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Congratulations on your recent marriage. I wish you both the best in your future together and I am flattered that you would seek my advice. I would like to share with you a few things that I have learned from this course and my own relationships that will help you communicate effectively and maintain a healthy relationship. I will go over five main points that should help you understand your roles including: active listening, self-disclosure, gender differences, the effect of words on perception, and strategies for managing any conflict that arises. More than anything, I believe that good communication is vital to a successful relationship, and if you take my advice you should be well on your way to a happy, successful relationship in the years to come.
I believe that a regular communication routine is an important part of any relationship, especially a marriage. I am not referring to routine exchanges like, "What's for dinner?" or "Did you take out the garbage?" What I am talking about here is meaningful conversation that allows you to discover one another and become more intimate. In the article, "Can we talk?" Terri Orbuch recommends a talk time of around 10 minutes to ask questions, and listen to one another. I can certainly relate to the fact that an increased rate of self-disclosure successfully influences a relationship.
Most people are great at speaking, but lack effective listening skills. However, the ability to listen is a fundamental part of effective communication. The human brain typically works faster than a person's mouth does, and this leaves a lot of extra time for their thoughts to wander instead of paying attention. In fact, most people can understand words around five times faster than they can speak the same words (Sole, 2011). I know that sometimes your wife gets excited, and when she gets going it seems like she can say one-hundred words a minute. Even when she is extremely excited, and speaking at a phenomenal rate, she doesn't come close to overloading your brain.
Remember that just hearing is not the same as listening, however. While Joe might hear Tanya tell him to take out the trash, if he wasn't listening, he will most likely forget and this will lead to a conflict. You have to motivate yourself, and listen expecting to receive some information to listen effectively. You must also be able to clearly hear the message. At times physical interference (like music playing) or even internal noise (thoughts are somewhere else) can prevent you from truly hearing the message. Sometimes when we can't hear clearly, we fill in the missing parts of the message ourselves, which can be bad. So when the radio is blaring, and you are also thinking about a job you need to finish, and your wife yells, "Joe, please, make sure you take out the trash," you might actually hear "Joe, please, make sure you get some gas!" Even if you fill the car up with gas, she is not going to be happy if the garbage is still in the trash can.
Once you have properly heard the message, you must then interpret it. Sometimes, even when you correctly hear the words, there can still be miscommunication because the sender intends something entirely different than the receiver thinks they do. For instance, when Tanya says, "the trash" she may not be referring to just the kitchen trash can, but instead all of the garbage cans in the house. After you have heard and interpreted the message correctly, the next step is to decide how you will respond. This evaluation depends on hearing the entire message, and not prematurely judging based on any misconceptions. In this case, the message was short enough that there should not be any time jump to the wrong conclusions (Sole, 2011).
The final step necessary in this listening process is remembering and responding appropriately. Every situation requires a different sort of response, and this would be the time to ask any questions you may have. For example, if you were not sure about raking the leaves outside the garage and asked for clarification, you would discover that what you heard was incorrect. Also if you wanted to be sure of which trash she was referring to, it's best to ask that as well. It can also be helpful to summarize the request and repeating it back to her. This shows that you understand and it will provide feedback to her proving this. Either way it will undoubtedly prove more useful than just shouting "okay" back up the stairs.
Self-disclosure is both a conscious and unconscious act of revealing more about oneself to others. The article "Can We Talk?" states that, "In 1987, a review in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that higher rates of self-disclosure were tied with higher rates of marital satisfaction. Expression of love and support was also linked to happy marriages" (Schoenberg, 2011, p. 1). Self-disclosure affects the overall happiness and outcome of any relationship. I can personally attest that the expression of love and support has played a pivotal role in the success of my own relationship(s). I do not believe anyone should even consider getting married, until the relationship has achieved this point. Hopefully you both understand this key point and have established an appropriate level of self-disclosure in your relationship prior to getting married.
The same article referenced above also states that a higher quality of marriage was linked to higher rates of self-disclosure (Schoenberg, 2011). I certainly agree that self-disclosure is a key component of a quality and successful marriage. I have personally experienced failed relationships in my past and I can say that communication, or the lack thereof, can ultimately lead to the undoing dissolution of any relationship. So keep this in mind as you pursue a future together.
There are also important gender differences that affect how men and women convey their thoughts and emotions. According to Orbuch, men tend to favor gestures of affirmation while women tend to prefer verbal affirmation (Schoenberg, 2011). As a man, I can see how I could improve my relationships by simply saying a kind word every so often. I can also realize that when a woman says something similar to me, instead of a physical gesture, that she intends the same thing.
It will be helpful to keep these differences in mind as you approach future situations to avoid miscommunications. Married couples tend to misunderstand each other more often than not. According to a study discussed in a US News & World Report article, "spouses sometimes communicate with each other no better than strangers do" (Relationships, 2011, p. 1). One of the study's authors, Boaz Keysar referred to a phenomenon called 'closeness-communication bias' which caused people to overestimate the degree of communication with those closest to them. Because you interact with people that are close to you more often, you might think that you understand one another better than most. This can cause a person to become over confident, even lazy, when communicating with his/her partner
When people are dating, they often make compromises of perception in the "honeymoon" period that gloss over important differences. One such example form my own relationship is my passion for health and fitness. When I first met my fiancé, I told her of how important health and fitness was to me, and she replied with "that's good." After I explained we moved on to another subject without delving too deep into the extent of my near-obsession. It was not until we lived together for some time that she fully realized just how big a part of my life it truly was. This even became a source of contention at one point, but it ultimately became a lesson in communication for us both. This is one example of one difference between males and females in communication.
Interpersonal communication only works well if all of its components are functioning properly. The sender and receiver must both be actively engaged to convey the message over a proper communication channel or medium (Sole, 2011). The first step in speaking is choosing proper language to encode the message. In the study from the University of Illinois, the wife interpreted "it's getting hot in here" as a hint to turn up the heat, while the husband thought it meant a code for sex (Relationships, 2011). Although the same words could be interpreted either way, the speaker obviously had a specific meaning to her comment.
Environment distractions, such as noise, can affect the transmission of a message as well. For example, if the phrase had been spoken in the bedroom or using a sultry tone of voice, maybe they both would have had the husband's idea. Also psychological noise could have interfered with the husband's interpretation of the statement. Perhaps the temperature in the room felt comfortable to him, and his mind was already preoccupied with sexual thoughts.
The benefits of everyday communication are not just something unique to this article. The text "Making connections: Understanding interpersonal communication" says, "We often tend to take these everyday conversations for granted because they are such a common part of our lives" (Sole, 2011, p. 146). Conversations are our means of sharing emotions and ideas by communicating our thoughts with one another. If two people in a relationship cannot share their thoughts, then how can there be any communication between them?
It is important to monitor your spouse's feedback when you are expressing ideas. Make sure to check for visual cues that he/she understands what you are saying. If they seem confused or perplexed, then elaborate further on the point you are trying to make. Remember that words often will not have the exact same meaning to both of you. It is my personal opinion that it is better to err on the side of caution when communicating in a close relationship. Likewise, if you receive feedback that is hard to interpret or none at all, it is better to over-explain than to proceed without explaining at all.
Employing each of these communication components will help you to prevent problems in the future. In some of my past relationships, I have failed to monitor how I come across to those that are closest to me. Due in large part to my failure to keep this in mind, these relationships failed. After all, perception creates reality, and your words influence each other's perception.
No matter how well each of you thinks you are doing, you will no doubt encounter conflict at some point in your relationship. This can happen for any number/combination of reasons. It could be that both parties blame each other for causing a problem, or maybe one or both of you are emotionally upset. Perhaps even an outside conflict with friends or family is the source of contention. Regardless of the source however, it is effective communication/listening skills that will resolve such conflicts.
Let me give you an example based on my personal experience to help illustrate this idea. When I first my fiancé, I did not have a working vehicle, due to several circumstances. This left us with only one vehicle between the two of us. We both had full-time jobs, social lives and two children to consider. We had to share her car, and I would drive her to work in the morning, drop her off, and take the car back to go to my job during the day. In return for using her car, I would help her with the kids, school work and daily errands.
This arrangement went on for some time. Due to my schedule, sometimes I was able to help more than others. Because I had used her car almost every day during that time though, she felt entitled to more help from me, even after I no longer needed her car. I felt that I had fulfilled my part of the agreement, and didn't owe her any more supplementary favors because I was no longer using her car. This caused her to become emotionally upset, and negatively affected her behavior towards me at home.
This conflict actually turned out to be quite constructive after we discussed the main cause her anger. I was able to resolve the conflict by apologizing and offering to help out more on a regular basis. In fact, I even delegated chores to the kids so they could help out as well once I had identified that lack of help was her main cause of stress.
Evasion of conflict is not always a bad thing, but it can become a destructive pattern. Researchers found that failed marriages follow a pattern in which, "angry words are exchanged, the anger escalates, and then the withdrawal occurs. In other words, in failing marriages, negative emotions overwhelm the interaction between the parties, who then withdraw from each other" (Zautra, 2003). This is very unhealthy to the relationship and should be avoided at all costs.
Whenever possible, try to resolve conflict rather than avoiding it. It's best to be assertive and understanding in conflict situations. However you do not want to come across as aggressive, and certainly not passive/passive-aggressive. The text book "Making connections: Understanding interpersonal communication" says that, "Learning to use an assertive communication style allows you to openly and honestly express your feelings and is generally the most constructive way to deal with conflict" (Sole, 2011, p. 212). Try to keep this in mind when the two of you are dealing with conflict.
Overall, these things are not hard to accomplish once you recognize what they are and how to utilize them effectively. Whether you have learned them through trial/error, or learned about them from a class, each of the communication components I have discussed here are important parts of any relationship. The success of your marriage is dependent upon these elements as well, and communication should remain a key factor throughout your relationship. Sharing your thoughts and feelings for just ten minutes a day can make a major difference over time, and greater enhance the quality of any relationship. Best of luck in the future, may you both have a long and joyful marriage.