Managing Your Body Language During Divorce

  • It can be difficult to control one's body language, especially during marital difficulties.
  • Managing one's body language can be beneficial during the divorce process.
  • Body language needs to be managed around children of divorce.

"The body language behind how we communicate with one another has a psychological meaning behind it."

When it comes to emotions, the rich and diverse tapestry of how they are expressed is difficult to fully express. When it comes to how an individual feels, it can have a lot to do with events going on in their personal life. It is entirely dependent on the individual and what way they choose to express it, as well.

Some choose to bottle it inside and not have any external signs that they are struggling with something difficult. Some even hide when something is going well in their lives. The choice of expression is not dependent on whether the reactive events are positive or negative. It is dependent on the individual.

For individuals facing the prospect of divorce, they may choose to put on a brave face. They may choose to smile and laugh. They may choose to talk about something fun or positive, as if everything in their marriage is okay.

They also may look down in the dumps. They may not speak much and avoid eye contact. They may look to avoid social situations and may not express exactly what they are feeling or going through when someone asks them what is wrong.

For body language, it is personalized specifically for the individual.

Understanding body language

However, we, as a society, have spent many years studying the way we express ourselves to one another. The body language behind how we communicate with one another has a psychological meaning behind it, according to Psychology Today. The limbic system of the brain processes our needs, feelings, thoughts, emotions and intentions, reacting to the world in real time without thinking.

Those who have studied body language understand that there are involuntary motions that our bodies do when confronted with specific news. Our lips compress when we receive bad news. The toaster is broken, and we clench our jaw and rub our neck. We are given an extra assignment at work, and the orbit of our eyes narrow as our chin lowers.

These involuntary motions make it difficult to hide our true feelings. During a divorce, individuals looking to hide their true feelings regarding matters may have a more difficult time during the initial confrontation of bad news. After receiving the news and time passes, however, they may be better at concealing it.

Studying body language and divorce

Many look to advise couples going through marital problems to pay attention to their body language. According to The Huffington Post, the misinterpretation of body language can be what sends an unhappy relationship over the edge. Many people find themselves smiling or laughing at inappropriate instances, and others can find themselves interpreting emotions incorrectly by misreading someone’s eyes.

Body language also can be seen as threatening, especially in volatile situations with a spouse, ex-spouse, or a soon-to-be ex-spouse. According to Susan Boyan and Ann Marie Termini’s “The Psychotherapist as Parent Coordinator in High-Conflict Divorce,” even when a person does not shove, push, or prevent another person’s free movement, they still can be considered aggressive motions that have contributed to failed communicative efforts. These can be just as likely to start a fight as verbal language and can sometimes be more provocative.

Similar studies have been done, monitoring positive and negative facial expressions and how they function as a divorce predictor. Research from the University of Washington, published by CBS News, found that strong marriages have at least a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, and when that ratio begins to drop, it causes the risk of divorce to increase. According to the study, the aspect that brought on the divorce was often body language. Negatively-received facial expressions and eye-rolling are some of the more common occurrences that sparked the marital strife that eventually led to divorce.

Body language in court

During divorce proceedings, body language also plays a factor in how one is perceived in court. When appearing in front a judge, it’s important to keep a neutral expression. Furrowing one’s brow or rolling one’s eyes can be misconstrued in court. This includes posture, so make sure to sit up straight and look attentive during the hearing. A judge can take offense to any signs of indignation that can be telegraphed through body language. Consult with your attorney before you enter the court room, if you feel that it will be an issue.

In addition, it’s important to maintain that level of neutrality no matter which side is being focused on. Your reaction will be studied, no matter if it is your behavior being dissected or a soon-to-be ex-spouse’s.

Managing body language and children

Monitoring body language also is important after a divorce, especially if there are children involved. The nonverbal cues can be picked up by children and need to be managed.

According to Debra K. Carter’s “Co-parenting After Divorce: A GPS for Healthy Kids,” many individuals, especially parents, can be unaware of what their body language is saying. The key to managing body language is to pay attention to it. Being aware of how one is standing and what muscles are being used are a couple of visual cues that children pick up on, in navigating situations.

Looking a child or an ex-spouse in the eye when they are speaking without staring or drawing attention to yourself with give you the opportunity to be more aware of how you present yourself to your children and to your co-parent.

Before, during, and after the divorce experience, it can be difficult keeping your emotions in check. You want to say what you want to say when you want to say it, but it can be beneficial to hold back a little and calculate your movement, in managing your body language. It can improve your case and may help in the long run.

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