When we talk about relationship communication, we normally are referring to the verbal kind—AKA, being direct and honest, having the tough discussions, and checking in with each other regularly. But there’s a whole other world of communication that can have a huge impact on your relationship—without ever even saying a word. Non-verbal communication, like body language, can give you a lot of insight into your relationship.
In fact, in some ways body language actually tells us more about how someone is feeling than their words do. We have more control over what we say: we can fib, we can only give a certain version of a story, or we can insist that everything is fine, even when it is clearly not fine. Often, body language is far more telling. It gives us away, even when we don’t mean it to.
"A huge part of our communication is body language," Traci Brown, body language and persuasion expert and author of Persuasion Point, tells My Domain. "It's interpreted unconsciously. So it’s a way to send very strong messages without saying a word."
Here’s how body language can give you insight into your relationship, whether your relationship has just begun or you’ve been together for years.
Anything that your partner does to physically make themselves closer to you is a sign that they’re trying to connect emotionally. It may be that they sit extra close to your or that they lean in to hear what you’re saying—and touching your arm, even casually, is an unconscious way of saying they’re trying to connect. If you notice your partner leaning in when you speak, it’s a great sign—they’re really present in the conversation and trying to tune into and understand what you’re saying. Even their feet pointing toward you can be a sign that you’ve got their attention. And if you’re having an argument, leaning in and nodding can help make your partner feel heard.
Rubbing The Back Of Their Neck
According to Brown, rubbing the back of your neck isn’t a great sign. “That's anger,” she explains. “It's kind of like when the hair on the back of a dog's neck stands up.” Even if your partner is saying they’re OK, rubbing the back of their neck can be a signal that they’re actually frustrated or upset. If you notice it happening, you may want to try to get to the bottom of what’s bothering them.
Folding Their Arms
This one makes a lot of sense. If someone folds their arms, it’s a literal sign that they’re closing themselves off from you. If you’re trying to explain your point of view and they’re sitting there, arms folded, it’s a sign that they’re not opening themselves to what you’re saying. If you find that your partner is closed off, facing away from you, or just feels resistant, take a moment and ask them to relax and reconnect to what you’re trying to say to them.
The Quick Kiss
There’s not always time for a passionate kiss hello and goodbye, but the type of quick kiss you give can be incredibly telling. There’s the kiss that’s quick but soft and lingers for a second—a good sign that they wish that it could go on for longer, but they genuinely just don’t have the time. A quick kiss with tight, shut lips shows that they’re not really engaged or that they’re trying to pull back from you, which can be a warning that something's off. Giving the cheek or just the side of their mouth is a sign that they’re distracted and just wanted to get on with what they’re doing. Even if you only have a second, the way that you kiss says a lot.
Do you ever find that you’re sitting in the same position as your partner, or that you’re leaning toward each other in the same way? That’s a sign of how connected you are. Whether you’re arguing or just watching TV, connected couples tend to unconsciously mirror each other’s body language. Even if you’re in a position where you aren’t touching—like if you’re sitting across the table from each other in a restaurant—you’ll still be demonstrating how intimate you are.
Body language is really complex—but also really fascinating, because it reveals parts of how we’re feeling that we might not otherwise share. If your disagreements are filled with different body language or one of you pacing and finger-pointing, you need to take a minute to get on the same page if you want the conversation to be constructive. And sitting on the couch, even if you’re spread out, can still be intimate if you’re tilted toward each other or even just occasionally touching each other’s arms. So if you’re not sure how your partner's feeling, make sure to tune into their body language—because it can tell you a lot.