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November 19, 2009

Talk to the hand

Filed under: media,pop culture,Psychology,Uncategorized — posted by Paula @ 3:14 pm

According to former FBI agent and flashy author Joe Navarro –“the nonverbal expert”– two major body-language indicators can hint at whether your mate is “still into you” (Navarro’s words, not mine — can we please retire this expression? Also, “cougar”? Thanks) or whether your relationship is headed south.

As Navarro explains in a recent article in Psychology Today, the first clue that a true connection exists between you and a loved one lies in the hands — when your snookums places a full, flat palm on your body (“palmer touching,” which kind of lacks frisson), this is a sign of real bonding and trust. The longer they leave it there, the warmer the relationship.

If, on the other, uh, hand, your partner tends only to touch briefly or with the fingertips (“distal touching”), the passion may be fading.

Now I’m smacking myself on the forehead. (“Duh touching.”)

The other nonverbal clue is what body-language professionals call “ventral fronting” — when your mate approaches you, does he or she face you head-on with no obstruction to the belly area? This is a subconscious behavior that signifies trust and affection. (Think “happy puppy getting her belly rubbed.”) Couples whose trust and affection are waning tend to face their abdominal regions away from each other (“ventral denial”), or hide behind crossed arms, purses, the Sunday Times, etc. Or Spanx?

Navarro uses obvious examples from pop culture (Jon & Kate, Chuck & Di) to illustrate his point, and concludes by saying:

… when it comes to interpersonal relationships, how we touch and how we present our ventral side says so much about the health and longevity of our relationship…

No argument there — body language is visceral and immediate and can help us understand what people are thinking and feeling in the moment.

However! A couple of things are bugging me, which you might be able to tell by the way I am currently placing a large cheese sandwich between my belly and the keyboard.

For one thing, articles like this, in seemingly respectable (albeit pop-psych, not scientific) magazines, seem to play right into that women’s-magazine-of-yore myth that the only way to understand your partner is to desperately seek for clues.

If you are reduced to reading body language to determine whether someone really loves you, doesn’t that in itself indicate some basic disconnect? (I’m asking, not telling, so weigh in if you disagree!)

Secondly, while I understand and support the value of observing nonverbal behavior, I also know that individuals behave differently under different circumstances — a distal touch here and a ventral denial there may simply indicate that a person is not feeling present, is distracted or nervous. Or just got their nails done. I don’t think that Navarro does a good enough job explaining that the occasional pair of crossed arms does not a relationship fiasco make.


  1. You’re a genius. And this is extremely funny, AND compassionate towards us ladies, some of whom are all-to-ready to neurotically “look for clues” about our relationships. Thanks, Paula!

    Comment by Hcakes — November 19, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  2. Yeah. It’s just not worth me getting stressed out over a “sign” anymore. I actually need to remember not to read special significance into things. I mean unless it’s really obvious!

    Comment by Alex — November 25, 2009 @ 7:23 am

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