It's easy to believe you and your partner are on the same page if you've not been directly told anything to the contrary. Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. Researchers claim that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of what we actually mean or feel is communicated nonverbally, according to Beth Ribarsky, PhD, a professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Illinois Springfield. So if you're not paying attention to your significant other's body language, you could end up assuming everything is fine just because they said, "It's fine."
But it's never too late to start reading between the lines to make sure your partner feels happy and heard—even about the things they're not saying out loud. Talking to therapists and other relationship experts, we rounded up some of the most important body language signs you should never ignore from your partner. Read on to learn what to watch out for when it comes to your relationship.
They turn their body away from you.
According to Ribarsky, one of the most important things to pay attention to is how your partner positions their body in relation to you. "Do they face toward you when you're sitting side by side? Do they lean toward you? These are all signs of interest and affection," she explains.
On the other hand, it's a red flag if they turn their body away from you—especially when you're sitting side by side. Ribarsky tells Best Life that this is a clear physical representation of them shutting you out. "It might be a sign that something is bothering them in your relationship," she says.
They drop their shoulders.
Your significant other might not just shut you out when they have a problem with your relationship. GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor working with PsychPoint, says you should also watch for visual signs of your partner shutting down themselves. This is typically portrayed through body language in which "they drop their shoulders and head and turn their bodies inward," according to Guarino.
"This movement indicates that your partner is hurt and is withdrawing to protect themselves. A partner will often do this when they feel shot down, invalidated, or unheard and misunderstood," she explains. "These kinds of moments happen in any relationship, but the more a partner feels unheard and invalidated, the more they will struggle with staying engaged and invested in the relationship."
They square their jaw.
You might want to check your partner's chin during conversations. If they square their jaws, "this is an immediate sign that they're getting ready to lie," according to Chad Barnsdale, a relationship expert and the founder of Unfinished Man. He says that lying is never a good sign in a relationship, but it's important to find out why your significant other has chosen not to tell the truth.
"When you notice your partner's jaw tensing up, it's best to confront them about it directly. Ask them what they're hiding and why they feel the need to lie," Barnsdale advises. If it's stemming from a problem they have with the relationship, then this gives you both a chance to work through it. But don't let yourself be played if not. "If they can't give you a good answer, it's time to start reconsidering your relationship," he says.
They cross their arms.
Crossed arms could mean many different things, but it's usually something to be concerned about. Becky Stuempfig, LMFT, a couples therapist who owns and operates a private practice in Encinitas, California, says your partner may cross their arms over their chest when they are feeling defensive. "They could be angry about something," she explains.
But Ellie Borden, BA, a registered psychotherapist who focuses on relationships and dating and is the clinical director of Mind By Design Psychology, warns that crossed arms are not always an indicator of hostility. Instead, your partner might be feeling upset. "Crossed arms are a self-hug and are our way of comforting ourselves when we feel distressed," Borden explains.
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They roll their eyes.
If your partner rolls their eyes at you and it doesn't seem like a playful gesture, take note. Borden warns that one of the most common expressions of contempt is eye-rolling. And according to the famous relationship expert John Gottman, contempt is the number one predictor of divorce or separation.
Borden advises that you address the situation as soon as possible if you notice eye-rolling from your significant other. "Ask your partner what may be bothering them. Ignoring the cues that something may be wrong in your relationship is a recipe for disaster," she says.
But be prepared that they might try to brush it off as nothing when first confronted. "Sometimes, you need to dig a little deeper to show someone—particularly someone who has been hurt—that you do care and want to know what is wrong," Borden explains.