Don’t think of touch as a purely physical thing, because it’s not. Our bodies are us, and they are highly personal. You know that feeling you get when someone stands too close while talking to you? Even the space around your body is private and personal, and sharing that space with another is intimate. The touching of two bodies is even more intimate, and it can have powerful positive or negative effects on our thoughts, emotions, and desires.
The need for touch is deep and complicated. Science has shows that babies and the elderly who are deprived of touch react with both physical and mental problems. Our need for touch can cause us to do things we might not otherwise do. The wrestling common amount boys is in part a way of fulfilling the need for touch in a socially acceptable way. Teenage (and older) girls who will seemingly jump in bed with anyone are often pushed to this in part by a lack of touch (men, hug your daughters!!) Touch hungry folks will consciously and subconsciously do things to get touch, and those who don’t get enough touch will suffer in a variety of ways.
One of the greatest barriers to touch in a marriage is the issue of sex. Touching makes him want sex, and so touch without sex is a problem for him. She may feel that his touch is always a request for sex, making her feel used and only loved for sex. Even for wives who generally want and enjoy sex, this can be an issue.
If you can talk about it, you can probably set up some guidelines so she won’t feel sexually pressured by touch. Be honest with her that touching her does make you more aware of your always present sexual desire for her, but make it clear that you desire to touch her for her pleasure and because you enjoy all of her body. If this is not something you can discuss (or can’t discuss yet) then work on it by being very careful about where and how you touch her, by avoiding any sexual innuendo, and by not hinting for sex in any way when you are touching her for her needed non-sexual touch. You can help her relax about the sex-touch connection by finding ways to give her touch when it’s clear sex won’t be occurring. Offer her a back rub “before you get in the shower”. Or say “I’ve got ten minutes before I ____. How about a massage?” Also, be quick to rub her for any aches or pains.
Be sure to touch her, in appropriate ways, in public. Hold her hand – place your hand on the small of her back, rub her shoulders, put a hand on her knee, and so on. In addition to this clearly not being about immediate sex, you bless her by showing that you are willing to touch her in front of others will make her feel good. Learn to touch her all the time, in many ways. Fill her need for touch, and see what wonderful things grow out of that.