The objective of this article is to identify the communication skills needed in marriage.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: In any relationship of any importance, let alone a partnership like marriage, the negotiation of the realtionship is critical. In order to have successful negotiations, partners need to be able to explain their experience of being who they are and understand the experience of their partner. This requires a low emotional level and the willingness to both explain and to listen before looking for solutions in which, hopefully, everyone can get something. This article explains this process.
Communication is basic to understanding. The communication says, “I know that my attitudes aren’t the same as yours but I will try to understand how you feel about this.”
This kind of communication involves listening not only to the words of the other person but also to their “meaning” . It means considering the intent behind why people say and do things.
One of my basic beliefs (and it is not original) is that behavior is purposeful. It always solves a purpose for someone. It is important to understand what people are trying to accomplish by understanding what is behind what they do and say.
Often in marriages (and other places), people say things that they don’t mean. “It’s been a long day. What would you like to eat?” may be a wife’s hint that she would like to go out to eat.
My framework with couples is to encourage everyone to say what they mean and not ask partners to mind read. This is dangerous. It is easier to deal with a direct request than to have to read between the lines. On the other hand, some romantics don’t feel “loved” if they think that they have to ask for something. My belief is that the “love” is shown when the request is met–and not all requests can be met.
So, the first aspect of good marital communication is the listening to what the partner intended. Many people don’t do this very well because they are more focused on what they are going to say next. Another aspect of good communication, is the skill of talking.
Genuine communication not only involves the desire to accept feelings, it also involves the desire and the ability to project feelings. Some people talk too much and some don’t talk enough. Some talk quite well when courting but they seem to lose interest after marriage.
Some people use talking to release their own feelings at the expense of another. Far from understanding, this usually kills it. To enlarge understanding, talking about your own feelings has to be guided by the ability to anticipate your partner’s reaction. This is generally thought abut as “sensitivity”.
Sensitivity involves an ability to prejudge how the feeling you wish to express will affect the other person. Partners must learn to anticipate each other’s “tender spots” which result from their conditioned attitudes and expectations.
One of the biggest areas where I find difficulties with my clients is in the area of criticism. many people were raised by parents who believed that child raising meant “perfecting” the child. This means that they were raised with a great deal of criticism and can her criticism in everything. A person married to someone with this background, must learn to be sensitive to what may sound like criticism and phrase things differently or not at all. Imagine if both partners have been raised in similar situations of criticism. Conversation would be very difficult.
It is possible,, however, to remain with someone for a life time and speak only in the affirmative. This is done both with praise and by telling your partner what you would LIKE rather than what you do not like. Children function better in such an environment as well and don’t grow up to be “criticism deaf”.
After things have been explained and heard, the negotiating starts. This is done by establishing what each partner is trying to accomplish and then looking at what might be tried that would touch on everyone’s needs. “I would like to go to France”–may become–“Oh, it is a vacation that you want–we really can’t afford France this year, what would satisfy your need to get away and say within our budget?” Suggested here, is the “I am willing to go” and “we must stay within the budget”. The negotiations continue until some goal is reached–this may take some time. The conversation stays problem-focused and does not become personal.