Now that Acorn has posted E4, we can turn our attention to the assignment of hugging 3 times a day. Dr. Timoney gives them that assignment after seeing them together for the first time. She precedes the recommendation by observing that they seem very self contained. At the time they are seated next to each other on a small bench, but Louisa has also said she feels a little smushed and asks Martin to move over. He has no place to move.
We can say there is some symbolism in that.
Also, Dr. T tells them that most couples touch in some way, possibly holding hands. I think that is a rather surprising remark to make to a couple seeking marriage counseling. They are evidently experiencing some tension in their marriage. If they were holding hands, that would be a signal that their relationship wasn’t nearly as imperiled as we would presume, wouldn’t it?
Interestingly, the one sort of touching they’ve done most throughout the show is holding hands. Holding hands, like most forms of touching, makes people feel closer to each other, and the times we’ve seen Martin take Louisa’s hand are definitely accompanied by both of them responding with pleasure, e.g. following the concert or after they’ve retrieved JH from Mrs. Tishell at the Castle.
Asking Martin and Louisa to hug each day and say something positive to each other makes some sense. Dr. T is perceptive enough to notice that outward signs of affection are sorely lacking in this couple, and starting with that could break the ice. There is some truth to the idea that hugging, or any kind of physical touch, has a significant impact on humans. An article in Psychology Today lists three major benefits:
- Security. A lot of time has passed since the Harlow studies, showing that poor monkey babies prefer a cloth doll without milk as a mother substitute over a metal doll with milk . Worldwide we agree that babies need to be held. There is evidence that adults who were frequently hugged and cuddled during early childhood display fewer stress symptoms than less-hugged counterparts . Physical affection also alleviates stress reactions in adults who report less existential anxiety even when touched only briefly . We are simply wired to find touch reassuring, as many studies of first impressions show .
- Positive Feelings. As adults, we can live without hugs, of course, but we do seem to be happier with them. We release the hormone oxytocin when touched, which elevates feelings of attachment, connection, trust, and intimacy.  When we’re hugged, we feel less lonely. I speculate that students feel less devastated by academic problems when well-hugged, well-assured, and well-bonded. Apparently, hugs facilitate social bonding and the experience of participating fully in this life, which, to me, is true happiness.*
- Better Health. Another commonly mentioned benefit of hugging lies in our improved health, as when we are touched our heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol are lowered . Reach out and hug, and your life might not only feel better, but last longer.
It is the power of touch that has driven the worldwide movement to offer hugs to strangers that began in 2004. For more on this you can check out wikipedia. The idea is that we can bring the world together by offering hugs to random strangers. There has also been a study of strangers and kissing that you may want to watch. See here. If you watch this video, you can see that a kiss can cause just about anyone to let down their guard even though it is accompanied by some embarrassment. We don’t see that with Martin and Louisa at first, but later kisses elicit more loss of inhibitions.
Martin has clearly suffered from not being hugged and cuddled as a baby and now he finds hugging generally unappealing. Aunt Joan gets away with a few hugs, although sometimes Martin looks mighty uncomfortable in her arms. He usually avoids physical contact with others and recoils when they try to touch him. Louisa is the only person he wants to touch and wants touching him.
Thus, the assignment to hug is grounded in a bona fide effort to bring Martin and Louisa together by having them touch each other. At this point in their marriage they have grown apart to such a degree that physical contact has diminished to almost nothing. Once the assignment is given to them, they do not shrink from it. In my opinion, Louisa likes physical affection and it’s not surprising that she would be the first to initiate a hug. The first hug is awkward and they hug again almost immediately. The ice has been broken, although nothing is ever simple with them, and Martin once again ruins the moment by telling Louisa his watch is caught on her cardigan. Nevertheless, by then Louisa has admitted that she likes hugging Martin and that she isn’t going anywhere. (One of those hints that the marriage will recover.)
By the end of E4, Louisa decides to hug Martin one more time. This time Martin asks her if the hug is spontaneous or part of the assignment. For me that is the one problem with making it an assignment…how will anyone know if the hug comes from a sincere desire to be affectionate or is a way to fulfill the assignment. Not only does his question create some ambiguity to the end of the episode, but also it points out the uncertainty that still exists in their relationship. But hey, we finally get some overt affection from this couple and it’s something to enjoy even if it is short-lived.
Originally posted 2015-10-21 22:01:52.