Communicating effectively is the most important aspect of any relationship. In all venues the way we communicate can determine if that relationship will be successful, this is certainly true in an intimate relationship, but just as important in business relationships, friendships, and familial relationships. Relationships are defined by how we communicate, and how effective we are at getting our message out, but just as important is how well we listen. Healthy relationships require us to know a bit about ourselves, and be willing to share some of ourselves with others, building that trust element helps determine the intensity of a relationship. Understanding some of these components will help you on your way to developing and maintaining a good relationship. Having good communication skills can mean the difference between success and failure of a relationship. Most relationships that are successful are in an “equitable relationship” (Myers, 2010, pg. 429).
Being aware of some of the barriers to effective communication can help you avoid the pitfalls of bad or ineffective communication. There are several communicating errors that can signal the end of a relationship, according to Hybels and Weaver (2007) some of those are, “aggressive talk, regrettable talk, criticism and complaints, avoidance, and defensive communication” (pg. 199). Having disagreements are a normal part of any relationship, it is how we resolve those conflicts that can mean the difference between a healthy relationship or one that is heading towards destruction. We tend to fall back on the destructive methods when we have no other tools in our toolbox.
Aggressive talk is using language that demeans another; it is calling names, using disparaging words, wearing down the self esteem of the other person. This is so destructive to a relationship; it can at times lead to physical violence. But the most insidious form of communication is indirect aggression, or passive aggression. This is when we consciously commit an act that we know will hurt or upset another. We manipulate the situation to get our way, or get our “dig” into the other person. This way we do not have to confront directly, it is very subtle, and can be the real killer of a relationship. It is a way to continue an argument without actually saying much at all. The Los Angeles Times (1997) reported on passive aggressive tendencies in relationships, and gave some advice on how to handle the situation, “first, realize that you may not be able to get your mate to change his or her behavior, but you can change yours” and “take control of the situation by setting limits, figure out what you can do” (pg. 3).
Regrettable talk is saying something, and then wishing you could take it back. I think we are all guilty of this to some extent. We blurt out a remark without thinking, and immediately we regret it. Using regrettable talk can leave others with hurt feelings, and cause them to want to avoid us. I think in relationships it is easy to fall into this category, you know someone so well, and feel comfortable saying just about anything, so you let your guard down, and many times the things we say we wish we could take back. I have commented to my spouse that we talk nicer to our neighbors than we do to each other, and if we wish to continue in a relationship we must be aware of this, and make every effort to think before we speak.
Criticism and complaints creep into a relationship when couples have no real tools for resolving an argument. In an article from Cosmopolitan, reporter Laura Gilbert (2007) interviews professionals about some of the consequences from constant complaints and criticism, “After a while, you stop talking with those sweet undertones,” says Edythe Denkin, PhD, author of Relationship Magic, “and sarcasm or negativity can become more common” 243 (5). There are different styles of attachment, “people with negative views of others exhibit either the dismissive or the fearful attachment style” (Myers, 2010, pg. 428). Dismissive is a relationship marked by distrust, and fearful attachment is a relationship marked by fear of rejection. Either types can lead to the end of a relationship.
Avoidance and defensive communication are two types of negative methods used to get our point across. When we are unhappy we avoid any discussion, the silent treatment is what a lot of couples use to avoid any conflict. This is counterproductive, and will destroy the trust in a relationship. Many couples mistakenly feel that arguing is the end of a relationship, but in truth it is when we begin avoiding each other that can signal a relationship is in trouble. David Code from the Christian Science Monitor (2009) writes, “Just because you seldom argue doesn’t mean your marriage is strong, the real silent killer of marriage is distancing yourself from your partner” (pg. 9). He goes on to discuss some possible solutions, and encourages couples to not worry so much about disagreeing, but focus on “your flight response”, If we can learn to spot the “distancing pattern in our relationships” we can help “prevent family problems and divorce” (Code, 2009, pg. 9).
Defensive communication occurs as we are trying to defend ourselves from a comment made by our partner. “Defending ourselves is dealing with a past behavior; it gives us no time to resolve the problem” (Hybels and Weaver, 2007, pg. 200). In a relationship each partner must get out of the relationship “proportional to what you each put into it” (Myers, 2010, pg. 428). The best way to fix a problem is to recognize and admit you have one in the first place. In Cosmopolitan, Jennifer Benjamin (2007) gives us some common communication pitfalls, and says “to avoid these, you first have to recognize them” (pg. 126). The article goes on to list five communication mistakes that we as couples tend to make. One mistake many couples make is leaving out important information. We give our partners some of the needed information, but assume that he or she knows me so well; they will know what I am talking about. So vital information is left out, this leads to miscommunication, and hurt feelings. Another area that we have to be aware of is the time we pick to have a discussion.
During Super Bowl, or when one is rushing off to work, is not the time to have a discussion. Mistake number three, prefacing our remark with doom and gloom statements such as, “do not take this the wrong way” or “do not get mad but” it begins the conversation with a sense of impending trouble, and gets our level of anger ratcheted up. Another common mistake is one many women are guilty of, talking the problem to death; we tend to not get to the point, and feel we have to give every single detail. The article says, “Men have about three minutes of attention for any single discussion” (Benjamin, 2007, pg. 126). The last area is in giving out to much detail. Again women can be guilty of this; we feel we need to tell our man everything, all our past exploitations, we want to be close to our guy, but too much information can be as damaging as not enough. If we are to avoid the destructive methods of communicating, we must increase our strategic flexibility, according to Hybels and Weaver (2007) this means “expanding your communication repertoire” (pg. 6). The more communication skills we have, the more we can draw on them for any scenario or situation. We will be better prepared to handle whatever comes up, while still getting our message across, in the most effective manner. People who possess these skills have much more flourishing interactions with the people in their lives.
When discussing communication between partners in an intimate relationship gender and language must be taken into consideration. The way the sexes communicate is very different. According to Hybels and Weaver (2007) “women use the language of rapport-talk, men use report-talk” (pg. 117). This means that women are trying to form bonds with communication, and increase intimacy levels, men are letting us know their knowledge and skills in a particular subject area. It is a completely different style of communicating, women are “building relationships” and men are trying to “fix the problem” (Hybels and Weaver, 2007, pg. 117). In the book, Why Mars and Venus Collide, author Vanessa Bush researches the differences in brain chemistry that is produced by women and men when under stress, “biochemistry can also explain why women multitask and men are more single-minded in their focus. Problems occur when men and women misinterpret the different ways the opposite sex responds to and copes with stress” (pg. 104). Several tips that were offered by the author to increase our levels of communication, women should let our partners know when we need support, and men should listen fully to the problem without trying to fix it.
I have researched communication in intimate relationships, looked at a lot of studies, and felt I should put my own relationships to the test. I wanted to see if my emotional intelligence matched that of my husband and my children. I wanted to see if the gaps I perceive in our communication as a family was due to the differences in each of our emotional intelligence quotients. What exactly is emotional intelligence; according to Hybels and Weaver (2007) emotional intelligence “is the ability to understand and get along with others” (pg. 156). In order for us to get along with others, and deal with their emotions, we must first be aware of our own emotions and feelings. We must learn how to appropriately express, and manage our feelings, and learn some self-control, and we must learn to recognize and handle the feelings of others. I had each family member take the emotional intelligence test, which was retrieved from the Institute for Health and Human Potential. This evaluates your emotional intelligence, and shows you your strengths and weaknesses.
I took the survey, and I had my husband and my daughter take the survey. My daughter and my husband scored very similar on the quiz, my results were about ten points higher than there score. The results said I have a very high emotional intelligence. The results of the emotional intelligence test reflects my life, I am a high achiever, can be very task oriented, and want to ensure that my work with families shows great results. The quiz said I needed to remember why I do the work I do, not get bogged down in tasks, but remember the reason you chose this line of work. The results said I should take time each day to reflect on what brings me the greatest joy. That really reflects me, I enjoy the work tremendously, but sometimes the day to day tasks that have to get done can make me a bit cynical. I think it also translates into my personal life, I can read people well, and feel I am in tune with their emotions, but some days I just do not take the time to really sit down and listen to those closest to me. I can see this reflected in my relationship with my husband. I am so busy being busy; I do not really pay attention to him, and what his concerns are.
The emotional intelligence test scores for my husband and daughter both said they have slightly above average emotional intelligence, with room to grow. It reflects what I see in both of them, they are very sensitive to the needs of those around them, but do not always take time for themselves. The quiz also says they may not always communicate their feelings or needs to others. This is very true, especially of my husband; he does not communicate his needs well, and then he can become angry and distant. The quiz gives areas for improvement for both my husband and my daughter. They are to look at what causes them stress and tension, and how they handle those situations, and try and rid themselves of the negative thoughts that play in their minds. I have seen the destructive results of this type of negative thinking, feeling you are unworthy and unlovable. We now know the results of the emotional intelligence quiz, now what. We must come together and as a family and decide how best to proceed. Having the results of this quiz has opened the doors to communication for my family.
We saw in print, what each of us sees reflected in the other. The communication between my husband and me was bordering on becoming destructive, we both were passive aggressive when dealing with issues. I did not want to argue, so I would let it go, but not really, it stayed with me, and I would do mean things to get back at my husband. I might not wake him up, even if I saw he forgot to set his alarm, and was going to be late for work. I might not put his work clothes in the dryer, even when I see he is running late. It would be little inconsequential things I would do, but over the years they have added up, and we were at the brink of separating. My husband was no different; he was just as guilty of allowing the barriers to effective communicating to come between us. I also have to admit that I saw some of the same communication barriers creeping into my teenage daughter’s style of communicating. I think being aware of a problem is half the battle, when we are honest, and do some self assessing, we can truly begin to make some changes.
I decided that since my emotional intelligence results were so different from my husband’s that taking a personality test might be in order. I found a personality types questionnaire, and we both took the survey. The survey was published by Dawn Billings, (2004) CEO and Founder of The Heart Link Women’s Network. The Primary colors personality tool asks specific questions, and you rate yourself from highest to lowest in each category. Once finished, you add up the scores and the one with the largest number represents your major personality profile. I took the survey as did my husband and my daughter. The results were very interesting, the one area I found fascinating was that my husband and I both scored the highest in the same category.
It said we were both gentle and understanding, which is true, that we are more interested in being loved than in being right, so we may stay with partners that do not treat us well. There have been times in this relationship where I felt I was being mistreated, and my husband has admitted that he has felt the same at times. It also says we may put the needs of others above our own needs, this is very true, and was also reflected in our emotional intelligence test. The tests also said this personality type over commits themselves, and not leave room for those closest to them. This has been a real issue in my marriage; I am so driven by work and school that I forget that I have a husband and a daughter who needs me.
Since taking these surveys, the gaps in our communication has closed dramatically. My husband was open to taking the test, which surprised me; I thought he would balk at doing this. He was as surprised as I was with some of the results; it opened the door for us to begin really talking about issues, as a family, and as a couple. There is more work to be done, taking a couple of quizzes cannot erase years of bad, and ineffective communicating. The pain is there from years of misunderstandings, and from the communication barriers we placed in our paths, but what has happened is the willingness for us to come together as a couple, see what needs to be worked on, and begin that process. Communication skills are vital for any relationship, both personal and professional.
This journey has made me aware that I spend a great deal of time working on my professional relationships. I am very careful of how I phrase my comments to coworkers, I am cautious of hurting feelings, or of being misunderstood. I think about what I have to say to a coworker before I actually say it; I try and take into consideration their feelings. But I am not always as conscience at home of the impact my words will have. Communicating effectively is a skill, one that takes work and practice. It also requires that at times we must do some self assessing, see where our strengths are at, but also admit where our weaknesses are at, and begin the process of reducing those barriers. This is the only way we can be both effective at work, and at home, and have a happy, healthy relationship.
Jennifer Benjamin. (2007, October). 5 Talking Mistakes Most Couples Make. Cosmopolitan, 243(4), 126. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1394182521). Billings, D. (2004). Primary color personality tool. The Heart Link women’s network. Bush, V.. (2007, December). Why Mars and Venus Collide: Improving Relationships by Understanding How Men and Women Cope Differently with Stress [review of Why Mars and Venus Collide: Improving Relationships by Understanding How Men and Women Cope Differently with Strss]. The Booklist, 104(8), 4. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1402448851). David Code. (2009, February 13). How emotional distance ruins marriage. The Christian Science Monitor,p. 9. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1644399621). Laura Gilbert. (2008, September). Couples. Cosmopolitan, 245(3), 145. Retrieved
March 21, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1529579221). Hybels, S., and Weaver, R. (2007). Communicating effectively (8th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. Institute for Health and Human Potential. (March, 2010). Emotional intelligence. Retrieved
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