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Relationships

What Love Really Looks Like

The body language cues that reveal if someone is truly in love.

Key points

  • Couples that are truly in love engage in nonverbal behaviors such that the amount of love can be measured by these body language cues.
  • Physical closeness between lovers can enhance their nonverbal communication and increase the intimacy of the relationship.
  • One telling nonverbal cue of love is that lovers engage in more mutual gaze -- looking directly into each other's eyes.
  • To strengthen relationship intimacy, it is critical that lovers exchange "bids" -- brief body language cues that say "I care about you."

I’ve heard it said hundreds of times: “That couple looks like they are in love.” Obviously, there must be some body language cues that suggest that two people are indeed in love.

The role of nonverbal communication in loving relationships

Motivational differences matter. Lovers are simply more attentive to a partner than they are to friends, acquaintances, or strangers. As a result, you can identify people who are in love because they are more physically close to their partner. Persons in love will tend to allow the other into their most intimate personal space “bubble.”

Physical closeness leads to greater intimacy. Because lovers’ faces are closer together, and they are more directly oriented to one another, they are thus better able to read each other’s nonverbal facial cues. They are more attentive, notice subtle changes in facial expressions, and, as a result, are more in tune with each other. Reading facial cues is critical to making an emotional connection with another person, so lovers have a clear advantage.

This is why lovers can be easily identified: They tend to engage in more mutual gaze – looking deeply into each other’s eyes. In fact, one can measure the degree of intense intimacy in a relationship based on the amount of time that a couple engages in mutual gaze.

Relationship expert John Gottman and colleagues suggest that such nonverbal, emotional connections between couples in love allow the exchange of emotional messages that leads to greater intimacy and concern about the partner’s feelings.

Nonverbal "bids." Gottman and DeClaire (2001) suggest that couples in love exchange “bids.” A bid can be a look, a touch, a brief gesture—any body language cue that tells the other person that “I care about you and want to be connected to you.” In fact, Gottman and colleagues suggest that when one partner consistently does not respond to the other’s bid, it can be an indication that the love connection between the two is diminishing. In fact, these authors suggest that partners who are attentive to one another and consistently respond to the other’s “bids” tend to have more stable, loving relationships. However, couples that are headed for divorce tend to not respond to the other’s bids more than half of the time.

Why is intimacy important? McAdams and Bryant (1987) suggest that couples that are able to have greater intimacy are happier and can experience a state of relationship bliss.

References

Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (2001). The relationship cure: A five-step guide to strengthening your marriage, family, and friendships. Harmony.

McAdams, D. P., & Bryant, F. B. (1987). Intimacy motivation and subjective mental health in a nationwide sample. Journal of personality, 55(3), 395-413.

Kostić, A., Pejičić, M., & Chadee, D. (2022). Negative Emotions, Facial Clues, and Close Relationships: Facing the End?. In Nonverbal Communication in Close Relationships (pp. 215-249). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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