If we learned anything from the presidential debates, we learned that body language counts. Your gestures and movements speak louder than words. Here are four cues from the presidential and vice-presidential debates on how to strengthen your marriage with your body language.
1. Look at your spouse in the eye when you're speaking with him/her: Regardless of who you are voting for, viewers noticed in the first debate that Governor Romney looked at President Obama straight in the eye while he was speaking; Obama's responses seemed to be directed somewhere else. He was taking notes, looking down, looking anywhere but in Romney's direction. Romney ultimately came across stronger because of this. Eye contact is a sign of friendliness, confidence, and an acknowledgement of the other person's presence. Looking away from your spouse makes it seem like you don't really want to be speaking with them, and that's not the impression that you want to create when you're working on building a healthy marriage.
2. Cut out the eye-rolling: During the vice-presidential debate, Vice President Biden made no attempt to contain his eye-rolling and condescension. Dr. John Gottman has identified eye-rolling as a non-verbal sign of contempt and disgust. He explains that this non-verbal cue can create negative repercussions in your relationship. When your spouse sees that you are disgusted with them, they become much less willing to work out your problems and strengthen your marriage. Take the initiative in curbing the impulse to roll your eyes. You will see the improvement in your marriage!
3. Engage your body in the conversation: While speaking with your spouse, it's ideal for your movements to be energetic and open. Peggy Hackney, an analyst from the New York University Movement Lab, explains that Obama's gestures were more contained and controlled than Romney's during the first debate, giving the impression of being more detached from the debate and from his audience. Romney, through the openness of his gestures, came across as friendly, "authentic, and less studied." You don't want your marriage to be stilted and detached, so you shouldn't be either!
4. Don't laugh!: Sometimes, when you're speaking with your spouse, they may say something that sounds unreasonable and absurd. Don't laugh! If you're in the middle of an argument, that will only make your spouse more upset. And if you're having a serious conversation, you may have convinced them that you don't take them seriously. Jeff Thompson, a nonverbal communication researcher at Griffith University, explained that Biden's laughter and smiling during the debate was a clear indication of displeasure with Ryan's comments. Your reactions while listening to your spouse is as important as the non-verbal cues that you give off while you are speaking. It's not always easy for your spouse to differentiate between your displeasure with their comments and your displeasure with them. Make sure to keep those under control.
5. Respect each other's physical space: The second presidential debate resembled more like a boxing match than a political discussion. This was partially due to the town hall setting which allowed the candidates to walk around and even get in each other's space. Viewers joke that they were worried Obama and Romney were going to come to blows. In a marriage, it is important to respect each other's space. When you get in your spouse's face and intimidate them it sends them a message that they are your foe rather than friend. That, in turn, provokes a defensive response which serves to further alienate. To engender love and connection, show your spouse respect for their space and do allow them to feel a sense of safety in your presence.
6) Don't stare!: Didn't your mother tell you it's not polite to stare at people? From the looks of the third presidential debate, it did not seem that Obama got that message. Viewers noticed on the split-screen how the president stared down his opponent with seeming disdain. If you are listening to your spouse, look intently with concern and love. Even if you are upset with what they are saying, your defensive or offensive facial posture and expressions will only serve to exacerbate tension. If you can't show care in your face, do your best to at least show a blank screen. Your face is the window into what you are feeling inside. Although you may think your spouse doesn't not know what you are feeling, it is more apparent than you think.
In your marriage, body language is the unspoken third partner. Take these cues from the presidential and vice-presidential debates to revitalize your marriage by using eye-contact, open body movements, and not invading the other's space while you are speaking to your spouse and not rolling your eyes, laughing, or staring with disapproval while your spouse is speaking. It may be hard to change old habits, but you will see that the improvements to your marriage will make it all worth it.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free copy of Rabbi Slatkin's book, Is My Marriage Over: The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage.
Follow Shlomo Slatkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rabbislatkin