Have you ever gotten so familiar with someone that you can read your partner’s mood in a split-second? Turns out, there’s actual science behind that.

According to the latest research, it only takes about 2/100 of a second for us to register facial expressions and judge them. So, that means it takes less than half a second for us to understand if a person is angry, mad, happy, etc. That’s pretty fast, by anyone’s standards.

What’s more is that we then take that information (gathered in less than half a second) and decide how we should react. So, in reality, we are recognizing a facial expression, understanding what it means, and deciding how to react in less than a second.

This comes into play particularly with couples and relationship conflict. If we are in a high-conflict relationship, we may actually register our partner’s “mad” expression when it isn’t even there. In essence, we are so sensitized to conflict that we can even believe we see “mad” when it’s not even happening. How can our partner win?

So, as a therapist in Honolulu, here’s what I encourage couples to do: Take a second. Instead of reacting to that “face” in less than half a second, take a whole 30 seconds to really judge what’s happening – then react. You may be surprised at how often we’re wrong about that initial “reading.”

In fact, taking a second is a pretty good idea altogether. Just the other day, I picked up my dog’s poop in a neighbor’s yard, but found myself being yelled at for unwittingly leaving a piece behind. I was already 100 yards up the street, so I decided to grab it on my way back after circling the neighborhood. At first, I thought at being rude right back, “Hey, get a life!”. But, by the time I had circled around, I realized I would be kind and apologetic… a much better approach.

So too in our relationships–just take a second and fight the instinct to judge our partners right away. You may be surprised by what happens after you take a moment to process that “look.”


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