One of the modern marriage and therapy tropes is that no one can be a mind-reader, and people must take responsibility to express and communicate their needs.  While this is common sense, it can be taken as diminishing the value of intuitive understanding of one’s spouse.  I emphatically state to the contrary! Understanding of non-verbal cues and bids is absolutely an important relationship asset.

Our Gemara on Amud Beis speaks of the idea that a married woman understands her husbands intimations and gestures [keritzotav] רמיזותיו וקריצותיו . This idea is also mentioned in a different context by Rashi in Kesuvos (27b, “Lo Tinase”.)  What does the research say about marriage and recognition of non-verbal gestures?

Renowned researcher and therapist John Gottman (along with Albert Porterfeld, November 1981 JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY) via a study of 42 couples discovered two factors about non-verbal communication within marriage:

  • Not so surprisingly, there was a positive correlation between marital satisfaction and nonverbal competence.
  • This was only true regarding husbands reading their wives' nonverbal cues, however the reverse was not operative.  Male marital satisfaction was not dependent on the men feeling that their wives understood their non-verbal cues.

While at first glance this may seem surprising, it is less so when you think about it.  I submit that men are less likely to have difficulty with assertiveness, thus their need for their wives to interpret non-verbal communication is not vital.  From a Jewish philosophical perspective, there are matters where a woman is expected to behave and express herself in a demurely, thus the woman is dependent on her husband picking up on her hints (see for example, Eiruvin 100b and Shuklhan Arukh 240:1).

What are the practical applications of this idea?  Couples therapists should not feel that they are being one-sided if they focus on the man’s ability to interpret and understand emotional bids and cues.  It simply may be more important in the marriage for the man to have this competency than the woman - aside from the fact that many women are competent in this area anyhow.  Additionally, in situations or personalities where a man is not naturally assertive, then the woman’s ability to intuit his needs may be equally important.  

 

Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)