Facial expressions speak volumes. Eighty percent of communication is nonverbal; humans lived for thousands of years without uttering a single word. Most of us know how to read people’s expressions, but we don’t really work to hone the skill. We understand that, say, someone is angry when their brow is furrowed. Sometimes, they show if there’s still respect in a relationship. But we don’t often recognize that someone might need time to themselves if they’re touching their nose a lot. And that’s a shame. Faces display an immense amount of information and all of us would have better relationships with friends, family, and co-workers if we focused a bit more on what they were saying. We’d have far better marriages too.
Eric Standop understands this. A master face reader, Standop is an expert in a wide-array of expression-reading practices and currently runs the Face Reading Academy where he consults with a variety of clientele, from businesses to married couples, on the fine art of understanding facial expressions. In his new book, Read the Face: Face Reading for Success in Your Career, Relationships, and Health, Standop lays out the science of face reading and offers advice on understanding the micro-expressions that hint at much larger emotions.
Fatherly spoke to Standop about face reading, what expressions married couples should take to heart, and what couples can do to strengthen their relationship. (Hint: there’s a lot of eye contact involved.)
The average person doesn’t really devote a lot of time to really understanding expressions. What’s the importance of face reading?
Eighty percent of our communication is nonverbal. It’s our first language. When you imagine that the homo-sapiens started 300,000 years ago and language, more or less, began 30,000 years ago, we have a very long time span of 270,000 years without language on this planet. The only way we communicated was the face. This is still part of our DNA, our human skills. Everyone is a face reader. And everyone uses that skill.
And it is a skill. The art of face reading seems very complicated.
I like that you say it’s an art. It has been art — but more and more, it becomes a science. Face reading is, more or less, getting to know someone with the help of their face. That means that you know this person’s feelings, emotions, thoughts.
Your brain is connected by the facial nerves. Anything that goes on inside you is reflected and revealed, by the face. It’s really hard to fake that. It’s easier to fake body language. But to really fake a face for longer than a few minutes? That’s really hard. Only the best actresses can do that.
It says a lot about you. It says a lot about your emotional state, but also about your personality.
You write a lot about how face reading can really help couples. What are some face-reading tips that husbands and wives should know about?
When people grab their noses with their fingers, it’s very often a sign of they want more space. It means, they want to take a deep breath and need more space. So, in a relationship, that might be not a good sign.
The same is true when women bite or men grab on their lower lip. That shows that someone wants to get rid of something. So when you, for example, see a man standing in the street on his own and grabbing his lower lip, you already know he’s thinking about solving a problem or getting rid of something.
To stimulate the upper lip means, I’m stimulated by this conversation, or by the appearance of the other person. Then you know you have good cards — and she might be interested in you. There are 60 to 70 signs we can use related to the face.
Beyond dating — in terms of committed relationships — what are good signs and bad signs when you do relationship readings?
When I look at a couple who has been together for years, I look for behavior that is copied. When they behave in the same way, or she always touches his upper arm, or when she tries to copy the facial expressions of him — that’s what I look for in women. Men usually look at their wives and have this adorable facial expression. That signifies a strong connection.
But the first thing I look for is if there is still respect in the relationship. A lot of couples break up because they don’t trust each other anymore. I usually tell them, “Well, it’s hard when you lose trust, but trust can always be established again.” But when respect is lost? That is almost impossible to re-install. And facial expressions really tell you, quickly, when respect is lost. When someone rolls their eyes or doesn’t focus on their partner anymore, and their eyes more or less stay for a second on the partner’s face and then they already turn their eyes away? That is very often a sign of lost respect.
If someone wants to communicate better with their wife or husband, what are some things they should do?
You don’t need to take a romantic holiday in Hawaii. You need to do basic work together. Basic work is to, for example, sit together three times a week, look into each other’s eyes for five minutes, and say nothing. No noise in the background. No music. Nothing. Just look into each other’s eyes for five minutes. When you do that, you connect on a deeper level, because you release endorphins. Those endorphins re-establish the relationship again. They connect you. It’s also, more or less, a lie detector. If one partner cannot do that anymore, something happened. Because people in love can do that. They even have a hard time stopping doing that.
If you have stress, if you have any turbulence in your relationship, this is the best tool to heal yourself. I would try that first before I would go to a therapist. If that doesn’t work, go to a therapist. But try that first.
That makes sense.
Another good way to get to know your partner better with the help of their face is to try to remember their facial expressions. A few, like a unique feature that only your partner shows. And when you remember that facial expression, go to the mirror and try to do it yourself. By doing this, you stimulate your brain in the same way that your partner has been stimulated. You feel the same things as your partner.
Okay. Say someone’s wife is pissed at them. What are some things they can focus on to help the relationship get back on track?
Invite your partner to communicate by not only showing your emotions but also speaking about them. So not only having tears in your eyes but also saying: “Do you see the tears in my eyes? Do you know why I have them?”
It’s very often that we are not on the same emotional level as our partner. Some are more sensitive — others are more logic-driven. So, our face — everyone’s face — is also an invitation to your world. You have to offer to your partner that world.
That makes a lot of sense.
Three days ago, I just spoke to a CEO in Silicon Valley. He’s really successful in business, but he’s having relationship problems. He thinks it’s because of the high amount of time he’s invested in his work. Well, that’s the logical approach. But the other thing is that he wasn’t telling his wife why he loved his work — he just does the work. And she has to guess why he does it. And she thinks, Oh, well, he loves the work because that’s the only thing he loves. That’s not true. So I told him he has to learn to talk about his feelings, which is maybe the biggest challenge for him in his life.
We usually get these answers like letting grandma and grandpa take care of the kids and the two of you having a romantic weekend at the beach. That’s not a bad idea, but it doesn’t help on a daily basis.
A lot of people think face reading is just done by eyes. Some people are surprised when I tell them that one face reading master I worked with in Shanghai is blind. He listens, smells, and touches. Those things tell us a lot about each other.
From a face-reading point of view, the best place to know and smell someone is their hairline on their forehead. A kiss on the forehead, in ancient times, meant a lot. It meant really a lot. That’s where the brain is, and the center where you smell most like yourself. If I like your smell, I really like you. Every day, give your partner a kiss on the forehead and smell them. That’s reassuring the connection between the two of you.