in your relationship, don't feel bad about it or try "forcing" your insignificant other to hold hands. Instead, try other forms of holding each other while walking (see in the next page) or just give it some time and understanding, sometimes it can take time to get used to it.

Support, Guidance and Authority

guiding hands

Guiding hand

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Another use for hands holding is to guide and protect others who are less able or confident than us:

  • We take our children by the hand to lead them so they won't get lost and to let them feel safe with us.

  • We support older people in their walk. Or help a blind man cross the street.

  • We take someone by the hand when we pass through the crowd so  we won't get separated

  • When offer our hand for support when our loved ones feel threatened or distressed.

Note: The person with the hand on top is the one who's leading. You can't pull and direct with your hand stuck behind. Next time you hold hands, even while sitting, try switching positions and see how that feels (probably awkward). This say one thing or 2 about your relationship.

In all of these scenarios (and many others) the hands holding is used to reassure and protect the person we hold.

BUT, there is a difference between guiding and urging someone to follow. In the latter, we dominate the other person and use our authority to make him go with us. How is that manifested in body language?

Read on the next page

Holding hands - Part 2

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