My first kiss was with an older woman. Older at least in the sense that she could drive and I couldn’t. It was after a football game one Friday night. We’d enjoyed a post-game meal at Arby’s. Loitered with friends at the firehouse. Drove around, and then around some more, and finally…we parked. I was terrified. All of my practicing with a Dixie cup hadn’t prepared me for this. Tentatively, we leaned into the center of that 1990 Honda Accord and eventually, miraculously, we found each other’s lips. What happened next was awkward and sloppy and gross and magical. I’ll never forget it.

When was the last time you told the story of your first kiss? I bet you had a smile on your face. Kisses do that. They make us smile and swoon. They put butterflies in our stomach. They make our hairs stand up a little taller and our blood run a little faster. Simply put, kisses have a special kind of power.

A kiss can turn a toad into a prince. It can wake a princess from eternal slumber. A kiss is art. It’s poetry. It’s candy. It’s life. It’s death. A kiss is the only appropriate response to finally lifting the Stanley Cup or finally returning to earth after a terrifying flight. A kiss inspired one of the all time greatest lines of film dialogue from Crash DavisI believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last for three days. And one of the most annoyingly catchy jingles in the history of advertising: Every Kiss Begins with Kay! (You’re welcome.) A kiss seals the deal. That’s why we end weddings with a kiss, as of to say, “Okay, now it’s official.”

Where does the power of a kiss come from, I wonder? Maybe hormones. Kissing releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that is secreted when breastfeeding. Oxytocin is responsible for the comfort and connection that forms between mother and child and may explain the way kissing bonds us to another. Kissing also releases dopamine, which triggers the same part of your brain that is stimulated by cocaine. Those butterflies in your stomach, they come from epinephrine and norepinephrine, which increase your heartbeat and send oxygenated blood to your brain. Some studies have even shown that kissing can cause a reduction in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so kissing could help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart attacks.

So, kissing is great because of science. But that can’t be it, right? I actually think it would be really sad if science explained the magic of the kiss. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be an accepted system for how to define, collect, classify, and interpret the data of kissing. Sheril Kirshenbaum explores this in her book The Science of Kissing and ultimately suggests that, for the most part, scientists aren’t exactly sure why we kiss. I’m glad they haven’t figured it out. Perhaps the power comes, at least in part, from the mystery.

Surely you remember your first kiss. Do you remember your last kiss? Do you remember it with the same kind of nostalgia? Unlikely. For all the magic and art and poetry that’s wrapped up in a kiss, I fear that in most long term relationships, the kiss has become mundane. I know I take for granted the kisses I give and receive at the end of each day. And it’s been way too long since I’ve simply made out with my wife. I need to change that. Do you?

Too many couples come into my office lamenting that the passion is gone from the relationship. That the fire has died. It’s a common story: Life gets hectic. Work is stressful. The kitchen is a mess. Kids. I get it. But I don’t think we have to become victims of that story. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we have to stop kissing. It’s time that we reclaimed the kiss from the domain of parking teenagers and put it back into its rightful place as the official symbol of marriage.

Start simple. John Gottman suggests that couples share a six-second kiss each day. He likes to say, “A six-second kiss is a kiss with potential.” But you don’t necessarily have to attach it to sex. In fact, don’t. Let the kiss speak for itself. I mean, if it leads to sex, great, but don’t make that the goal. Just try connecting with your partner with a long, slow, deep, soft, wet kiss. What if you tried it for two weeks?

Challenge accepted!

In fact, I’m going to go on record: For the next two weeks, I’m going to kiss my wife for at least six seconds each day. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you accept the challenge, and if you’re willing to share, I’d like to hear how it goes for you too. Send me your story at zach@gottman.com by June 13th (a little over 2 weeks from now) and I’ll try to include some of them in an upcoming Relationship Alphabet post.

Happy kissing. I hope it’s awkward and sloppy and gross and magical.

*For more science, check out this video from Joel Hanson of It’s Okay to be Smart.

More in The Relationship Alphabet
K is for Kissing
Zach Brittle, LMHC

Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at his website.

  • FeelALot

    I ADORE kissing, ever since my very first (soft, sweet, then deepening – absolutely heart-pounding!) kiss decades ago. Kissing evokes passion…at least when it’s done with feeling, and not mechanically. From what I’ve been told through the years I have always been an excellent kisser, BECAUSE I’m passionate and sensual about it, as well as practiced in its art.

    Unfortunately, my spouse has admitted he does NOT particularly like kissing, a statement I’ve never heard from anyone else’s lips. And yet, even other species willingly share their own versions of kisses with each other, including across other species. I used to even put my budgie in an actual TRANCE by kissing her beak for many minutes at a time. So kissing seems to be pretty universally enjoyed…except by my husband! This is terribly troubling to me, as if, unlike everyone else, he is hard-wired with a deficiency for such enjoyment.

    Still, we’ve tried to incorporate the 6 second kiss, although it hasn’t always been consistently practiced over the past 2 years, and I’ve had to remind (making me feel like a ‘nag’), instigate it myself (and sometimes be rebuffed), or just drop it and do without. Yet my spouse’s kissing technique (which used to be very stiff, dry and thin-lipped) and overall usage HAS improved a little bit since, thankfully.

    While I really enjoy its length and the closer connection the 6 second kiss can evoke, and have sometimes asked for a few seconds longer, even if by way of shorter smooches, my spouse still can become rather antsy about 3 seconds in, and I can often feel his impatient desire to “get it over with,” as if it’s just a dutiful and awkward act for him. And that, I’m afraid, squashes the potential bliss of it all, and also breaks my heart. So sadly, even though I certainly receive MORE kisses than I did previously, Dr. Gottman’s wise suggestion hasn’t exactly worked its “magic” the way I’d hoped it would. I still never feel my husband ever deeply YEARNS to kiss me (whether sex is attached or not), or that it has stirred up any heart-felt passion inside him.

    I would be interested to know if anyone else has experienced the same or similar results, OR if there are other people who really DON’T enjoy kissing, and if so, WHY not?

    • joe

      My Mrs. is about the same as your Mr. We kissed when dating and first married, but it is mostly non existent now. Perhaps our closeness (or lack of it) is a major factor, but it does seem that some people aren’t as physically inclined as others!

  • Ashley Weiss

    I told the husband about this. He said he would do it. Yesterday was full of peaks. This morning I tried again and he just got all blushed and said he couldn’t it was to weird, he didn’t know why he just couldn’t do it….