All of us are unique. Therefore, every couple is different. And so are our relationships.
In the previous section of marriages and relationships the emphasis was on the “what” of communication. This section will take a closer look at “how” we communicate.
As stated before, communication is about sending and receiving information and, in our marriage, we have an opportunity of creating or allowing a safe space in which we can freely talk about very personal matters, being able to be vulnerable without being judged or devalued. In an ideal world, couples can trust their partner enough to hear them out – they are able to resolve an issue by listening to the other person to understand the other person’s point of view and if warranted, move toward a compromise together. To reach this position is an ongoing process of communication.
In assisting couples with communication, we explore their “love language”, skills in expressing themselves more constructively as well as ways to deal with conflict.
There are books and articles available on the Languages of Love. This was developed on the premise that everyone has his or her own unique way in which they communicate love. Understanding a partner’s love language is the secret to a happy relationship. Gary Chapman, longstanding marriage counsellor, identified and describes five primary emotional love languages, namely words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. When each person understands their own and their partners love language, and manage to apply them, it helps to sustain the relationship over time.
During the skills training, partners are taught to take turns to talk and listen. The person talking follows a specific route of stating his or her feelings by means of “I” statements, not “you” statements, followed by the reason for the feelings, and what he or she would like to happen. They are taught to phrase their expression calmly and non-blaming. During this statement, the other partner is taught how to listen to the statement actively and emphatically and check if the message is correctly understood before validating the shared feeling. The roles then reverse before addressing the problem, focusing on the specifics of what, who, when, where and how often, if it applies.
In the process of growing the relationship, many couples may find themselves in situations with conflict patterns that create feelings of frustration and distance. When they can identify these destructive patterns and work toward changing it, their relationship can develop a sense of ease and closeness. However, if they can’t work through the patterns, they tend to escalate and therefore deteriorate the relationship. Once you recognize the conflict pattern you’re stuck in, you can begin to learn the skills needed to change it. Destructive patterns include, amongst others, blaming, criticism, defensiveness, and contempt. Destructive conflict management lies in being discontent and wanting to change the other person. Even if we wanted to change him or her, we can’t.
Much can and do go wrong in our communication with our partners. Where our skills lack, our hearts may intervene. Not communicating is communicating anyway.
Last words: Communication can be easy and effective, let’s not complicate it.