Do you know how to read your spouse’s body language? By looking at his face or her eyes, can you tell whether you should crack a joke or leave the room for a while?
Are you sending the right signals? Sending the right signals can make your spouse tick. It can improve and enrich everyday communication. Sending the wrong ones can repulse and create a hostile and unhappy atmosphere in the home.
Your body language tells you a lot about how you are feeling inside. Knowing how to respond to the emotions expressed by your spouse’s body language can impact your marriage. According to Dr. John Gottman and colleagues, marriages are more prone to fail when one spouse responds to the other’s happy face with an expression of contempt. Therefore it is great to learn how to reflect body language accurately.
How do we become better non-verbal communicators?
- Read signals
- Respond to signals
- Re-establish communication
You succeed in reading signals when what you think your spouse feels is how he/she actually feels. The accuracy in reading signals will contribute to the well-being of the relationship. Your spouse will feel being understood and that will cause him/her to want to reciprocate that feeling. Couples that feel more understood are relatively happier and more well-adjusted.
When spouses keep making errors in reading signals, it will create misunderstanding. This will cause unhappiness in the relationship. Whatever the reasons for this inability to read signals accurately, improving it will help you and your spouse towards better health and harmony.
Signals are most commonly expressed in
- the face
- the eyes
- tone of voice
Let’s apply the four processes mentioned earlier (read, respond, recalibrate, re-establish) to these four signals.
Read: A red face could mean a few things – your spouse is in a hurry, or in a fury, or the weather is just too hot. All indicate that your spouse is highly aroused.
Respond: Doing something or saying something to calm her/him down will be a step to better communication. “Can I get you a glass of water?” “I am concerned that you are stressing yourself out with this hurry. Tell me what I can do.”
Recalibrate: Your spouse would have said or done something to what you are suggesting. “Yes, please get me a glass of very cold water. This heat is unbearable.” It’s time to recalibrate and to gather your thoughts for the next move.
Re-establish: “Sure will get you a glass of very cold water.” The words and the gesture of getting that glass of water will change the atmosphere at that moment to one that’s supportive and caring.
Eyes that look away give the woman the message that the husband is not interested. Women generally like to maintain regular eye contact. Men are less able to look eye to eye. They don’t like talking about feelings and eye contact tends to increase such conversation. Perhaps that’s the reason why men can read the newspapers and watch TV and still carry on conversation. That can frustrate women if they interprete no eye contact as a lack of interest in the conversation.
Read: (husband is watching the news on TV with newspapers in his hands) So you are not interested in me?
Communication is at a standstill if it all stopped here. The wife is wanting the husband to pay attention to her and the husband is insensitive to the wife’s request and did not respond to her constructively. The wife is reading the signal wrongly. She associates preoccupation of her husband to his neglect of her. The husband is wrong in his response – by being silent, he hopes to shut her off but he is not meeting her need emotionally.
Alternative way of communication:
Read: (husband is watching the news on TV with newspapers in his hands) I have got something to discuss with you. Can we talk after you finished the news?
Respond: (looking at the wife’s eagerness to talk) OK.
Recalibrate: You have a space after the news to discuss the matter with him. It’s a win- win situation – he gets to watch the news still and you get to have that talk.
Re-establish: When that time arrives to discuss that matter, focus on that matter and don’t use that time to talk about his TV and newspaper habits. Give- and- take is a good skill to cultivate. A marriage that is involved in meeting the other person’s needs will yield positive outcomes.
Gestures and tone of voice
You can practise reading, responding, recalibrating and re-establishing with gestures and tone of voice.
Non verbals are windows to the emotional world of your spouse. Sometimes these windows are blurry and there’s a need to clarify verbally so that you can best understand what is happening and take steps to re-establish the relationship.
Peter Scazzero in his emotional thermometer suggested using words like , ‘I am worried that…” “I am puzzled that …” to indicate your unclear position and to ask for clarity.
If your spouse is using an angry tone and you read it as an angry signal, you can clarify by saying, “I am puzzled that you came home very happy and then, after 1 hour, you are angry.” This is an invitation for your spouse to express himself/herself.
When your spouse is in the garden/shed for a long time, and you read it as a signal of withdrawal and you are feeling insecure, you can find an opportunity to clarify, “I am worried that you are spending a lot of time alone in the garden/shed, is everything ok?” Hopefully your inquisitiveness and care will lead to you to recalibrate and re-establish the relationship.
Couples are given the most precious ability to read each other. I have heard comments like “I can even tell what she/he is thinking before she/he says it,” “That was exactly how I felt” “How did you know? Are you psychic?” etc. The Bible in Proverbs 27:19 writes,
“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”
The eyes, the face, the gestures and the tone of voice reflect the heart. Couples have the keys to each other’s hearts. Be sure to use the keys to unlock each other to better express yourselves and communicate well.