By Tracy Henderson, LMHCA
My clients often express varying degrees of frustration with their wife, husband, or partner about how they do not pay attention when they are talking. This conversation takes place in session usually following some form of an argument. When prompted with “how can you tell they are not paying attention?” Responses may include: “my partner is looking at their phone constantly”, or “my husband just watches the game and doesn’t say anything back”, or “my wife just turns her back to me while I’m trying to talk to her.” When prompted again with “how would you describe your demeanor?” Many times, the conversation goes silent. Or, I may get back “what do you mean, my demeanor?”
The subject of emotional intelligence has become a mainstream topic of conversation. From comic strips to public school programs. Daniel Goleman widely introduced the topic through his book Emotional Intelligence in 1995 and since then the subject has exploded. The central components revolve around self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management.
An intriguing component within emotional intelligence involves nonverbal communication. The body is always communicating a message and that message may be sending mixed signals. Our nonverbal communication matters. How you listen, look, move, and react tells the other person how well you’re listening and whether you care.
Research from John M. Gottman around the idea of how partners “bid” for interaction supports the importance of nonverbal communication, as well as, reveals the impact it has on the emotional bank account. The idea of bids between partners involves how one partner is trying to communicate or engage with the other. While bids can be verbal and nonverbal both forms are equally important. Unfortunately, more often than we’d hope for, we become complacent in realizing the impact our nonverbal communication has on others in our everyday interactions. The accumulated results of missing bids or sending mixed signals over time can contribute to a disconnect within the relationship.
What that means is through practice you can have an incredible impact within your relationship through your nonverbal communication skills. It’s the everyday moments that count.
An effective strategy to become more emotionally intelligent within your relationship is to bring an intentional awareness to the nonverbal communication patterns that co-exist. Look for bids from your partner, as well as, attempt to understand what messages you are sending. Nonverbal bids are opportunities to connect with others and to understand something is happening or needed at a deeper level.
Next time you approach a conversation with your wife, husband, or partner take a mental inventory of your nonverbal cues. Monitor your eye contact, facial expressions, tone, posture, gestures, touch, intensity, timing, setting, or sounds.
Try this experiment, next time you embrace your wife, husband, or partner smile brighter, squeeze them stronger, hold them longer all while not saying a word. Wait for their reaction. Did they feel the “I love you” equally or more than the actual words? Possibly, their reaction might be one of bewilderment and react with “Is everything okay?”
The power and influence of nonverbal communication on the health and wellness of your relationship can have a tremendous impact. While you may be investing a lot of time in developing how to communicate with your husband, wife, or partner through words don’t forget how much your nonverbal cues are impacting the relationship as well.