Decoding Body Language in Intimate Relationships
What does it mean when your boyfriend wraps an arm around your shoulder in a group of people? What is your girlfriend trying to tell you when she greets you without her usual smile and hug? And what about committed relationships where the partners start out showing lots of affection and accommodation for each other but over the years begin to just interact automatically?
The issue of body language within intimate relationships is quite complex and one that is not easily broken down into specific, predictable definitions. It is much like a dance between two people, constantly in motion and combining with other aspects of the relationship to communicate a wide variety of messages.
The Beginnings of IntimacyIn the beginning of an intimate relationship, body language is a primary means of communication. Two people who don’t know each other very well will use non-verbal cues to express their thoughts when words seem too direct or uncomfortable. It is a relatively safe way to get the point across to each other with less risk of outright rejection or embarrassment.
The early stages are filled with flirting and testing each other’s interest. Eye contact is important because it indicates interest; body position is also important because it helps to indicate comfort levels. For instance, two people who sit or stand very close to each other, find excuses to touch each other on the arm or shoulder, or position themselves side by side rather than facing each other, are showing each other that each is comfortable with the other.
As the relationship progresses, more and more touching occurs. This shows up as holding hands, hugging, leaning against each other, and the like. A woman who tilts her head and rests it on a man’s shoulder, for instance, is using her body language to express closeness and invite more of the same. A man who takes a woman’s hand as they negotiate through a crowded room is using body language to express connectedness, protection, and leadership.
Body Language in Established RelationshipsWhen two people in an established intimate relationship use body language, it can take on far more subtle meanings. This is especially true if the relationship is troubled in some way or if there is poor verbal communication between them. On the other end of the spectrum, though, body language can become a special communication tool used to convey messages of love, connection, appreciation, and the like.
It is quite common for couples to use body language when they are unwilling or unable to talk about a conflict openly. Either person might withdraw physically or emotionally from the other, avoiding situations of physical closeness and keeping feelings inside. Or, either person might become quite physical by slamming doors, banging drawers shut, vigorously cleaning something, or the like. With all of these examples, the underlying cause may vary but the symptoms generally indicate the same thing – the couple needs to talk with each other, openly and honestly, about the real issue at hand.
Couples who have been together many years often develop a set of non-verbal cues specific to their relationship. For instance, in social situations it might only take deliberate eye contact, a tug on the elbow, or a tilt of the head to indicate when one person is ready to go. Parents also can become quite good at this process, using facial expressions to communicate when a child misbehaves or when one needs a break from the kids for some reason.
General Body Language in Intimate RelationshipsIn general, body language in intimate relationships serves a vital purpose. It communicates specific types of information when a relationship is relatively young as well as when it is more established. It can bring a couple together, push a couple apart, or simply augment the verbal communication habits of the two people.
When it comes to communicating intimacy, though, body language is perhaps the most powerful tool available to couples. A touch of the hand, an arm around the shoulder, a tender kiss on the cheek, or a tender caress of the cheek are all great examples of ways couples express intimacy with each other. Learning about and understanding these kinds of non-verbal cues can go a long way toward strengthening and protecting the intimate connection between two people.