Effective Communication: An Essential Skill for Relationships

marital communication


“Most people do  not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”    KUSHANDWIZDOM


One of the most innate needs in any relationship is the desire to connect with another person and to be understood and accepted- it is one of the qualities that separates us from all other forms of life.  According to John T. Cacioppo, PH.D. In the article “Dimensions of Human Connection: People, Pets and Prayers”, he defines “Intimate connectedness, which reflects satisfaction of the social self at a deeply personal level and was uniquely associated with marital status.  Relational Connectedness reflects satisfaction of close friendship needs and was uniquely associated with frequency of contact with close friends and relatives.” Looking at these connectedness and communication a bit deeper the reader can ascertain the importance of the value of these above defined relationships in terms of overall wellbeing or happiness in a person’s life.

Communication, as defined  by Merriam-Webster, is ” the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc. to someone else.”   This may appear simple and clear to some people. But for many others, the ability to communicate in a clear effective manner is actually much more difficult to accomplish for many different reasons.  It is hard to communicate when people have to interact with people whom they  may not know each well.  In situations where one person has a stronger emotional connection and shares a personal relationship with another, the nature of that type of relationship can often make communicating so much more difficult. The beliefs, feelings, and thoughts that individuals hope to express are often impossible to do so effectively.  It is the inability to effectively share both feelings to those one wishes to share information with and having the desire and the expectation that the other person they are speaking to understands exactly what was expressed.  When this happens communication is so much harder.

Poor communication skills combined with ineffective listening techniques present some of the biggest obstacles preventing people from sharing their thoughts and concerns with another person, and ultimately feeling understood and connected.  One of the most common reasons that clients seek therapy is to improve their communication in their personal relationships in order to be less angry, anxious, and depressed overall.  Poor communication can increase the likelihood that a person feels dissatisfied with his or her personal relationships.   I work closely with my clients in a safe therapeutic atmosphere where we work to define, understand, and improve the issues causing them distress in their relationships and in their lives.

Dr. John Gottmann, PhD, and Dr. Julie Gottmann, PhD. Developed the Gottmann Institute after thirty years of researching what makes couples happy and how to have successful fulfilling relationships.  Their research helped develop a well-defined approach to marital therapy that helps couples improve their relationships by better understanding how they communicate with each other and identifying how negative communication patterns are causing harm.  For example, a theory pioneered by Robert Weiss, and taught at the Gottmann Institute, involves the concept of  negative sentiment override.  “In negative sentiment override there is a discrepancy between insider and outsider perception of the interaction. An actual neutral or positive message is interpreted by the partner as negative. “  The pattern of people utilizing poor communication skills and relying on ineffective listening techniques is one of the biggest obstacles in the ability to have their thoughts and concerns shared with another person.    When this is defined and understood as a regular happenstance, people can identify what causes poor or strained communication.

I use the specific skills developed by the Gottmanns to help individuals improve their skills and communicate more effectively.  They help people experiencing communication issues to problem solve and to share thoughts, ideas or concerns much more easily and efficiently.  When couples practice the skills they learn in therapy, it can drastically reduce conflicts, and improve the ability to compromise and to resolve conflicts for the overall greater happiness of the couple.  As a level one Gottmann certified therapist, I have used the Gottmann method with many more couples much more successfully than with other treatment approaches.  It enables me to help define strengths and weaknesses that exist in the relationships they seek to improve, and identify the specific skills they need to practice to help them to reach their goal to communicate better, and to become emotionally more connected with others.

When a person can identify and understands the common problematic and behavioral patterns they use in their personal relationships, they are much better able to develop and practice healthy respectful behavior engagement with others. In reducing the frequency of using negative patterns of behaviors when speaking with other people, one can see improvement in speaking to others as well.  The counterproductive negative interactions patterns that are commonly used in many interpersonal relationships often are a major obstacle to healthy communication between a couple or marital partnership.

When people eliminate or reduce the negative patterns of behaviors they have used when speaking with other people, they see improvement in their communications with others. My clients report that their beliefs either help  worsen or improve problems.   After couples  learn and practice the Gottmann  defined skills,   they often report that they are more willing to understand their partners ‘point of view differently than they had before, they react differently , they experience less problems,  and they  feel  overall greater happiness.  It is not always easy, to improve pattern of good communication but is very possible through awareness, hard work and practice.  Finally, consider this point , “Listen and silent are spelled with the same letters think about it.”- Unknown

by Sarah Ridenour, LCSW

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