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The Body Language of Couples in Love

Bids, bubbles, and interactional synchrony.

Key points

  • The close physical proximity of lovers to one another allows them to read subtle body language cues that are shared by only them.
  • Tie signs and nonverbal “bids” demonstrate love and that partners want to be connected.
  • Subtle touching, smiling, and tone of voice can all be cues of seduction.

Research on nonverbal communication—body language—has uncovered the typical ways that couples communicate love and affection to each other. Some of the cues are subtle and are only detectable by the couples themselves. Other body language cues are more obvious and can tell observers if the couple is truly in love. Here are some of them:

Facial Cues of Love

Subtle cues of the face and eyes are critical in conveying love and affection. Couples who are in love tend to keep their bodies closer to one another, which allows for greater visual attention to subtle facial cues. In general, lovers display positive emotions in their facial expressions, but, unlike expressions of joy or elation, they are more muted and subtle—the fleeting smile or a momentarily raised eyebrow—that only the lovers can detect.

Other cues, such as gazing into each other’s eyes, are more obvious, and can be seen by the astute observer. In fact, one way to measure the degree of love/infatuation in a couple is the amount of time they engage in mutual eye contact.

Interactional Synchrony

Couples in love tend to move in sync with each other. Nonverbal communication and relationship expert John Gottman has labeled certain body language cues as nonverbal “bids.” A bid can be a look, a touch, a brief gesture—any body language cue that tells the other person, “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.

Flirting Behavior

Although couples can flirt with one another in many ways, some nonverbal cues of flirtation are especially common. For example, changing to a softer tone of voice is a typical flirtation cue and is particularly effective when used by women. Men more often will use physical closeness as a flirtation cue—getting into their partner’s personal space “bubble” as a way of increasing the other person’s arousal. Smiling and subtle laughter are other flirtation cues used by lovers.

Signals of Sexual Seduction

Less systematic research has been conducted on cues of seduction. In one of our own studies, we found that people tend to express seduction through body language and facial cues in different ways. The one consistent finding, however, was that if the cues were rated by observers as “positive,” they were more seductive. Body language cues that were seen as negative— appearing aggressive, for example—were not rated as seductive.

All-Important Touch

Perhaps the most consistent body language channel of love, however, is touch. Couples in love engage in “tie signs”—holding hands, arms around the shoulders, or touching knees when seated. A subtle touch can create sexual arousal or simply provide reassurance, that “I’m here for you.”

Facebook image: mavo/Shutterstock


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

Sternberg, R.J., Kostic, A. (Eds.). (2022). Nonverbal Communication in Close Relationships: What Words Don’t Tell Us. Cham, Palgrave.

Friedman, H. S., & Riggio, R. E. (1999). Individual differences in ability to encode complex affects. Personality and individual differences, 27(1), 181-194.

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