Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 15, 2008
Make the effort to Communicate
Speaker, listener both responsible for getting a message across
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
When it comes to romantic love, the media favours Hollywood-type depictions of destined encounters, instantaneous, "perfect" matches and overwhelming passion.
Unfortunately, such portrayals place too much emphasis on finding the right person and falling in love, and far too little on being a good partner and staying in love. The reality is successful marriage relationships don't just happen, they require an ongoing investment of time and effort.
Communication plays a critical role, with couple sharing leading to greater understanding of one another, which in turn increases intimacy.
Messages conveyed may be verbal or non-verbal. The latter include volume and tone of voice, eye movements, facial expressions, posture and body movements - often they speak louder than words.
In every communication, there is a transmitter (sender) and a receiver (listener).
A skilled transmitter reflects before speaking, communicates in a timely manner, expresses himself clearly, owns his feelings and thoughts by using "I" statements, shares good news in addition to problems, pays attention to the receiver's reaction, and asks for feedback.
His verbal and non-verbal messages complement rather than contradict each other.
Listening to a message, meanwhile, is far from passive - much more than merely hearing words.
A good receiver makes himself available, gives full attention, is open-minded and non-judgmental, avoids assumptions, demonstrates interest and empathy, doesn't interrupt or change the subject; asks questions for clarification, summarizes to check if he understood the message correctly, and refrains from offering unsolicited opinions or advice.
LISTENING MORE DIFFICULT
The transmitter and receiver are equally responsible for ensuring effective communication. Listening, however, is arguably more difficult than speaking, because
- It requires patience, since we're able to process information faster than it can be transmitted, and
- We must relinquish self-focus - not an easy task in this age of egocentrism.
Communication is further enhanced through eliminating distractions, maintaining eye contact, demonstrating respect, sensitivity and acceptance, offering encouragement, being honest, and tuning in to body language (ours and our spouse's). Timing is also important.
Obstacles include trying to be a mind reader or expecting our partner to be one, allowing our attention to wander, monopolizing the conversation, interrupting, sidetracking, blaming, needing to be right, dismissing our partner's feelings or opinions, declaring important subjects off limits, withholding our thoughts and feelings, and prematurely ending a conversation.
Clearly, communication is complicated, with many opportunities for breakdown along the way. Far from natural, it needs to be learned, practised and continually refined, just like any other skill.
While clichéd conversation and information exchange may sustain casual relationships, marital communication necessitates self-disclosure - that is, sharing our innermost thoughts and feelings.
Risking vulnerability and addressing sensitive issues calls for courage, as well as trust in our spouse, but the payoff is big, in terms of the intimacy generated.
Unfortunately - and all too easily - our lives can become so busy that we no longer spend much time communicating on an intimate level.
To prevent this from happening, it's imperative that we establish daily sharing time, to ensure we really connect with our spouse. It can be as simple as sitting down together to talk about our day after the kids go to bed, instead of automatically turning on the television or computer or dashing off to do chores.
Communication needn't always be serious, though. It's equally important to express affection and appreciation and to have fun together, including going out on regular dates, similar to when we were courting.
Keeping the lines of communication open will ensure that we grow together, rather than apart.
While we may think we know each other well, both of us are continually, subtly changing in response to new experiences. The only way to stay current and ensure we're there for one another through life's inevitable ups and downs is to make a habit of sharing.
Spending quality time together also keeps us rediscovering the things we enjoy about our spouse that initially drew us to him or her.
Given all we stand to gain, honing those communication skills is well worth the effort.
(Lisa M. Petsche is a clinical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in family life.)