We asked behaviour and relationship experts what they think is behind the publicly cold distance
Cast your minds back to before Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. To slightly better times. To, specifically, the warmth and apparently genuine love of Barack and Michelle Obama. The lovestruck glances, tender touches, the actual real respect. Barack loved Michelle, didn’t he? He really did. But that’s over, now, and we’re left with Donald and Melania, a pair of human beings who, despite being married, appear to absolutely despise one another.
I mean, they might not. But since their inauguration ceremony, when Melania’s face fell the second her husband wasn’t looking anymore, the internet has been in a flurry with speculation that she has been trapped by Trump, sparking the hashtag #freemelania. That wasn’t helped when she was seen apparently recoiling from his clutches during their inauguration dance, and the rumours haven’t abated in the last four months. In fact, over the space of two days, Melania has been spotted swatting Donald’s hand away during visits to Rome and Tel Aviv.
But why? Was she really just brushing her hair out of her face as some believe? Is she just super professional? Are we reading too much into it? Nobody really knows the answer except Mr and Mrs Trump, and they’re unlikely to let us in on the inner workings of their relationship anytime soon, so we consulted with some body language and relationship experts to find out what they thought.
I asked Richard Newman, director of UK Body Talk and body language expert, what we can learn from the way Melania recoils from Donnie’s touch. He said, “the body language of leaders and the people around them often reveal fascinating insights, as a way to discover the true relationship. Melania Trump has repeatedly shown through her body language that she feels cold and distant towards the President. Their inauguration ball dance was very stilted. Although Trump is not known for his dancing skills, their dance pales in comparison to the Obamas, with their easy warmth, smiles and passion”.
However, keen to avoid baseless speculation based on one or two instances, Newman added: “It is important to remember that any one of these moments cannot be seen to tell a full story. It is only when you put a series of events and moments together that you begin to gain a fuller picture”. On the importance of body language in our leaders, Newman said, “the smallest shifts in body language can have a massive effect on how a leader is perceived. A study created by our team at Body Talk was published in the Journal of Psychology last year, showing that a small change in your posture and gestures can create a shift in 44 per cent of how good a leader you are perceived to be”.
Newman’s comments suggest that the internet maybe isn’t that far off in its reading of Donald and Melania’s awkward body language. To find out why Melania could be batting him away, I spoke to Kate Taylor of Up Coaching, a body language and empowerment coach. She told me, “Melania is very much in duty mode at these state events. At this time her job as FLOTUS is a her profession, and she’s treating it as such. When she’s at public engagements her body language is saying ‘Take me seriously, I am here to do a job.’ And of course, when you’re at work it would be weird for your ‘boss’ to take your hand and lead you, wouldn’t it Theresa May?” As we might expect, it appears that all of these awkward physical interactions stem from one man who is wont to cross boundaries with women – Donald Trump.
“Melania is not at all comfortable in her role here as FLOTUS, and in her ‘role’ as Donald Trump’s wife”
The Obamas appeared to radiate love in public because, apparently, it was something that they felt privately. With the Trumps it’s not simply awkwardness at being in the public eye (as he is very much used to it) so much as it could just be legitimate unhappiness between them. Kate told me, “Melania is not at all comfortable in her role here as FLOTUS, and in her ‘role’ as Donald Trump’s wife. Whether they actually communicate effectively behind closed doors is unlikely. Certainly their public display of body language shows two people who are totally out of rapport with each other in every sense”.
Lydia, a dating expert at Mutual Attraction, appeared to agree. She said “all marriages are hard work, you’re constantly working on your relationship and sometimes you get annoyed with each other. So for them to have something they’re hopefully working on is natural. They’re in the public eye which really does put pressure on them and her duty to him as the President. She’s been discrete in brushing Trump off, as much as you can with the world watching. She’s a strong woman and clearly isn’t going to put on a show for us and pretend it’s all happy families. It feels like she’s taking a stand which makes her point clear without the dramatics of making if very obvious”.
However, not all of the experts agree that Melania’s perceived rejections are indications of some deeper resentment. James Preece, the self-proclaimed dating guru, said: “People are only seeing what they want to see - rejection. That’s because most people are expecting to see her reject him so assume that’s the case. In reality, you can see her hair falls over her eyes in the clip. She only moves her hand away from his in order to clear her view. There is no rejection as their hands don’t even touch”.
Dr. Lillian Glass, body language expert, agreed. “Basically her body language indicates she really doesn’t want to be First Lady and is a very reluctant one,” she says. The first alleged rejection can be explained by her not wanting to hold hands in Israel as to not offend any orthodox Jews, so that was understandable. The second swat may have been coincidental as the wind blew her hair across her face right as Trump reached out his hand. These two are the most media savvy people ever and would never intentionally do anything like this. They are a solid couple and both understand one another and balance one another out. Their differences complement one another and Melania is there for the long haul”.
Regardless of whether or not our assumptions regarding Melania’s perceived repeated rejections of Trump are legitimate and regardless of whether or not it even matters, there are a few things to bear in mind. Considering Trump’s track record of alleged domestic abuse against his ex-wife Ivana Trump, and everything that we know about his treatment and perception of women, there is every chance that Melania has very legitimate reasons for her rejection of her husband’s advances. That’s kind of where it stops being funny. For all of her complicity in his misdeeds and for all of her own, she is still a woman living with one of the world’s most powerful misogynists. If she is indeed actively recoiling, I think we can all understand her reluctance to be in his grubby grip any more than she needs to be.