Bad Body Language Habits that Escalate Fights (and what to do instead)

bad body language habits that escalate fights

Now the first thing I would like to put out is that it takes two people to fight. Each person is able to de-escalate conflict to the best of their ability and I believe each person involved has a responsibility to do so. That being said, we all know it’s probably not going to be that easy. Emotions get involved, feelings get hurt, people feel threatened (in their security in the relationship, or worse) and it’s just not as easy as “everybody love everybody!”


Here are a couple of tips you can keep in your back pocket for when you feel a fight a brewin’ and you’d really like to end it before it becomes a “thing.”

First off… Just. Apologize.

I think sometimes we’re so afraid to apologize because we’re afraid of becoming a doormat. We think, “If I apologize for this, he’ll get up on his high horse and parade this around and make me look a fool!” I get it. Apologizing isn’t fun. It’s really humbling because we’re admitting we were wrong. But part of being in a relationship is trusting the other person enough to be vulnerable and transparent. That means admitting to them that you’re not perfect (and not using that as an excuse, but instead being sorry for when you let them down). My hubs, Josh, knows that it can be really hard for me to apologize so when I do, it means a lot to him and he usually just gives me a hug and says “Thank you, I forgive you.” Not so scary. But again, that’s not everyone.

But alas sometimes fights are unavoidable, even necessary. Here are some bodily cues to avoid during the times when a fight must be had:


Pointing = blame shifting. The quickest way to end a fight is to apologize for your own faults, listen, acknowledge, and move on. Pointing does not say, “Ok, I hear you, I understand.” It says, “Your fault, not me, you you you.” And if that’s what you’re saying, your significant other is bound to get a little defensive.

Shaking your head

As much as you are probably so tempted to do this, don’t. This signifies that you have stopped hearing the other person’s thought and are simply waiting for your turn to talk and likely disagree with what they are saying. You are silently telling your significant other that what they are trying to tell you sounds ridiculous in your ears and you are unwilling to listen. This, obviously, will only bring frustration and no where closer to a resolution.

Do this instead:

Try looking them in the eye, nodding your head, and waiting until they have spoken their piece to begin talking, whether you agree with them or not.

Rolling your eyes

Rolling your eyes is a fast way to tell your significant other that you aren’t taking them seriously. You very well may be waiting patiently for them to speak and share their thoughts, but they aren’t going to feel appreciated and heard if they look over to see your eyes turned up in your head. I’ll be honest, Josh has a bad problem of this. He doesn’t even know how much he does it. So I tell him just about every time until past the point of annoying, just so he knows how bad his problem is. We usually end of laughing about it later. But in the moment, it’s pretty annoying. Try to be aware of this in yourself as it can be a pretty natural habit if you are listening to someone and disagree with what you’re hearing.

Crossing your arms

This is textbook. Crossing your arms signifies a closed and/or defensive nature. Your significant other, whether they realize it or not, will feel cut off from you and whether YOU know it or not, you are subconsciously closing down the lines of communication.

Do this instead:

Having your arms to your sides or folded on your lap or on the table will subconsciously tell your partner that you are open and listening. Open communication is the fastest way to end a fight so tell your significant other that you’re listening without having to actually tell them.

Looking away

Looking away can say a lot of things. It can 1. tell your partner that you are so disappointed with them that you can’t even look at them, or 2. tell them that you are ashamed of yourself for whatever reason, or 3. simply say that you are just “done” right now. Done with the argument or done with them, whether temporarily or permanently. Nevertheless, looking away is only going to make your significant other feel insecure in the relationship.

Do this instead:

Carol Kinsey Goman, who wrote a piece about eye contact in Forbes, says this:

“Just the right” amount of eye contact – the amount that produces a feeling of mutual likability and trustworthiness – will vary with situations, settings, personality types, gender and cultural differences. As a general rule, though, direct eye contact ranging from 30% to 60% of the time during a conversation – more when you are listening, less when you are speaking – should make for a comfortable productive atmosphere.”


Surprised by this one? Probably because you’re thinking of the wrong kind of smiling. This type of smile doesn’t say, “I’m happy and I’m happy to listen.” It’s the type that says, “I can’t wait to tell you how dumb I think this is.” It’s probably accompanied by some raised eyebrows and some head shaking as well. This is the type of smile that will only work to elevate the listener in a condescending fashion and undermine the one talking. It’s your job, as the listener, to avoid this kind of smile at all costs. In fact, smiling at all is probably safest if saved for later. Instead, try to stick to the eye contact thing and you should be safe.

What body language do you notice you or your significant other use during fights? Is it helpful? Annoying? Or just kinda mean? Let me know in the comments below!

LTSW Signature


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    Pamela Kirksey

    You are spot on! How about the shifting of your eyes back and forth? Distrust? Insecurity? If you focus on the right eye of the person talking ( arguing) with someone, it has almost a hypnotic affect. It’s the “super” way of communication.