The current president and first lady unfortunately don't get much privacy when it comes to their relationship. That their dynamic is under constant scrutiny hasn't been helped any by the countless awkward moments they've shared since Donald Trump became president. According to an expert, Donald and Melania Trump's body language has changed a lot over the years.
The couple has had an interesting timeline, to say the least. They met in 1998 at the Kit Kat Club in New York during fashion week and began dating shortly thereafter (though Trump's divorce to his second wife Marla Maples wouldn't be finalized until 1999). The two married in 2005 and had their son Barron the following spring. I spoke with body language expert Traci Brown about what their outward dynamics reveal about how their relationship has evolved since they first began dating.
I've been doing body language [analysis] the last 20 years, and I've never seen a situation where the president gets his hand swatted.
According to Brown, Melania appears to be happier earlier in their relationship, but it's not clear what's caused that apparent shift. She says that some mellowing out is standard for any couple that's been married awhile. "It is rare to see couples that are happier later in life," she says. But the Trumps didn't start out as a textbook romantic, red-hot kind of couple people might expect to see with tabloid celeb relationships. So, it could be that people simply perceive their normal mellowing-out phase for what it is: less outwardly affectionate. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's cause for alarm.
Take a look at the couple from the early years of their relationship up to 2015, when Donald announced he'd run for president.
"You can see real happiness there," Brown says of the above photo. "See how bright her eyes are? The outside corners are contracted and she's almost got crow's feet." The same is true of the photo of the couple below, and in many of the couple's early-stage appearances.
But Melania's vibe definitely seems to have shifted over the years, even leading up to Trump's run for office, and she hasn't always been the same picture of joyousness. Check out this photo below of the couple at the Make-A-Wish Metro New York gala in 2013.
"See how she's not only leaning away from him, but her eyes aren't smiling?" Brown says of the photo. "Her lips are ... more just open than an actual smile. That's the difference."
The expert also adds that, given that Melania is Eastern European, culturally speaking, she's more likely to be conservative with her smiling. She "has a hard time showing joy on a day-to-day basis; it's not her gig," Brown says.
But one year into the presidency, the bright-eyed Melania seems to be on hiatus. In photos taken of the first lady more recently, Brown notes, it appears that she isn't flashing those pearly whites quite so often, or with as much genuine emotion.
"We just can't see any true smiles from her," Brown says of these photos from 2018. "Look at her eyes! She's there in body but not spirit."
This is a notable shift from what it was before, according to Brown. Cultural customs or not, she says of Melania's smiling: "We see her giving it her best shot earlier in their relationship much more than what we see now."
Melania isn't exactly displaying a jovial countenance on the regular.
It's not just the smiling that suggests a seismic change in the first couple's relationship. Instances like the Hand Swat Incident of 2017 and its sequel, Hand Swat 2 (followed by a couple of other missed connections this year, including at the state dinner last week) are indicative of a disconnect, Brown claims. This alone is unique, according to Brown, who says, "I've been doing body language [analysis] the last 20 years, and I've never seen a situation where the president gets his hand swatted."
What Donald and Melania want aren't necessarily aligned, at least in these public displays, according to Brown. "He wants to have a connection when he wants to have a connection, and she is pretty clearly showing she's tired of it," Brown says. "If you're a real team, that kind of thing doesn’t really happen. There's something going on behind the scenes that she would not want to do that."
One of the most telling things, Brown says, was a specific moment on Inauguration Day when the Trumps went to greet the Obamas. Rather than make the journey from the car to their predecessors together, Mr. Trump left his wife in the SUV while he made his way up the White House steps. "[Donald and Melania] embarked on a new chapter of life together," Brown says, "and he's like, 'Nope, I'm in charge, everybody else can walk behind me, and I'm not going to pay attention to you.'"
"Let's just say this: It's really different from Michelle and Barack," Brown says of the Trumps. "The [Obamas] present a more loving, unified relationship... they presented themselves as much more of a team. They seemed to show genuine affection for each other much more often." Whereas the Obamas shared a "private moment between them" during their dance at the Inaugural Ball in 2009, the Trumps during their inaugural dance were more focused on the audience and weren't connecting with each other in the same way.
The fact that Donald has been divorced twice, Brown adds, isn't assuring. "We know, for sure, he's not good at [marriage]," she says. "We may be seeing why his two other marriages crumbled, right here in front of us."
Brown doesn't necessarily think divorce will happen while the Trumps are in the White House, but concedes that the presidency isn't helping. "[It's] a stresser on the whole family, on the marriage," Brown says, "and if you're not as tight as you could be going in, it's going to have a toll when you get in there."
Melania's body language suggests she's not thrilled, Brown explains, but that doesn't tell us what's causing it. "We see her happier in the past," she adds, that much is for sure. "We don't know know why, but we know what's going on."