7400.201 Courtship Marriage and the Family
Topic 11 - The Challenge of Communication

Much of the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of marriage and family life is rooted in the way people communicate. We are always communicating to each other, in the sense that our words, our lack of words, and our expressions are interpreted by others to say something about our mood, our feelings, and perhaps our relationships.

When most people use the term communication, they are probably thinking of verbal communication, the use of words to convey our ideas to others. As symbolic interactionists have shown, humans are symbolic creatures; we create, manipulate, and employ symbols to direct our own behavior and to influence the behavior of others. Words are only a part of the meaning in communication. It is estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the meaning we convey is through the nonverbal part of our communication. 

The Nature of Communication
Communication is the effective use of all our powers to get our point across to another person. It is impossible to "Not" Communicate - by our very silence we are telegraphing our anger, pleasure, some meaning. However, we can miscommunicate by deliberately or unintentionally lying, not paying attention, or remaining unaware of our real wants and needs. Becoming a good communicator requires practice and skill development beyond what we learned in high school. Failure to communicate is the #1 reason for the failure of relationships.

Communication Channels

There are different kinds of nonverbal communication: clothing worn, facial expressions and eye behavior, touching, and the cues we give in oral speech. Nonverbal cues have a number of functions in communication: They complement our words; they contradict our words; they repeat the message; they regulate communication; they may substitute for words; they may accent the verbal message; and they may trigger attributions.
Communication is made up of two basic parts: Verbal Communication is Language while Nonverbal Communication is everything that is not language, such as tone of voice, inflection, facial expressions, body language, the use of gestures, and so on. Verbal and Nonverbal communication occurs between two people in an environment full of background noise. Therefore, the setting for personal communication is very important.

When you communicate to someone depends not only on what you say and how you say it but also on how the other person interprets what you say and how you say it. The receiver decodes, or interprets the message and filters it through his or her ideas and feelings before encoding a reply. At each phase of the process, there can be static - interference of some kind that hinders accurate communication.
  • The sender, the media of transmission, and the receiver are all sources of static. Senders may transmit with static because they are not certain of their own feelings or ideas. Static occurs in the media when there is a discrepancy between the nonverbal and verbal communication. Receiver static occurs when the listener filters the message through his or her own ideas and feelings.
  • When we talk with others we inevitably communicate feelings as well as ideas. Feelings are very important in the marital relationship.
Verbal Communication Channel's main function is the Report Function where the Content of the Message - The Information part - is delivered. When anyone uses a word - it has meaning because we've all been socialized to understand it. For example that L-O-V-E means hearts & flowers, among other things.  The verbal portion is also known as the digital portion - words, signs, symbols used to convey information.
Redundancy - a powerful safeguard against error and misunderstanding. Redundancy refers to the probability that patterns of content follow or precede other patterns - so if one part of the message is missing or goes unheard - the receiver can still manage to understand most of the entire statement. For example:
  1. "i" before "e" except after "c"
  2. How many "p's" in Stop, Stopping, Stopped
  3. rules about using double vowels
The English language is about 75% redundant. We have worked to evolve the language so that it is redundant to insure better communications (higher rates of successful message transmission). So that we can fill in the blanks (try it!):

Nonverbal Communication Channels comprise the Relationship Functions - also known as the analog portion of communication, and includes such things as mimicry, paralanguage ("ummmmmmm", "aahhhhhh", baby talk), kinesthetic aspects - pointing, waving, touching, voice tone, eye movements, sneers, looks of anger or happiness.  For effective communication nonverbal channels of communication should be consistent with verbal channels for purposes of insuring transmission of meaning. For example, if you desire your partner to listen carefully to a serious though you have, you'd adopt a serious tone in your voice, preface your remarks with a warning that something important is coming, put on a serious "face", tell them to listen carefully, then make your remarks.

Nonverbal channels can complicate assurance
of meaning transmission by being unrelated - or running contrary to the words. Connotes poor communication skills.  Efficient communication involves high levels of skill for both verbal and nonverbal channels - a sort of social intelligence. Over time, patterns of redundancy idiosyncratically develop in family systems resulting in communication styles particular to individual families.  These may be considered as "Relationship Rules" on which a couple bases their whole style of talking. Included here might be Who initiates and concludes interaction, Who occupies family status positions. Who performs role assignments. Families who do not make full use of nonverbal communication channels, or who have low social intelligence, are prone to inefficient communication - confusion and chaos - taking on the characteristics of a randomness and senseless family communication patterns.

Symmetrical and Complementary Patterns of Communication
Symmetrical interaction patterns allow partners to mirror each other's behavior. Here there is a sense of equality and a minimization of differences. In the extremis, such a relationship can escalate to intense competition over equality - a sort of mini-arms race. Complementary interaction patterns are those in which one person's behavior complements the other's. This is often situational and rational and a dominant/submissive relationship can develop. Here there is a sense of inequality and maximization of differences. In the extremis, such a relationship can lead to inappropriately fixed roles - grown children still fully dependent on parents. There are various ways we can listen to others, not all of which are helpful to effective communication.

Fundamentals of Successful Couple Interaction
  • Complete understanding of each other's role.
  • Reciprocity in role performances: Getting Needs Met: material/biological, needs. psychological/emotional needs. physical/sexual needs.
  • Equivalence of Role Functions - a form of equality.
  • Focus on the quality of interaction between the couple. As complexity of family life increases, and as each family must evolve its own destiny, its own rules, the role of communication processes becomes increasingly central to healthy family functioning.

A number of styles of listening impede effective communication.

  • Fakers only pretend to be listening.
  • Interrupters never allow the other to finish.
  • Self-conscious listeners are concerned primarily with their own status in the eyes of the other rather than with the ideas and feelings of the other.
  • Intellectual listeners attend only to the words of the other.
  • There are various things that people can do to improve their listening skills: taking the initiative in communication; resisting distractions; controlling emotions and the tendency to respond before your partner is finished; asking questions and rephrasing to clarify your partner’s meaning; making use of the speed of your thoughts by summarizing; and practicing.
Other Patterns of Ineffective Communication - here's a list:
    A. Mind Reading - assuming we know what the other is thinking and feeling.
    B. Sending Double Messages - a message that has two conflicting meanings -
    C. Gunny sacking - nursing past grievances and bringing them up for review while trying to resolve a present conflict
    D. Stereotyping - all women are like that
    E. Using "You" Sentences - You always do this!
    F. Using Why Sentences - Why do you always have to have your way?
    G. "Yes, But" - Yes, we did just have a simply wondrous sexual experience, but I still wonder if you are the one for me.
    Impediments to Communication would be destructive messages (Ordering, Threatening, Moralizing, Providing Solutions, Lecturing, Criticizing, Ridiculing, Analyzing, Interrogating, and Withdrawing.
There are various impediments to communication, including the failure to listen. In addition, we need to be aware of certain kinds of destructive messages and of important gender differences in communication patterns.
  • Ineffective communication impedes intimacy and facilitates misunderstanding, feelings of rejection, and conflict. There are a number of common destructive messages that characterize ineffective communication. Four of the most common are: complaining/criticizing, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. There
  • are a number of other ways of communicating that are hazardous to a good relationship: ordering, threatening, moralizing, providing solutions, lecturing, ridiculing, analyzing, and interrogating.
  • There are various gender differences that represent impediments to communication. Men rarely talk about personal matters and approach life as a contest in which each party is striving to preserve independence and avoid failure. Women approach life as a community affair in which the goal is to maintain intimacy and avoid being isolated.
  • Communication sometimes lapses into a kind of silent tolerance. While it is true that lack of communication is a common complaint, it is also true that for many couples the quality of communication improves over the course of the marriage.
Other examples of Poor Communication Patterns:
The Double Bind - Messages from different channels may serve to create a paradox through the simultaneous assertion of two mutually exclusive messages. Actors pay attention to this or run the risk of poor communication and poor role performance.
    • "Put down than pencil or mommy will spank."
    • Aunt Ellen stiffens as she sweetly asks for a Kiss.
Double Binds are more significant in the context of close and long lasting relationships - need a history.
Disjunctive Communications Between Command & Report Functions -disparity between verbal and nonverbal communication. "Honey, what's the matter?" - "Nothing!!!"
Disqualification - sender invalidates his/her own message by preceding or following message with a disqualification on:
    • Here's what I think, but don't go by me.
    • This is a dumb question, but XXXXXX.
    • I'm just a poor woman / a factory worker / inexpressive male and what do I know?
Disconfirmation or Mystification - Receiver denies sender's message and sender's legitimacy
    • "You're not sick, just afraid!"
    • "I can see how someone like you would say that!"
Punctuational disjunctions - a chain of communicative events recurring in a relationship. Ex: Person A brings up an unpleasant subject -> Person B withdraws to another room -> A responds by talking louder and following B - > B responds by ignoring A -> A responds by referring to further unpleasantries -> B etc.  "I can't keep the house up because you won't even pick up after yourself - "I don't pick up after myself because what's the use? Who could tell the difference around here? -> It's always my fault! That's right blame me -> If the shoe fits wear it -> You know all about shoes because every pair you have is right there in the middle of the bedroom -> bedrooms? Now that's a subject you have a lot of experience with -> Don't start with me! -> Start? etc.  Punctuation also can refer to the confusion about the nature of family roles: Provider, Decider, Arbitrator.
IV. The Communication of Intimacy within Families
Two types of communication here: 1. Instrumental commands designed for routine role maintenance and performance. 2. Intrinsic communication designed to nurture the family's full potential of intimacy, depending on the family's tolerance for closeness. Intimacy is a special kind of interpersonal sharing consisting of detailed, deep knowledge and understanding arising from close personal contact or familiar, joint, experiences,  a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship, sexual expressiveness where each family (depending on governing family rules) will express intimacy differently. Relational currencies differ.
Patterned intimacy / Conflict cycles, while serving to regulate the amount of intimacies exchanged, are caused by:
  1. Freedom versus Security Dilemma - The documented human need for intimacy (to be loved, held, caressed) seems real, there is also a "fear of intimacy" in humans (fear of being controlled, loss of personal mobility.
  2. Family themes, images, and boundaries that are rooted in member's past histories, contributing to varying rates of intimacy development.
  3. Touching, consistent use of first names, remembrances, self-disclosure, well defined role structure, negotiated.
Fundamentals of Successful Couple Interaction
1. Complete understanding of each other's role.
2. Reciprocity in role performances:
    Getting ---------material/biological, needs.
    Needs ----------psychological/emotional needs
    Met ------------ physical/sexual needs.
3. Equivalence of Role Functions - a form of equality, fairness and fair play is very important in today's family.
4. Focus on the quality of interaction between the couple - things move pretty fast today. All families and all family members need quality time.
5. Show Respect for your sweetie by giving nonjudgmental feedback.
6. Using Confirmation (Acceptance of Other) Techniques
    It is more Confirming to:
  • -talk to a person rather than about them. Includes: Verbal using person's name taking them seriously acknowledging their presence Nonverbal positive touching eye contact positive gestures (head nods)
  • -use dialogue rather than monologue (don't lecture).
  • -accept the other person and listen (don't jump to conclusions).
  • -treat the other personally rather than impersonally.
  • -differentiate between your sweetie and others.
Improving Your Listening Skills
1. Become an ACTIVE LISTENER. -Look at your partner -Concentrate on what is being said -Watch for nonverbal cues -Try to understand what he/she is trying to say. -Communicate your interest in the interaction by responding periodically with "I see", "I get it".
2. Resist Distractions
3. Control your emotions and your tendency to respond before your partner is finished.
4. As questions and rephrase to clarify your partner's intentions.
5. Summarize (better yet, write down the important points you are trying to make. Make an outline.
6. Practice.
Satisfying communication is important, but not sufficient for a satisfying marriage. On the other hand, it is necessary: You can’t have a satisfying marriage without satisfying communication. Satisfying communication facilitates the growth of both marital satisfaction and intimacy. Couples that are satisfied with their relationship, who define their marriage as a happy one, and who indicate high levels of intimacy also report satisfying patterns of communication. There are certain aspects of communication that contribute to the well- being of marriage.
  •  Everyday conversations may be one of the more important ingredients in a satisfying marriage.
  •  Self-disclosure comes up repeatedly as an essential factor in an intimate relationship. In marriage, self-disclosure enhances both satisfaction and intimacy. Exchange theory suggests that self-disclosure should be equitable.
  •  Certain other aspects of communication are also related to marital satisfaction and intimacy. In happy marriages, there are more stimulating and fun-filled conversations.
There are numerous books, workshops, and courses designed to help people improve their communication skills. Skills can be improved by attending to some basic rules and practicing them at every opportunity.  All rules for improving communication skills revolve around the goals for making us more effective senders and more effective receivers. Unfortunately, a clear message sent in a non-threatening manner does not guarantee accurate communication.  Communication skills can be improved by practicing the rules of communication. Certain exercises are specifically designed to improve communication skills. For those who wish to enhance the quality of their intimate relationships, good communication skills are imperative.