A smile, a touch of the hand, a quick wink, a welcoming hug. These are just a few non-verbal communications that produce “warmth” in a relationship. A smirk, rolling eyes, crossed arms, or a pointed finger can produce the quite opposite chilling effect.
Non-verbal signals like facial signals, body language and “tone” of voice accentuate communication to create closeness or incite conflict. If you find yourself and your partner frequently using the latter, you should take a closer look at the relationship to see what’s causing the rift. Whether it’s the result of a major stress or simply taking each other for granted, here are a few tips (often part of “couples therapy”) that may help guide your relationship back to a better space.
Make a commitment to “listen.” You already know communication is more than just talking. The ability to listen, understand and use non-verbal communication (while doing so) is a vital way to connect, express yourself and build a stronger bond. Make eye contact and focus your attention on what’s being said. Resist the urge to interrupt, roll your eyes or sigh. Just take a breath and truly listen. If you find it hard at first, keep trying.
Adjust your body language. If crossed arms or a curled-up position is your modus operandi, make an effort to adjust your body to a more relaxed and welcoming posture. This change, alone, can help you become more “open” to hearing your partner’s words. Try to empathize and you might find yourself offering an understanding nod, a reassuring touch or a smile.
Reflect thoughts. When it’s time to respond, reflect your partner’s thoughts in a reasonable tone of voice. “So what you’re saying is” or “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.” This reflection of thought in a soothing voice can help to avoid a misunderstanding. It also allows you time to “thoughtfully respond” in a positive way. If you have nothing positive to contribute, say “let me think about it” – then address the issue after you’ve had some time to do so.
Remember the “good stuff.” Think about qualities you admire in your partner, fun times you’ve had and the accomplishments you’ve achieved together. Remembering “highlights” may give you a new viewpoint on “why” your relationship’s “lowlights” are worth changing.
Thoughtful discussions involving positive “non-verbal cues” can help bring understanding and closeness into the relationship. We’ve seen it in couple’s therapy time and time again. While it might not be easy to start with, over time, it can become the norm rather than the exception. Plus, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find out about your partner that you didn’t know!
Need a little extra incentive? “A smile (the ultimate in non-verbal communication) is a curve that’s been known to straighten things out.”
Susan Block is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in marriage, family and individual therapy. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University in 1997 and completed her Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University in 2004. Also an active member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), Susan Block practices in South Florida