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COL When it involves affection, more is always much better

One of our emotional needs is the need for affection. Valentine's Day is one day set aside to express our affection to that person with whom we have formed a romantic attachment. Between married, engaged or courting couples, it is a nourishing reminder of how special and important each is to the other.

The need goes beyond one day. It is the way couples habitually regard each other, both in terms of mindfulness and acts of thoughtful consideration. Affection that is expressed ritualistically and not daily doesn't carry much weight.

Other words for affection are loving and tender gestures, showing warm regard, fondness, partiality, holding dear, cherishing, keeping or cultivating with care, holding in one's mind deeply and resolutely, devotion, and ardent love.

These are action words, feelings that are expressed publically and privately. Affection can be deliberate and articulated or it can be unconscious and automatic. It should be both.

Affection is about little things. Affection is about constancy. It is not about display. It can't be turned off and on. It has to be real or it doesn't mean anything.

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"Affection, like melancholy, magnifies trifles; the magnifying of the one is like looking through a telescope at heavenly objects; that of the other, like enlarging monsters with a microscope." -- Leigh Hunt

Most children grow up with an awareness of whether their parents were affectionate with each other or with themselves as children. It is a lot of little things that add up. Affection is in the eyes, in the way they look at each other with glances of adoration, delight, of mutual understanding or obvious concern.

In the smile, in a furrowed brow, in the welcoming approach, in an enthusiasm that radiates and is not self-conscious. In the desire for touch and to welcome touch, to be near, to embrace, to hug, to hold hands, to reach over to rub or caress, and within the bounds of privacy to give and welcome playful intimate touch.

To prefer each others company, to find ways of being together, to have a private world that others witness and don't know anything about. To sacrifice, put each other first, to generously give of oneself when it is inconvenient, to extend oneself at one's expense. To be receptive to requests and respond willingly and enthusiastically.

To anticipate and meet the loved one's concern or need before he or she thinks about or asks. To think and plan ahead with their partner's happiness, delight or pleasure in mind. To listen intently and really know their partner's needs and desires -- and then surprise him or her with the perfect gift or gestures that demonstrates that intimate knowledge.

To find occasions to express love, admiration and appreciation for the love a partner gives. This can be through cards, gifts, and written sentiments.

To celebrate each other and the relationship on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays with recognition of how special he or she is.

To express love through intimate touch in an affectionate and mutually satisfying sexual relationship that deepens the affectionate bond only the two can share. It is not only being "into to each other" but "being there for each other."

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Some people are more apt to act this way when they grew up receiving affection and made to feel comfortable when giving it. Parents show their love through affection. They also model affection in the way they interact with each other.

But what if this isn't in their background. It is something to overcome. It goes beyond affectionate touch. It is getting used to freely loving and putting another ahead of oneself. I liked the definition above of "keeping or cultivating with care." People can learn to be affectionate. They need to practice it daily, get comfortable with it and make it a part of who they are. It will take effort and focus.

Couples who live their lifetimes together grow in affection as their bonds deepen. It is a delight to see older couples express pure affection for one another in their maturity.

Sexual communication and affection are often confused. If affection is shown only as a prelude to sexual desire or if the timing is not respectful, then it is fended off. Overall affection is a necessary context in which a good sexual relationship can flourish.

For more information on love and affection, you can visit Val Farmer's website at www.valfarmer.com

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist with MeritCare in Fargo, N.D. He specializes in rural mental health and family business consultation.

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