Despite having been married for almost 8 years now and 7 kids later, my wife and I still give each other 'looks' that can be deceiving or misconstrued. I was on the phone with my cousin awhile back - having found a rare quiet space in one room of the house. I was enjoying catching up with this cousin; we hadn't talked in years and the connecting long overdue. In the middle of the conversation, the door to the room opened and my wife looked in, gave me 'the look,' and I was flooded with confusion and frustration. "Doesn't she know that this is an important conversation? How dare she give me that look! It was clearly the evil eye to get me off the phone."
So I ended the conversation early and here's what I wanted to do. Storm out of the bedroom, approach her abruptly, interrupting whatever she was doing, and talk at her: "Why did you make me get off the phone with my cousin!" I confess that I have done things like this in the past, but this time was different, fortunately.
After hanging up the phone, I gathered myself (a little mindfulness practice), walked towards her and asked why she gave me the look. She shared that she didn't even know that she gave me 'a look!' She then took a moment and stated that the kids were frustrating her, it was lunch time and she needed help, thus 'the look.' Now that I knew the reason, we could communicate and problem solve. I apologized, she apologized and we agreed that phone conversations during meals doesn't work when there is an infant and 6 other mouths to feed!
Dr. Sharon Hart coins this interaction 'clarification communication' (Morris & Hart, 2003). "If couples are willing to take a few first steps towards open and honest clarification, the restoration of a lost emotional connection becomes easier. In short: find out what's wrong. Don't be afraid to ask." We communicate non-verbally in a powerful way: tone of voice, posture, hand gestures, looks, etc. "Get more information about why your spouse is mad or withdrawn." Then you can soften, exchange perspectives and engage empathy. This opens the door to conflict resolution and collaborating to find constructive ways to do things differently. Most of the time, we don't know the true intention of non-verbals and they need to be brought to the light. To shift from looking for 'mal-intent' to being more curious about 'a look' will create more openness, trust and love in your relationship.
So the next time you get 'the look,' just ask...
Michael Ciaccio MS, LPC, SATP