Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! I understand you would like some advice regarding communication skills. I would be happy to share with you what I learned in my communication class. It is a very good sign that you realize the importance of communication. Poor communication is hazardous to a relationship. On the other hand, good communication will make for a long, happy, successful marriage. “The most pivotal [skill] in marriage is communication. For whatever else marriage is, it is certainly a long conversation,” (Fischer, K., Hart, T. 1995). Marriage is sharing our lives with someone else. You will share a home, children, family, and many other facets of your life. In order to do that you must be able to talk about your feelings and your thoughts about what you expect out of each other and out of life. I hope to provide you with the skills you will need to communicate effectively with each other.
Effective communication involves more that most people realize. We will examine the nature of communication, the purpose of communication, communication style, self-concept and its effect on communication, the elements of communication, and the power of listening. Also, I will provide you with some guidelines for communicating, advice regarding conflict, and suggestions for handling anger. I hope that by the end of this letter you will have learned something new about communication and how it is the absolute cornerstone of a successful marriage. I hope to provide you with the information you need to begin your journey to a long, successful marriage.
Let’s begin with the nature of communication. Communication comes natural to us when we are born. Our first cry is our first communication. As we grow we learn more ways to communicate besides crying. Learning words, how to use the words, facial expressions, and gestures is a natural ability. (Sole, K. 2011). Children who are just learning to talk often get frustrated when they are not being understood. They become angry and will cry and throw tantrums all because they are not being heard. This is an issue that will follow us throughout our life. We learn the words and how to use them but we must also learn how to get our thoughts and feelings heard. There will be times as adults when somebody will not understand what we are trying to convey to them. Just as the child who is throwing a tantrum, we, as adults, feel that same frustration, we just express it differently. In addition to meeting our personal needs, we also use language to imagine the things we want and to reflect and remember past events, and to reflect upon who we are. (Sole, K. 2011).
We must also consider, what is the purpose of communicating? The answer is fairly simple: we communicate in order to meet our personal needs. (Sole, K. 2011). Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, created a hierarchy of needs. This includes a list of five separate needs that all people seek to attain. The first are physiological needs, this is the need for food, water, shelter, and sleep. (Sole, K. 2011). Secondly, we have a need for safety. We all need security, to be free from the threat of physical and emotional harm, and protection from violence. (Sole, K. 2011). Next are our social needs. Affection, friendship, appreciation, a sense of belonging, and giving and receiving love are needs we seek to meet on a daily basis. (Sole, K. 2011). Along with our social needs comes number four on the list, esteem needs. We have a need for self-respect and to have the respect of others. (Sole, K. 2011). Finally, if we are lucky, we will reach the final step of self-actualization. Self-actualization occurs when we feel we have reached our full potential in all aspects of our life.
It is a general sense of well being and satisfaction with your life. In order to meet all these needs, we must have positive relationships with others, particularly with our partners. A strong marriage can fulfill many of these needs so long as you communicate what each of your particular needs are and help each other to meet them. Now, we can look at all the things that affect the way we communicate. We all have different styles of communicating. Many things factor into our communication style. A person’s past relationships, childhood experiences, the environment we live in, and the social situation at the time all contribute to our particular communication styles. We each have a distinct personality and distinct personality traits. Some people have two personalities, a private self and a public self. In that case, that person would also have two different communication styles. Maybe you are shy and skittish when dealing with public situations but strong and assertive in your home life. Clinical psychologist, David Keirsay, wrote that personality has two components: temperament and character. (Sole, K. 2011). Temperament is the way we behave in certain situations. (Sole, K. 2011).
People are said to have easy going temperaments or uptight temperaments. Character is your general behavior and your habits. (Sole, K. 2011). Are you generally lighthearted and make a habit out of being helpful or do you keep to yourself and avoid doing any extra work? Of course you could be somewhere in the middle, there is a wide range of different temperaments and character traits. All of these things affect our perception of different things and situations. Some people only see the negatives about a situation without even looking for the positives and vice versa. Along with perception comes interpreting. Experiences, memories, and expectations all affect the way we interpret certain situations. Interpretation is unique to each individual. You may see a situation one way and your partner may have a completely different take on the same situation. We have to be careful with our expectations when a situation arises. Sometimes we can be so sure of the way something is going to turn out that we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This occurs when we see and hear only what we expected to see and hear. (Sole, K. 2011). This can have an effect on our communication because you may miss something that changes the outcome or the message being conveyed to you. This often creates a misunderstanding which in turn can create a conflict. You should always check with your partner to see if you are on the same page. Another thing that factors into communication style is our sex. Men and women have different styles of communicating. Men tend to be more direct and women often use words or phrases like “it seems”, or “maybe”. (Sole, K. 2011). These phrases and words suggest a lack of commitment to your statement. They give us the opportunity to say “you misunderstood, this is what I meant”. In other words, women will beat around the bush more often than men. We use different styles of communication in different situations of our lives. In general day to day communication we should use dominant, relaxed, and attentive styles of communication. (Fischer, K., Hart, T. 1995) Studies show that the more styles used in marriage the happier the marriage. Effective styles for marital communication are friendly, attentive, precise, expressive and open. (Fischer, K. & Hart, T. 1995) Describe the process by which self-concept is developed and maintained.
Another big factor that contributes to our ability to communicate is the way we feel about ourselves. Our self-concept is an assessment about yourself that you make yourself. (Sole, K. 2011). It is generally accepted that self-concept is a “multidimensional” and “multifaceted” idea. (Dermitzaki, I. and Efklides, A., 2000) Self-concept has different components. There is an academic component, cognitive component, evaluative component, sense of self-efficacy, and the way we feel others see us is another component. (Dermitzaki, I. and Efklides, A., 2000) Our academic concept is largely based on the feedback we get from our instructors and the grades we receive. The cognitive concept is how we feel about our capabilities and how we identify our strengths and weaknesses. Evaluative concept or self-esteem is our sense of worth and belonging. Self-efficacy can be described as the way we judge our abilities and how much we expect from ourselves. (Dermitzaki, I. and Efklides, A., 2000) The development of self-concept begins very early in life. Once we are able to understand language and emotion we are able to start thinking about how we feel about ourselves.
Self-concept is developed through the dialogue we have with our self and also by the communication we have with others. What we say to our self can have an impact on how we feel about our self. Negative self-talk like “I really did a bad job on that presentation” or “They will never hire me, I am too stupid” can create a poor self-concept. We are also very sensitive to what others tell us about ourselves. Positive feedback from others is definitely helpful to the development of a positive self-concept. Though we do tend to maintain our self-concept throughout our lives, it is subject to change from time to time. For example, I did terribly in college the first time I attended. It was right out of high school and I just was not into the college experience. I did not get good grades or positive feedback from instructors. This caused me to have negative self-talk which led to anegative academic concept and I dropped out. Later, I went back to college and worked very hard. I was on the dean’s list 3 semesters in a row and I was consistently receiving positive feedback from my instructors. I now have a very positive academic concept. If you have a negative self-concept then you may be surrounding yourself with negative people. You can change this by finding more positive people to associate with. Recognize how self-concept and defensive and supportive messages and behaviors create positive and negative communication climates.
Communication skills are different for people with a positive self-concept versus a negative one. Self-concept affects our general attitudes about all our daily happenings. Poor self-concept will generally produce a negative attitude and a pessimistic outlook. The opposite is true for those with a positive self-concept. Personal negativity can create a negative climate for communication. We can combat negative thoughts by remembering they are just thoughts. “…you can refuse to dwell on the negative and not allow yourself to think negative thoughts…” (Sole, K. (2011) 9.2, 22) We should all learn how to send supportive messages instead of defensive ones. For example, “I appreciate you working hard and being such a good provider, but I need you to be home more often to help me with the kids,” is an example of a supportive message. A defensive message would go like this “I can’t get anything done around here because you are never home and you do not help out”. Using supportive messages, working on our self-concept, and focusing on the positive will create a positive communication climate. Positive communication climates will likely result in a positive conversation. Develop strategies for active, critical, and empathetic listening
Now let’s discuss the absolute cornerstone of good communication. LISTENING. The power of listening is one we should all practice and possess. It can make or break a relationship. There are different types of listening including active, critical, and empathetic. Active listening had multiple steps: making empathetic comments, asking appropriate questions, and rephrasing what was said in our own words in order to affirm your understanding of the topic. (McNaughton, Hamlin, McCarthy, Head-Reeves, & Schreiner 2007) The purpose of active listening is to get a clear understanding of the topic at hand and to demonstrate to the speaker that you are listening. The goal of empathetic listening is to demonstrate that we are trying to understand our partner’s feelings and that those feelings matter to us. (McNaughton, Hamlin, McCarthy, Head-Reeves, & Schreiner 2007) We can do this by saying things like “I hear that you are saying your boss yelled at you and it made you feel unappreciated and embarrassed. That has happened to me before, too.” In empathetic listening “The listener works to communicate genuine interest, understanding, and acceptance of the speaker’s point of view; the goal is not to agree or disagree but simply to better understand the speaker’s perspective.” (McNaughton, Hamlin, McCarthy, Head-Reeves, & Schreiner (2007) Topics in Early Childhood Education, 27 (4), 223-231)
When we do not listen to what one another is saying conflicts arise. Many conflicts can be traced back to a simple misunderstanding. Many things get in the way of effective listening and we have to work to combat those issues. You may have a couple kids running around screaming and the TV going while your spouse is trying to talk to you. Or sometimes it can be perfectly quiet but you have a lot on your mind and while your partner is talking you find your mind wandering. You can either try focusing on your partner and putting all the other happenings out of your mind or you can ask your partner if it would be alright to talk later. Some people can cancel out distraction and focus on one thing but others simply cannot do that. The important thing is that your partner feels they are being listened to. Not that you are just listening to their words but really hearing the message they are trying to convey. When we don’t listen to our partners it makes them feel as if what they have to say does not matter to you. The person who feels ignored will become frustrated and angry. I was in a situation where my partner would never listen to me. Every day I had to compete with the television and I always lost. The frustration and anger made me an unpleasant person to live with. Eventually I got so tired of it that I just stopped communicating with this person all together. Since taking the communication class, things have gotten much better. We have both learned the power of listening.
Now that you have a better understanding of why we communicate, how we communicate, what factors influence our communication style, and the importance of listening, I would like to provide you with some guidelines for effective communication. First of all, you should remember that communication is not just reserved for when there is a problem or conflict. You should be communicating about the little things on a daily basis. Be polite to each other as you are to strangers and co-workers. You should always be complimenting each other for the simple things, like a nice dinner, a hard day’s work, looking nice, etc. When you are talking about more serious issues be sure to do it in a non-confrontational way. For example, “You need to clean up more and you need to be more attentive to me” is a confrontational statement. Non-confrontational would be more like this, “I am feeling overwhelmed and could use some help with the chores. I am also feeling lonely and I miss you when you work so much”. Being confrontational is just asking for an argument whereas non-confrontational will generally generate a positive result. Recognize how words have the power to create and affect attitudes, behavior, and perception
When communicating with your spouse you should keep in mind that words have power and they can hurt. Some words have two separate ways of being defined. One way words are defined is by their denotation or their dictionary definition. The other way of defining a word is through connotation. “The connation is what the word suggests or implies and gives words an emotional impact.” (Sole, K. (2001) Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication. 4.1, paragraph 14) Connotations can be general and apply to many people in the same way, but there are also times when a word will have a personal connotation based on your specific experiences.
The words we choose are indicative of our attitude. (Sole, K. 2011) Our attitude can have a profound effect on the attitudes of those around us. When we choose words that reflect our poor attitude it can create negative behavior. A bad attitude can cause your partner to completely shut down or to become defensive and angry. Neither of those behaviors will be helpful during a conflict. Word choice can create a certain perception about who you are. If you use a lot of negative language or profuse cursing people will develop a negative perception about who you are and how you handle challenges. Describe strategies for managing interpersonal conflicts
Marriage is full of conflict. It wouldn’t be completely farfetched for me to say that a conflict could arise on a daily basis. Maybe more like a weekly basis, but the point is when two people merge their lives together there is bound to be some issues. When a conflict presents itself it is best to handle that conflict immediately or as soon as possible. Holding in anger will just make it grow and poison your relationship. The only time it is best to wait on handling a conflict is when extreme anger is involved. When we are overly angry we tend to vent, or just blurt out all kinds of emotions and ramble, and venting is not communicating. When we are in a state of extreme anger we also tend to not listen but instead prepare what we are going to say next while the other is talking. Those are some don’ts now let’s get to some do’s. During an argument try to remember the good things about each other and try lightening the mood with a joke or a hug. (Sole, K. 2011).
A sometimes difficult conflict management skill is to remember to be more concerned with the truth of the matter than with winning the argument. (Arellano, C. and Markman, H. 1995) Remember that we all have different communication styles and your partner may not be communicating with you exactly the way you would like them to. (Siegel, R. and Josefowitz 1990) Maybe they are rambling on and not getting to the point, for example. Try to be accepting and tolerant of your partner’s style. An important part of conflict resolution is making sure the message is clear. Do not assume your partner knows what the problem is or how you are feeling. (Arellano, C. and Markman, H. 1995) Make plenty of time to talk things through. Use paraphrasing and feedback to ensure you are both on the same page. Paraphrasing is putting into your own words what your partner has just said to you. Feedback is conveying how your partner’s statement made you feel. These are both excellent tools in combating misunderstands and miscommunications.
In summation, please remember how important communication skills are to your marriage. Remember that we are communicating with each other in order to meet our personal needs. As a couple you are largely responsible for helping each other attain all of the needs you have in life. Don’t forget that your communication styles may differ. You each come from two different places and have had different experiences that have shaped your self-concept and in turn your style of communicating. Conflicts are natural and bound to arise on a regular basis so handle them effectively and listen to each other. Remember that the intensity of anger is a reflection on how much that person means to you. (Arellano, C. and Markman, H. 1995) Choose your words carefully and don’t become overly emotional and behave like a “drama queen”. You do not want to fuel the fire of an argument; you want to put it out. I hope that you enjoy and long and successful marriage. Communication is the key and the key to communication is listening. Talk to each other and hear each other every day. If you do these things I’m sure you will have a beautiful love story to tell your great-grandchildren.
Sole, K. (2011) Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication. San Diego, CA Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from http://content.ashford.edu/books/AUCOM200.11.1 McNaughton, D., Hamlin, D., McCarthy, J., Darlene Head-Reeves, & Schreiner, M. (2007). Learning to listen: Teaching an active listening strategy to preservice education professionals. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 27(4), 223-231. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/233600535?accountid=32521 Siegel, Rachel Josefowitz (1990). Love and work after 60: An Integration of Personal and Professional Growth within a long-Term marriage. Journal of Women & Aging, 2.1, 69. Retrieved from http://searchproquest.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/docview/2047326957accountid=32521 Arellano, Charleana M; Markman, Howard J. (Sep 1995). The managing affect and differences scale (MADS). A self-report measure assessing conflict management in couples: JFP JFP. Journal of Family Psychology 9.3, 319. Retrieved from http://searchproquest.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/docview/2158981657?accountid=32521 Dermitzaki, Irini; Efklides, Anastasia (2000). Aspects of self-concept and their relationship to language performance and verbal