What you don’t say often speaks louder than words. Body language can be a valuable tool for identifying when someone needs help, or when something isn’t quite right.
In a relationship, being able to read body language is an important skill because you’re better at reading your partner than anyone else. In this article, we’ll look at common body language cues that may indicate trouble in the relationship. 1
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Understanding body language
Body language is a powerful communication tool, often conveying emotions and intentions more accurately than spoken words alone. A person’s posture, facial expressions, and movements can all indicate whether they feel relaxed or tense. 2
It’s believed up to 55% of communication is transmitted through nonverbal cues, such as body language, highlighting their significant role in interpersonal interactions. So, being able to read these cues can be integral in understanding the dynamics of any relationship. 3
When interpreting body language, it’s important to remember that any single gesture may not indicate trouble. Different cultures may have distinct body language norms, so it’s essential to consider the context and background of your partner’s cultural background.
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How body language complements verbal communication
In your interactions, body language plays a crucial role in complementing and enhancing verbal communication. It provides additional layers of meaning and context to spoken words, influencing how your message is received and understood.
People often use their body language to supplement what they’re saying verbally. For example, when someone is speaking confidently and effectively, their gestures are typically more expansive and animated.
Conversely, when someone is anxious or uncertain about something, their body language often signals this through more rigid or closed-off movements. They may cross their arms or legs, use fewer hand gestures, or look downward.
In a relationship, having the ability to read and understand body language cues can be beneficial. Recognizing these cues early on is critical for preventing potential problems from escalating into something more serious.
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Recognizing trouble: Body language red flags
Think of body language as an early warning system. Here are some common body language cues that may indicate trouble in a relationship:
1. Unwillingness to make eye contact
When someone is unwilling to make eye contact during a conversation, it can be a significant body language cue to pay attention to. Eye contact is a fundamental aspect of nonverbal communication and often shows openness and trust.
Avoiding eye contact can be indicative of various underlying emotions or intentions. It may signal discomfort, shyness, or anxiety, suggesting that the person feels uneasy or lacks confidence in the interaction. 4
Avoiding eye contact can also be linked to deception or dishonesty in some situations. If your partner has been avoiding your gaze, it may be worth exploring why. 5
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2. Avoidance of physical touch
When a relationship is healthy and flowing, we tend to be open to physical touch from our partner. This could include holding hands, sitting close together, or touching their arms during a conversation.
Conversely, if your partner avoids physical contact, it may be a sign of trouble. This can indicate a lack of connection or even feelings of contempt or disrespect.
Of course, avoiding physical touch can be influenced by different factors, such as personal boundaries, cultural norms, or past negative experiences. It is important to bear this in mind when interpreting body language cues. 6
3. Crossing of arms and legs
When someone frequently crosses their arms and legs during your interactions, it is a body language cue that you should take note of. This posture can convey various underlying emotions or attitudes, providing insights into the person’s mindset and level of openness.
If your partner crosses their arms and legs while talking to you, it may signal feelings of defensiveness and skepticism. It can also indicate boredom, disinterest, or a desire to be left alone. 7
4. Excessive fidgeting or restlessness
Remember that body language doesn’t always have to be a static pose or gesture. Pay attention to excessive movements, such as fidgeting with their hands or feet, shifting in their seat, or tapping a rhythmic beat.
Excessive fidgeting has been linked to feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or stress. It can be a visible expression of inner tension or unease to release pent-up energy or cope with anxiety in specific circumstances. 8
5. Inconsistent or forced smiles
Smiling is a universal expression of positive emotions. It can often indicate liking or acceptance and be used to convey comfort and warmth in interpersonal interactions.
If your partner’s smiling behavior is inconsistent or forced, it can indicate trouble. This can be a sign of discomfort or even contempt. Addressing this issue can help to foster a healthier and more positive relationship dynamic.
6. Increased distance
It’s worth noting if your partner has been maintaining a larger distance from you. This can indicate discomfort or feelings of disconnection between the two of you.
If this is happening, it’s essential to explore the underlying issues behind it rather than becoming fixated on the physical distance itself. Understanding and addressing these issues can help you maintain a healthy relationship dynamic.
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7. Sudden changes in posture, facial expressions, or gestures
When someone’s behavior suddenly changes, it could indicate any internal emotions or attitudes they may be experiencing. Pay attention to sudden changes in posture, facial expressions, or gestures.
This could be a sign of trouble, such as feelings of anger, frustration, or anxiety. Talk to your partner about any sudden changes in behavior you may have noticed, and work together to identify any underlying issues.
Body language is a powerful tool that provides insight into our relationships, providing cues and signals that often go unnoticed. Attention to body language cues can help you identify any potential problems in your relationship early on, allowing you to address them before they become more serious.
Remember, body language is not always indicative of trouble. When interpreting body language cues, it’s important to always consider the individual’s cultural background, personal preferences, and past experiences.
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Thompson, E. H., & Hampton, J. A. (2011). The effect of relationship status on communicating emotions through touch. Cognition & emotion, 25(2), 295–306. ↩︎
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Reinecke, K., Dvoretska, D., Joraschky, P., & Lausberg, H. (2020). Fidgeting Behavior During Psychotherapy: Hand Movement Structure Contains Information About Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 50(4), 323–329. doi.org ↩︎