30 Body Language Cues That Indicate Relationship Problems
Body language experts reveal the signals your partner is sending that spell trouble.
While we'd all like to believe that our partner conveys what they're thinking and feeling with words, that's not always the case. If you're getting the idea that your significant other wants out, you need to be not just listening to what they say, but also looking at what their body is communicating. The truth is, body language cues paint a much clearer picture of what's actually going on in a relationship than what is spoken. From the way someone stands to the way they hug, body language can express all the things someone is thinking, but not necessarily saying.
Curious as to whether or not your significant other's hands, eyes, feet, and even elbows are hinting at trouble ahead? We've rounded up the body language cues experts say signal the end of your relationship so that you can start having those serious conversations, if necessary.
Their feet point away from you when you talk.
If you're worried about the status of your relationship, then look at how your partner sits when the two of you talk. "If your partner consistently turns their feet and torso away from you when speaking, then they are probably losing interest in you," explains Jon Rhodes, a clinical hypnotherapist in the U.K. "They may still turn their head towards you to be polite, but their feet and body are saying they want to get away from you."
They're biting their lip a lot.
Try as your partner might to cover up their real feelings, their body language is bound to give them away in the end. And though everyone exhibits nervousness in different ways, Washington, D.C.-based body language expert Janine Driver notes that without a doubt, the biting of the lip "says that [your partner] is holding something back."
They're crossing their legs.
When you and your partner are having a heated conversation, the last thing you want to see is their legs crossed. Why? As psychologist Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart in San Diego, wrote for Entrepreneur, this can "signal that a person is mentally, emotionally, and physically closed off." He added, "It's not intentional, which is why it's so revealing."
They're faking their smile.
People in happy relationships don't have to fake their enthusiasm. So, seeing your partner with "a smile that doesn't go all the way up to their eyes" is usually a pretty good indication that something in the partnership is amiss, according to Virginia psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC.
They're sighing all the time.
Believe it or not, there are also body language cues in your partner's voice and intonations. And, according to Coleman, one vocal indication that something in the relationship is off is when your partner is adding "non-audible noises like sighs, pauses, and silences that didn't used to be an issue" into every conversation.
They're leaning away from you when you're together.
Emotional closeness is often mirrored by physical closeness, so pay attention to how much space your partner puts between the two of you when you go out to dinner or just relax on the couch. "One posture sign that says the relationship is not going to last is subtle leaning back away from their partner when sitting or standing together," says Coleman.
They're making a lot of gestures with their left hand.
If and when your partner uses their hands to gesture something, pay attention to which hand they use—left or right. Why? "Too many left-handed gestures are associated with someone being uncomfortable with what they're saying to you," body language expert Jan Hargrave told ABC News. "Rubbing of the eye too much with the left hand in the left eye says, 'Do not see very clearly what I'm saying, because I'm not being fully honest with you.'"
Basically, if you notice your spouse starting to utilize their left hand more and more, it's probably time to start questioning those "late nights at the office."
Their pupils don't dilate when they see you.
A 2017 study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science found that when you see someone you're sexually attracted to, your eyes give you away almost instantly. That's because dilated pupils are a sign of sexual arousal. So, if you think a lover is losing interest in you physically, just look into their eyes; their pupils will tell you exactly what you want to know.
They never give you their undivided attention.
Naturally, your significant other is going to look at their phone every now and again—but if you notice that your partner only ever seems to check their notifications when you are talking to them, then you may want to have a serious conversation about where the relationship is going.
"If your partner is always on their cell phone—looking at YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram—they may be more focused on what's going on there than in the relationship," explains Katie Ziskind, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling in Niantic, Connecticut.
They're not making eye contact.
You don't have to be staring at your partner 24/7 for there to be a definite connection, but according to Ziskind, if your partner is never making eye contact with you, that could be a troubling sign. "When people avoid eye contact, it can mean that they're lying or are disconnected emotionally," she says.
Or they're making an uncomfortable amount of eye contact.
Though a lack of eye contact can signal that a relationship is heading in the wrong direction, so can too much eye contact. "It is common knowledge that disinterested people will look in any other direction for something or someone more interesting," body language expert Steven Keyl explained to The Insider. "Since we know looking away will be interpreted as rude, people overcompensate by making too much eye contact."
They're physically far away from you.
As Ali Craig, an international consultant, explained to The Insider, the distance someone keeps between you and them says a lot.
"People who like each other generally don't have problems being in close physical proximity to each other," she says. "If you dislike someone, however, you are less likely to position yourself very close to them. You'll keep a 'safe' amount of distance between the two of you."
They're crossing their arms.
When people enter a relationship, they naturally start being more vulnerable with their partner, and "opening their stomach area to someone is a growing sign of trust," says David Barbour, co-founder of wellness company Vivio Life Sciences in Sherman Oaks, California. So, if someone starts crossing their arms to cover their stomach, it may signal that things are amiss in the relationship.
"If someone starts avoiding such intimacy or starts a process of 'shelling up' and guarding themselves, it may just be an unconscious reaction to losing feelings," Barbour says. "They no longer desire that relationship or intimacy."
They're pursing or licking their lips a lot.
When you confront your significant other about the status of your relationship, pay attention not just to what they say, but what their mouth does while they say it. "[Pursed lips] can indicate extreme anxiety, withholding information, and withholding aggression," body language expert Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, wrote on her website. Additionally, "when you are nervous, your mouth becomes dry, and you lick your lips and swallow as you struggle to find the right words to say."
Their hands are always in their pockets.
If your partner is using their pockets to hide their hands while you converse, then it's possible (and likely even) that they are hiding something from you. "Liars tend to keep their hands hidden and still," Wood noted on her website. "When people are trying to hide their true feeling or the truth, they may stick their hands in their pockets, clench them together, or hold them behind their backs."
Your walking is no longer in sync.
One of the signs of a strong and healthy relationship is synchronized walking. As Wood explained to Good Housekeeping, "The goal is for couples to walk with their feet side by side on an invisible line. When this walking pattern is disrupted, it indicates that there is disconnect between the couple."
They give you pats on the back.
Though pats on the back are comforting in times of distress, they're the last thing anyone wants from the person who's supposed to be their romantic partner—and they're never a good sign, body-language-wise.
"If your partner begins to pat you on the back during a hug, it immediately desexualizes it," Wood told Good Housekeeping. "Let's face it: You and your partner aren't just teammates."
They touch their throat during conversation.
As Wood explained to Good Housekeeping, touching the "throat indicates that someone is keeping something from another person." Why? According to Wood, the throat is the "gateway for words," making it "one of the most vulnerable parts of the body."
They keep their elbows locked when you embrace.
Where do your partner's elbows go when the two of you hug? If they tend to stay locked during embraces, then it's more than likely that your significant other is purposely keeping their arms close to their body so as to make as little contact with you as possible.
Their facial expressions are inappropriate.
Though it's important for partners to be independent and think for themselves, there are certain instances in which being on the same page is vital to the success of a relationship.
"It's troubling when one person in the relationship doesn't show the correct emotional response given the situation," Susan Constantine, human behavioral expert and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Reading Body Language, told Good Housekeeping. "If your partner is stressed, your face should reflect that. The same goes for any emotion that your partner feels."
They furrow their eyebrows at you.
Every part of the human body is capable of giving away a person's innermost irritations, including our eyebrows. As trial lawyer Maria Katrina Karos explained to CNN, the furrowing of the eyebrows "almost always means something negative," so pay attention to your partner's brow movements if you're worried about your future together.
They jab their finger in your direction.
"If your husband is bearing his teeth or jabbing his finger at your chest, he may be unconsciously trying to threaten you into submission—even if he doesn't actually touch you," Stella Resnick, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of The Pleasure Zone: Why We Resist Good Feelings & How to Let Go and Be Happy, told Redbook. In these instances, it's possible that your argument is more than meets the eye, and the fate of your relationship depends on you getting to the bottom of the real issue.
They move their hand away when you try to hold it.
Naturally, not all people enjoy public displays of affection. But if you find that your partner is shying away from holding your hand, even inside the comfort of your own home, then there might be some growing feelings of disdain and resentment there that are worth addressing.
Or they shy away when you try to touch them generally.
People tend to express their fondness for their partners through physical contact. Should you start to notice that your partner shies away from your embraces and advances, this might be an unconscious body language cue that the honeymoon phase is long over.
They're constantly checking the time.
Your significant other should be cherishing your time together, not glancing at their watch or phone while you talk. It's when your relationship becomes a nuisance to your partner's precious time rather than an enjoyment that you know that there are larger issues at play.
Their embraces are less enthusiastic.
Pay attention to the way your partner kisses and hugs you and whether those embraces feel any different. "Kissing is an emotional, biological, and physiological boost," body language expert Tonya Reiman told Business Insider. "If your partner kisses you with less enthusiasm, it's a red flag."
And they don't last very long.
When a relationship is on the rocks, Joe Navarro, MA, a 25-year veteran of the FBI and author of What Every Body Is Saying, says that couples tend to only then touch with their fingertips or for a short amount of time.
"This is called 'distal touching' and is our subconscious way of touching those we dislike or can barely tolerate," he wrote for Psychology Today. "When you or your partner begins to touch less or merely with the fingertips, loving sentiments have probably been withdrawn."
They're unenthusiastic in the bedroom.
"Sex needs a huge amount of connection to be enjoyed," Arrey John Arrey writes in his book The Secret of a Successful Relationship & Marriage. "When your partner becomes unresponsive to sex or avoids sex totally, then this is an obvious sign that your partner is unhappy."
They're short with you.
When your partner responds to your questions and prompts with short, one-worded answers like "yes," "no," and "OK," this is likely a verbal sign that your relationship is on the rocks. Of course, it's possible that your significant other could just be stressed or busy, but if their tone is agitated and aggressive, then it's safe to assume that you're the source of their frustration.
They roll their eyes at you.
According to John Gottman, a leading expert in marital stability, the number one predictor of divorce is contempt—expressed through things like eye rolls, mimicry, and sneering. As soon as you notice contemptuous body language cues seeping into your relationship, make an effort to talk to your partner about what's bothering them and (hopefully) you can patch up problem areas before it's too late.