You stand, hands on hips, elbows out, staring at the floor.
"Whatís wrong?" your spouse asks, "What did I do now?"
Surprised, you look up. "Nothing, why?"
"I dunno," he says. "Standing there like that, I figured you were about to yell at me."
Youíre confused. What made him think that? Later, youíre trying to talk with your husband about the bills, and heís staring off somewhere in space.
"Uh, hello," you say, "Iím over here. Iím talking to you."
"Iím listening," he says, "Whatís the problem?"
You want to say, "Youíre not looking at me, thatís the problem," but you feel stupid and petty, so you let it go. A couple of days go by. Your husband tells you heíd like to have a co-worker and his wife over for dinner.
"I donít know, Honey," you say, "Iíll have to check my calendar."
"Well you donít have to get mad about it!" your spouse exclaims.
Youíre shocked: 'Iím not mad' you think to yourself, quite sure you answered him pleasantly enough and not feeling angry at him at all.
"Oh no?!" he retorts, "Look at youóyouíre standing there, your arms crossed over your chest, tapping your foot and scowling at me."
Sure enough, you are standing arms crossed, foot tapping, and yup, that feels like a scowl. You apologize, but as you walk away, you canít help but wonder, 'What is going on here?'
Lots! Only part of what we have to say comes through our mouths, a major portion of it comes through our bodies. And when your body language is in contradiction to your words, your body is what will be believed first.
So yes, when youíre standing there, arms akimbo, your husband has every right to think youíre about to yell at him, because standing that way is a common body-language expression of, "Iíve had it and Iím not taking any more!"
In the other scenario when your spouse didnít look at you while you were talking, itís perfectly natural for you to feel like heís not listening. For most of us, looking someone in the eyes when we talk is how we convey that weíre serious about listening, that weíre giving that person our full attention. Remember your mom or dad saying, "Look me in the eye when Iím talking to you!" She wasnít kidding.
And itís no wonder that your spouse thought you were angry at him, despite the pleasant tones of your voice: arms crossed over chest, foot tapping and scowling are all interpreted as signs of anger or frustration, coloring whatever you may have had to say.
Your body is you, physically expressed and it contributes in dynamic ways to your communicationówhether consciously or not! Pay attention to what your body is saying, donít mislead your spouse into thinking you mean one thing when in truth you mean another. Be aware of your body language: if youíre not tweaked at your Honey, then donít stand there, hands on hips and smile at him.
Instead, make good eye contact when youíre speaking, it will probably encourage him to do the same. Sit beside your spouse for important conversations, putting yourself at equal level with him, keep your body still and undefended (no arms across chest). And smooth out the expression on your face, you want to make sure you're not frowning if you donít mean to.
All of these and many more are ways your body can support your communication and make whatever you say to your spouse be heard the way you intend it to be. Communicating is sometimes hard enough, these simple tips will prevent your message from getting lost in translation.
Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., is a relationship expert, popular speaker in the U.S. and abroad, and author of nine best-selling books, including her most recent, "Your Man is Wonderful" (www.yourmaniswonderful.com) and "Dangerous Relationships." Dr. Nelson focuses on how we can all enjoy happy, fulfilling lives while accomplishing great things in love, at home and at work. Visit www.noellenelson.com for more.