Body language can reveal many truths about relationships – but only if you know how to read it. In Celebrity Couples: Decoded, an expert interprets A-listers' interactions to shed light on their IRL dynamic.
After spending seven years coupled up, including two-and-a-half years as husband and wife, Jennifer Aniston, 49, and Justin Theroux, 46, announced their separation on Thursday. In a joint statement, they said "the decision was made mutually and lovingly at the end of last year."
The couple began dating in 2008, got engaged in August 2012, and married in August 2015. Although news of their breakup shocked some fans, it didn't exactly surprise Blanca Cobb, North Carolina-based body-language expert. Here's how she interprets the photos leading up to the couple's breakup:
~EARLY DATING DAYS~
1. Jen and Justin Hold Hands
Even from the early days, Cobb senses a bit of dissonance in their body language. "When you have your fingers interlaced, it’s a pretty intimate way to say you're into each other, which makes sense at the beginning of a relationship," Cobb says. However, she notes that Justin walks ahead of Jennifer, although her hand is in front of his in their hand-hold. Typically, the leader takes that hand position. The disconnect between this couple's positioning suggests they may be trying to suss out their roles – which makes sense since the relationship is still fresh.
2. Jen and Justin Reach Out to Each Other
Months after Jen and Justin agreed to marry each other, their body language suggests a strong bond: "When you feel close to someone, and have a connection, it's natural to reach out and touch them," Cobb says, adding that touching the upper arm, as Jen does here, is more a intimate place than the lower arm since it's closer to the center of the body. And as for Justin's touch? "It's flirtatious, a way of saying, 'I'm here for you, I'm listening.'"
The way both Jen and Justin face each other is also telling, according to Cobb. "Your feet point in the direction where you want to go," she says. Here, that direction is clearly toward each other.
3. Jen Holds Justin's Hand Behind Her Back
With their wedding date approaching, it's no wonder Jen adjusts her body to be closer to her fiancÃ©: She slips her right arm, which is between her body and Justin's, behind her back, clasping Justin's hand. "It looks like she's getting her hand out of the way to get closer to him," Cobb says. Holding hands with palms pressed together also helps, since it permits more skin-to-skin contact, she adds. But what really gives this couple away here is their matching facial expressions. "They both have polite smiles, which means they're in sync in this moment."
4. Jen Covers Justin's Hand
The winter before this couple's wedding, they appear closer than ever: Justin wraps his hand around Jen's waist to bring her closer, Cobb notes, while Jen grasps the tips of Justin's fingers to reinforce his touch and maintain their skin-to-skin connection. Cobb also notes the couple's strong eye contact, which sends the message, "you're important to me." No wonder they're walking down the aisle soon!
5. Jen Leans In
When photographed the fall after their August wedding, Jen's behavior suggests she's in it 'til the end, although Justin's demeanor hints at some reservations. "This is a sweet moment," Cobb says of the way Jen rests her head against Justin, leaning into his shoulder. "It's a sign of comfort, togetherness, and stability."
Meanwhile, Justin's stoic facial expression and hand in pocket give Cobb pause. "Leaving your thumb sticking out of your pocket is a sign of confidence, but you don't usually see a full hand in a pocket unless something is not quite right," she says, "but who knows what he was thinking?"
6. Jen and Justin Clasp Hands
Less than a year into their marriage, the newlyweds' connection is easy to see. The unique way they hold hands behind Jen's back suggests they've fallen into stride as a couple: "When you're with someone, and you're devoted, you develop familiar ways to connect through touch," Cobb says.
7. Jen and Justin Walk Holding Hands
Although Jen and Justin have yet to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and are still, theoretically riding out their honeymoon phase, it's hard to miss their serious expressions. Interestingly, their body language – palms pressed together with forearms touching, which suggests a strong connection – isn't reflected in their faces. "Their facial expressions and body language don't match," Cobb says, hinting that something may be amiss in their relationship.
~LAST YEAR OF MARRIAGE~
8. Jen Rests Her Hands on Justin's Shoulder
That same disconnect continues at the Oscars. "When you pose with someone you love, you expect to see smiles," Cobb says, noting the way neither Jen or Justin even try to fake it. "Although there's physical touch, and they're standing close together, his right foot is angled out, which suggests he might not want to be there. There's a little disconnect."
9. Jen and Justin Walk With Arms Around Each Other
Perhaps riding a birthday high after Jennifer celebrated her 48th in Mexico with Courteney Cox and her fiancÃ©e Johnny McDaid, Cobb says the couple is in sync here: They both lead with their left feet, and Jen puts her hand on Justin's shoulder, a sign of comfort and connection. Justin also wraps his hand around Jen's left side. "There's a difference between cupping someone's body versus lying your hand flat on someone's back. When you cup, you're holding on more, which could mean passion, desire, security, or grounding." All in all, Cobb says Justin looks very into Jen, but acknowledges that photos represent just one moment in time.
10. Jen Leans Into Justin
Here, the couple is still in sync – Cobb notes their similar facial expressions – but some of that electricity is waning again. "You can be compatible, feel close to, and love someone – and you'll see it in body language. But that doesn't mean it's a passionate connection," she explains. Her cynicism stems from the bottom of this photo: Jen is crossing her right foot in front of her left, and away from Justin. Compared to a typical stance with feet about hips-width apart, her base is unstable. Meanwhile, Justin's right foot juts out to the left. "That could be his baseline, but I still get the impression that he doesn't want to be here," she says.
11. Jen and Justin Face Apart
The spring before they break up, Cobb suggests Jen and Justin pull off their award-winning performances as they play Hollywood's happiest couple: "When you know you're being photographed, you project what you want people to see, and as a celebrity you know how to work the cameras," Cobb says. While the couple maintains close contact, "what gives them away in their facial expressions," Cobb says. "They just don't look genuinely happy since all we're seeing is polite smiles."
12. Justin Walks Ahead of Jen
Married just under two years, Jen and Justin maintain their connection by holding hands – but that's not enough to convince Cobb their marriage is going strong. "You tend to want to stay close to things you like," Cobb says, noting the way Justin fully extends his arm to reach Jen's hand here. "That physical distance is crazy."
13. Jen Keeps hand in Justin's Lap
During one of the last appearances this couple makes in public before parting ways, Jen rests the side of her hand on top of Justin's lower thigh instead of placing her palm against him. "This gives off the appearance of staying connected, although she's really just using his leg as an arm rest," Cobb says. Meanwhile, Justin holds Jen's forearm. "You touch something you like and want to be around," she says. Although both their facial expressions are serious, Cobb says the similarity suggests they're on the same page not just physically, but emotionally: "They match, they're clearly in sync – it's just that there's not a lot of enthusiasm on their faces," she says.
The Bottom Line:
"They wouldn't want to touch each other if they didn't care about each other," Cobb says of the photos that proceeded this couple's breakup. She sees truth in the couple's statement, which suggests they still respect each other and remain friends. "I do believe there's a connection between them, I just don't think it's romantic."
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