As the cliché goes, sometimes it’s not about what you say but what you do that really shows how you feel about someone. Body language is a universal way to express yourself, allowing you to communicate without words things like, “I love you,” “I miss you,” or “I need my space.” While we often hear tips from therapists and relationship experts about how to talk to your partner about tough topics, it’s less common to hear tips about what to do physically in order to keep your relationship healthy (and we’re not talking about great sex or working out at the gym).
Body language is so important that it can impact a relationship more than words and tone of voice combined, explains body language expert Yana German. “A lot of people, especially men, tend to have a much harder time expressing themselves verbally,” she says. “So body language is often a big contributor to keeping the romance alive or killing the relationship all together.”
Here are nine gestures that are communicating a thousand not-so-great words to your partner without you even knowing it, so do your best to avoid this toxic body language.
Crossing Arms and Legs
A big mistake people make is twisting at your waist and crossing your legs away from your partner when talking about your day or anything else, explains German. “It indicates you’re not present, uncomfortable and uninterested in your partner and the conversation.” Instead, open your arms. The more open your position, the more warm and friendly the vibe.
Being More Courteous to Others
If you open doors or even pull out a chair for a friend or stranger instead of for your partner, he or she is understandably going to feel slighted, and that can build resentment. “Doing this shows that you’re seeking validation from others versus making sure that your loved one is happy and content,” says German. It’s good to be courteous, but make sure you’re just as or more courteous to your partner.
Looking Around When They’re Talking
When your partner is trying to ask you a question or telling a story, nod your head while looking into their eyes, says German. “This will show them that you’re fully aware of what they’re talking about and have their full attention.” Looking over their shoulder and checking out the TV, your phone screen, or who’s walking in the restaurant door shows that you couldn’t care less about what your partner is saying.
Not Showing Support With Touch
Rather than turning away and clamming up during an argument or a tense moment, German suggests holding your partner’s hand or putting your hand on their shoulder or back. This shows you support your partner when he or she is having a difficult time—and even in the middle of a disagreement! “Placing your hand on their back is especially supportive and shows that you’re acknowledging them and making them feel important.”
Giving Them “the Hand”
We all know the “talk to the hand” gesture. Doing this to a loved one while you’re on the phone, computer, or just watching TV says you’re too busy for your partner. “It pushes people away instantly and makes your partner feel undervalued and uncomfortable,” says German. Instead of putting up your hand or finger and looking like a jerk, kindly say something like “give me one second,” or “I’ll be right with you, babe.”
Not Hugging It Out
Hugs are one of the most important nonverbal ways of communicating your love and appreciation for someone. Embracing allows us to reconnect quickly and easily when we’re not always able to squeeze romance into everyday life, says German. “To keep the romance alive, you and your partner can hug for a combined three minutes a day. A surprise hug from the back can also make your partner feel warm and fuzzy.”
Furrowing Brows or Rolling Eyes
Many times, we make these facial expressions without even realizing it. But to our partner, these gestures show that you’re irritated, annoyed, or find what they’re saying to be wrong or insignificant. Constantly doing this breaks a relationship because your partner won’t want to open up, knowing that they can expect this reaction from you. Always try to look at your partner in the eyes or mouth when they’re speaking, even if you’re annoyed or disagree.
When out or even in the same room, this simple gesture will make your partner feel extra-loved and will demonstrate that you always think about him/her. “I can’t stress enough how important a simple smile can be,” says German. “When we first begin dating, we shower our partners with love and attention and then all of that tends to slip away. An unexpected smile can reignite more feelings than you might think.”
Sitting In a Defensive Position
How we sit with our partner can say a lot. Studies have shown that sitting across the table from a person can create a defensive, competitive atmosphere, especially when combined with one person sitting higher or straighter than the other. This gives off a vibe of superiority, while the other partner may sit lower, looking more weak and defensive. When at a restaurant or at home, try to sit next to each other or mirror your partner’s posture to convey equality and cooperation.