Why working on the nonverbal parts of how you communicate may be vital to relationship happiness

Most of us have a fairly good understanding of how important the nonverbal parts of how we communicate are, when we want to know that our partner loves and cares for us. However, we don't often work on this directly, when trying to improve our relationship. We're much more likely to focus on the words we use, or asking our partner to choose their words more carefully, when thinking of better ways to resolve our differences and reach a resolution. Most often, when couples find themselves needing external help for their relationship, the issues they are sure are the problem are much less important than the feeling of connection. When I feel connected to my partner, when I KNOW that s/he cares about how I feel and is interested in what's going on for me, then problems suddenly seem much more solvable, even if there may be some tough decisions to be made. When we both feel positively connected, we are a team tackling our problems together - NOT protagonists fighting to the death, where there can only be one winner (and sadly, one loser). So, what are the nonverbal parts of our communication that build connection? Tone of voice, facial expression, the gestures we use and the way we hold our bodies all give a huge amount of information about our intentions. At any given moment, our partner will interpret these as 'safe' or 'threatening', in a part of the brain that makes these decisions very quickly, outside of conscious thought. We learn from experience too - the more times I have interpreted my partner's 'nonverbals' as threatening in the past, the more likely I am to interpret what may be either a neutral tone/expression as a threat. Luckily this works in reverse as well - the more I have experienced my partner's nonverbal communication as safe in the past, the more likely I am to forgive a clumsy attempt at reaching out, or a missatuned response to something I have said. These patterns can be even harder to understand, let alone change, when one or even both partners have been in previous relationships (including family relationships) that may have been abusive, violent or otherwise threatening. Changing these patterns takes time and patience. It may also take the willingness to learn new patterns of NONVERBAL as well as VERBAL relatiing that communicate and are received as safety rather than threat by our loved ones. 


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