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Hummel column: With spouses, a lot of interaction is beyond words

My wife Raquel has no trouble handing it right back with mustard on it. Last week, when we were sitting about two feet away from one another, she asked me a yes or no question. I nodded affirmatively. She looked at me and said "What is your answer?" I have always believed a little sarcasm is the spice of life so I said "When I nod my head like this that means yes." Now here it comes back with mustard. "I didn't see you nod your head. I can't believe this happened, but I took my eyes off you for just a moment there."

When she speaks to me like that I get the message. That's easy because we both understand friendly sarcasm. But there is another language that's not so easy to understand but just as important to the relationship. You could call it non-verbal communication or you can call it body language, but you can't take your eye off it for a moment or you may miss the message. The message is beyond words.

For example, when I make a statement and she says nothing, but she steeples her hands (fingers together pointed upward and spread) she is expressing confidence that I am wrong and she is about to demonstrate that she is right. Or when she crosses her arms or crosses her legs she is not receptive in the least to what I have to say. If we are negotiating and she makes a proposal then turns her back and looks away that means she is not interested in a compromise. If she gnashes her teeth she is just plain angry. Then she just stares at me to intimidate me. Finally, when she rubs her hands together she's moving in for the kill.

Pay attention, husbands and boyfriends, you need to know this stuff and I have been around the block more times than you have.

There are other expressions that send clear signals: There is the George W. Bush smirk that says "Gotcha," the Dick Cheney sneer that says "Your opinion means nothing to me," the Condoleezza Rice smile that says "I'm smarter than you," the Hillary Clinton twinkle that says "Do I have to mother you sonny?" and the second grade teacher (which she once was) hands on hips gesture that clearly means "I can't believe what you just said."

Raquel's not always on the attack. When she scratches her head, she's just puzzled. When she runs her fingers through her hair, she's feeling frustration and stress. I don't want to give you the wrong impression. Mostly I get positive signals. She may raise an eyebrow to indicate some surprise, but that is usually followed by some head nodding that doesn't mean she agrees with me, but that she's getting my point. Then when she takes off her glasses and looks at them she is giving my ideas serious consideration. When she leans forward in her chair that means she wants to hear more. Then she gives me warm eye contact that means she is being sincere. Then, as a two move final gesture, she reaches across the table and touches my hand to signify she is nearly in agreement and finally, she folds her hands in her lap meaning she agrees and submits to my thinking. Then, if I'm lucky, I get a hug. All this without saying a single word.

Gentlemen, learn the signals. You can watch an umpire and learn without a word when you're out, when you're out of the game and when you're safe at home. Your wife or girlfriend gives signals that are just as definite if you know how to read them. Pay attention, pay respect and remember -- you're always a winner when you're safe at home.