Non-Verbal Communication as a Predictor of Divorce

The last few weeks we’ve focused on some predictors of divorce that Drs. John and Julie Gottman have diligently researched over the last 20 years. Whether separate, or together, the presence of The Four Horsemen, Harsh Startups, and Failed Repair Attempts can predict divorce 82 – 90+% of the time.  I have a theory about why these are such predominant factors in predicting divorce.

70 % of what we communicate is Non-Verbal Communication. Seventy Percent. 70!  Seventy percent of the time HOW we say something is more important that WHAT we say.  The tone and volume of our voices, our facial expressions, rolling of the eyes, smirking of the lips, body postures, hand gestures… These all communicate way more than our words.  In fact, we can remain silent and our body language can speak volumes alone.

I like to use babies as an example.  Before they are even able to speak words they communicate to us all day long.  They cry, they whine, they laugh, they grunt, they look away, they look in our eyes, they wiggle, they grab, they smile… and we understand (or learn to) what they are “saying.”

Oftentimes in our marriage, and other close relationships, we use non-verbal communication subconsciously to communicate things that might be too vulnerable to say out loud. An eye roll and arms crossed in front of our chest might communicate that we are hurt by something the other did or said and we are trying to protect ourselves from not getting hurt again.

So what if instead we maintain gentle eye contact, put our arms to our side and softly say, “I love you and I don’t like the way I talk to you.  I feel hurt. I don’t know what to do with this hurt that I feel and it has been coming out in my eye rolling and arms folded across my body.”  Whoa!  That might get someone’s attention!  Keep in mind that starting something new – a new behavior, a new way of communicating, etc. – can be difficult at first and takes some getting used to (for the sender and the receiver) but if you are consistent for at least a month, it will start to get easier.

So the next time you are in a conversation with your loved one, notice your non-verbal communication. Ask yourself, “What am I really trying to communicate? Is it working?  How might I communicate it differently?”​