They say that eighty percent of communication is non-verbal and only twenty percent is what is actually being said. Think about that for a minute. When was the last time you were in an argument and the other person stood rigidly, not making eye contact, said they weren’t mad but had an edge in their voice, and their arms crossed over your chest? Did you believe them when they said they were fine? More importantly how did the interaction turn out? They are saying they aren’t mad but the body language is saying something entirely different and makes the statement hard to believe. On the flip side think about the last interaction you had with someone where you felt validated and heard even if you were upset or angry. Likely the person you were talking to was looking you in the eye, had a relaxed posture, nodding or otherwise acknowledging what you were saying and were not distracted by other things.
Sitting across from a couple in session is a privilege. I get to be part of a very intricate, very difficult, emotional time in the hope that things can change. I often encounter the situation described above of hostile communication even though the words themselves may not be hostile. I see one of the biggest barriers to successfully making changes in therapy is disregarding the nonverbal communication and getting stuck only on what the person is actually saying. By addressing the non-verbal communication the couple can work on taking a more open, receptive approach so you both can feel more validated and the conversation has the ability to be productive and move forward. I understand that this is hard to put into practice in the heat of the moment, but think about the potential for a more productive conversation to happen.
So, in closing, don’t underestimate the importance of the nonverbal communication as this has a huge impact on the message you are sending. Giving a consistent message both verbally and non-verbally will decrease confusion, frustration, and hopefully get the conversation to a more productive place.