Struggling with communication ranks in the top of every relationship survey as the thing couple most need to improve.
Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life.
Without it…it dies. – Tony Gaskins
In the ancient story of the Tower of Babel, when God wanted to separate people because of their growing pride, he didn’t pick them up physically and scatter them. He simply confused their language so that they no longer could communicate and they subsequently scattered. Confusion and the inability to communicate will likewise divide a couple so that they will continue to grow apart until they become strangers to one another…until their relationship dies.
Before you read further, you might take a moment and watch this humorous clip of Sheldon and Amy from The Big Bang Theory television show. Pay attention to how each of them communicates and the reactions that they each have.
Although the scene is funny, it depicts fairly accurately the communication process in far too many relationships. You can feel the frustration rising in Amy as she asks over and over for the butter. You can see how excited Sheldon gets when Amy begins to empathize with him as a way to get what she wants – the butter, and more.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
In a couple relationship, one of the greatest obstacles to communication is simply the different ways that men’s and women’s brains work. They are not the same! The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine (2006) estimates that women speak about 20,000 words per day compared to 7,000 for men. A Family Life survey identified that on average men have 6,000 to 12,000 words to use per day. Women have 12,000 to 25,000 words to use per day. This disparity in number of words alone can cause conflict. One partner may feel overwhelmed and withdraw or shut down. The other partner then feels hurt, neglected, not heard, etc.
- Healthy communication should be a DIALOGUE, not a monologue. A daily dialogue is extremely important to keep the lines of communication open in your marriage. To ensure that you do this, agree that you will spend a minimum of 15 minutes per day talking with one another. To do this, you will need to agree upon the best time to communicate and then each commit to make it happen.
We suggest that you have a “Daily Dyad.” A dyad is when two people sit face to face and look each other in the eye and communicate. Open body position is important as it signals your desire to connect with your spouse.
- Communication involves both verbal and non-verbal components.
- Verbal communication involves spoken words, written words and voice tone.
- What we say matters but how we say it really matters more.
- What we don’t say also matters – This can be passive aggressive behavior. Holding thoughts hostage until a ransom is paid. In other words, “I’m not telling him/her this as a way of punishing them.”
- Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal. Remember this from speech class? Communication is 7% Spoken Words; 38% – Tone of Voice; 55% – Body Language
Are you making eye contact? Are your arms open or folded? How close are you to each other when you are talking? Does your body language say that you are relaxed or tense? What does your facial expression convey? Are you fidgeting, or worse, checking your cell phone?
- “Hearing” and “listening” are two different things. Hearing is passive and requires little mental effort and no personal investment. Listening is active and demands personal investment.
In the book ‘The Facilitator’s and Trainers Toolkit‘ a business book by Artie Mahal, he provides a basic technique that might help improve your listening skills as a couple. It is called the LADDER method. It has been changed slightly to apply to couple communication.
L ook at the speaker-make eye contact
A sk questions when appropriate
D on’t interrupt the speaker
D on’t change the subject
E mpathize-even if you don’t agree
R espond -verbally and nonverbally.
Listening, really listening, to each other makes each of you feel of value and worth. It’s one of the best gifts that you can give your mate and it doesn’t cost anything except a little of your time.
Five Levels of Communication
There are five levels of communication according to Gary Smalley in his book, Secrets to Lasting Love,
- Clichés /Surface – Typical, routine, oft repeated comments, questions and answers given out of habit and with no real forethought or genuine intent. “How are you?” “Fine.” “How was the weekend?” “Great, and yours?”
- Facts – Information/statistics about the weather, the office, friends, the news, personal activities, etc. Requires no in depth thinking or feeling.
- Opinions – Includes concerns, expectations, and personal goals, dreams and desires. Due to differences of opinion that naturally arise between two people, especially between men and women, this is typically the level at which we engage in conflict. Many couples do not make it past this level.
- Feelings – Sharing deep emotions. Sharing deep emotions can be frightening or confusing to some. For those who grew up in an environment where feelings were not expressed may have a harder time initially identifying and sharing them. But don’t be concerned, it is a skill that can be learned with a little effort.
- Needs – The deepest, intimate level of communication where you feel completely safe to be transparent and reveal your deepest needs to each other. In most cases, couples desire to meet each other’s needs. However, sadly, very few couples reach this level of communication. We want our spouse to just “know” what we need. It is extremely unfair to expect our spouse meet our needs if we are unwilling or unable to express them
As you read through the five levels of communication, which seemed to describe the most common level of communication between you and your mate? Sadly, many couples don’t make it past the level of “Opinions”. It is too difficult, or too scary, to open up and share feelings or to be vulnerable enough to share what you need with your partner.
Enemies of Communication
- Distractions – These can be the computer, TV, text messages, children or pets, work related interruptions. It is important that you make eye contact to help overcome distractions. In other words, learn to listen with your eyes. It shows great respect to your spouse when you look at them when they are talking.
- Habit – We can develop habits in communication that can lead to surface conversations and sharing facts. “How did you sleep last night?” “Just fine, you?” “Well, my back was hurting, so I couldn’t get comfortable” “Did you feed the dogs? “Yeah, I did. Will you pick up the dry-cleaning on your way home from work?” “Sure, no problem, if you’ll start dinner.” “Okay. See you tonight.” “Bye.”
- Timing – There’s a right and wrong time for conversation. Be aware of your environment. Don’t have private conversations in public. Don’t open unresolved conflicts when you’re celebrating something. Be mindful of fatigue …or the big game! Try to address one topic at a time…don’t overwhelm your listener! HALT: Hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Halt the conversation if these emotions are present. You will both be glad that you did.
- Impatience – “I already know what he/she is going to say, so let’s just get to the end of this conversation. Why do I have to go through the entire process?”
- Defensiveness – Instead of hearing what your spouse is saying, and trying to hear what they are really trying to communicate, you’re thinking of what you’re going to say in response to what they’re saying. It’s okay to pause after they’re done with their statement to gather your thoughts before speaking…or even to schedule a time to respond later if there’s just too much to process at that moment. When your spouse is speaking, make it all about them!
To Think About:
- On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), rate your communication in the areas of frequency and intimacy.
- At which of the 5 levels of communication are most of your conversations with your spouse?
- How confident are you in your skills in resolving the conflicts that arise after expressing differing opinions?
- Are you comfortable sharing your emotions and needs with your spouse or fiancé?
- What can you do to foster a safe environment for sharing emotions and needs?
- What one aspect of your communication as a couple would you like to change? Why?
- Which of the enemies to communication do you struggle with the most?
If you struggle with communication, don’t think that it will get better on its own. You must be intentional and take action to improve your communication with your mate. LoveRecon seminars and ReconCoaching are two good options to explore in seeking marriage help. Let us know if we can help!