Their body language alone speaks volumes about the fact that they are feeling each other. That’s why it may be worth clueing in to how you and your partner interact nonverbally—it can shed light on emotions and thoughts you might not have been fully aware of.
Because body language can be tricky to read, we talked to couples therapist Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. She observes couples in her practice all the time, and understands what subtle movements, positions, and expressions can signal about a relationship.
Read on to see how she decodes these common partner gestures, illustrated by celeb couples.
1. Holding hands
“This isn’t something all couples do,” says Orbuch. “Touch symbolizes intimacy, emotional closeness and happiness in a relationship.” So if you and your partner aren’t super close, or they just aren’t pleased with you at the moment, they likely won’t take your hand.
And the way you hold hands speaks volumes, says Orbuch. “Most people have a radius of about a foot and a half around us that is our personal space,” she says, “and if you let someone into that it indicates intimacy.” Holding hands fully clasped, while walking close enough for your shoulders to brush, indicates more happiness and closeness than say, having a big gap between you and your partner and loosely holding hands or holding a few fingers. “When there’s a big gap between people, even if they’re holding hands, I think of them more as friends.”
2. Hand behind the back
“There are two camps of thought on what this means,” says Orbuch, referencing the gesture of one partner placing their hand on the other’s back as they stand up from a chair, or to lead them as they walk. “Some people think this is a power move, where the person placing the hand is showing they have more status and power in the relationship,” she says. “But it can also be a sign of caring, comfort, and emotional closeness. You’re reaching out to that person and symbolically helping them up or into a room in a positive way.”
3. Arm over the shoulder
Whether you’re sitting or walking and your partner places their arm over or around your shoulders, it’s a loving gesture, says Orbuch. “They’re trying to be more physically close to you by drawing you into them.” The desire for less of a physical gap between you and them says your partner feels closer to you emotionally.
4. Holding onto the arm
“I tend to think of this as non-romantic, because you see this in parent-child relationships, where the parent holds out their arm for the child,” says Orbuch.
“But is it done in relationships? Definitely.” She says it signifies a difference in experience, with the escort having more power and leading the partner in a paternalistic way. “For me it doesn’t show closeness or happiness; it’s a more formal or proper way of touching that’s not as intimate.”
5. One partner walking in front of the other
Typically, walking in the same plane indicates there’s respect in the relationship and the couple is a team. So if one partner is forging ahead alone, that's a bad sign, says Orbuch (here are more signs your relationship is toxic). “One person going ahead says they’re in a rush, I wish you were going faster, and you’re not as important to me as whatever I’m moving toward right now.” It’s a sign the couple isn’t acting as a team and may not be very happy.
Still, it’s important to consider the circumstances, says Orbuch. “A lot of times men let women into a room first, or on to a line first, or in front of them if they’re walking somewhere single file, and that’s a sign of respect and caring.” So if you’re always totally on par with your partner, there can be other factors at play. If one person is always walking in front of the other though, they’re not viewing their partner as an equal.
6. Leaning into one another
Laying your head on your partner’s shoulder or chest is a sweet gesture, says Orbuch. By doing this, you’re saying “I feel close to you, I trust you, I want to be close to you.” This motion can also occur in parent-child relationships, so that gives it an element of supportiveness, too. ‘You’re leaning on someone you trust and may want to be comforted by.”
Leaning toward one another in general is a positive sign. It means you’re both interested in each other and want to be physically closer and intimate. “I can always tell when two people are interested in each other at a restaurant or café—when there is a table between them, but they’re leaning in to talk to each other,” says Orbuch. When couples know each other really well, they may even sit on the same side of a table so they can be closer and lean on one another. They’re probably not talking as much as they may have on early dates, so sitting across from each other isn’t necessary, says Orbuch.
7. Arms crossed
When one or both partners are walking, standing, or sitting with their arms crossed, it shows there’s tension between them. “Something happened, they’re feeling upset or angry or frustrated,” says Orbuch. “If its on first date, that could show that someone is really insecure, not sure if the other person likes them—it says something about the couple or the person in general that there are some insecure feelings."
8. Arm around waist
Most couples won’t sit on each other’s lap without being pretty comfortable with each other, so it shows intimacy and that they’ve probably dated a while. The same goes for touching on the leg or knee, it’s a sign of desire and closeness that most new couples won’t exhibit.
10. Kissing on the lips, cheek and forehead
Kissing is obviously intimate, but depending how you and your partner do it, it can mean different things. Kissing on the lips is the most intimate, but there’s a difference between a peck on the lips that you might give a first-date partner or family member, and a longer, deeper kiss on the lips that you’d give a romantic partner. A longer length of time for any kiss means the two are more romantically involved, says Orbuch.
Kisses on the check are usually reserved for friends, and for some, this is a greeting.
As for the forehead kiss, Orbuch says there’s lots of debate about what this means. “Personally, I think it is a sign of more power and status for the kisser. Parents do that to children, older people do it to younger, smaller people,” she says. “Or it means I have something over you—‘I have more wisdom so I kiss you on the forehead.’ It’s a sign of experience or expertise and an imbalance in status, and I don’t think of a romantic relationship involving kisses on the forehead longterm.”
11. Standing side by side
How you and your partner post up at a party can say a lot, too. The more the front of your bodies are turned in toward each other, the more you like each other, says Orbuch. But standing side by side with your front bodies facing out doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t like one another—you could just be talking to other friends. But if you are looking at each other and are leaning toward one another, you’re choosing to tune out others and show interest in each other only.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US