Marriage and the Family
Challenge of Communication
Much of the
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.
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
communicate is the #1 reason for the failure of relationships.
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
Communication is made up of two basic parts: Verbal Communication is
Language while Nonverbal Communication is everything that is not
such as tone of voice, inflection, facial expressions, body language,
use of gestures, and so on. Verbal and Nonverbal communication
occurs between two people in an environment full of background noise.
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
other person interprets what you say and how you say it. The receiver
or interprets the message and filters it through his or her ideas and
before encoding a reply. At each phase of the process, there can be
static - interference
of some kind that hinders accurate communication.
Verbal Communication Channel's
function is the Report Function
the Content of the Message - The Information part - is delivered. When
anyone uses a word - it has meaning because we've all been socialized
understand it. For example that L-O-V-E means hearts & flowers,
other things. The verbal portion is also known as the digital
- words, signs, symbols used to convey information.
- The sender, the media of transmission, and
the receiver are all sources of static. Senders may transmit with
because they are not certain of their own feelings or ideas. Static
the media when there is a discrepancy between the nonverbal and verbal
communication. Receiver static occurs when the listener filters the
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
Redundancy - a powerful
against error and
Redundancy refers to the probability that patterns of content follow or
precede other patterns - so if one part of the message is missing or
unheard - the receiver can still manage to understand most of the
statement. For example:
The English language is about
redundant. We have worked to evolve
language so that it is redundant to insure better communications
rates of successful message transmission). So that we can fill in the
- "i" before "e" except after "c"
- How many "p's" in Stop, Stopping, Stopped
- rules about using double vowels
comprise the Relationship Functions
- also known as the analog portion of communication, and includes such
things as mimicry, paralanguage ("ummmmmmm",
kinesthetic aspects - pointing, waving, touching, voice tone, eye
sneers, looks of anger or happiness. For effective communication
nonverbal channels of communication should be consistent with verbal
for purposes of insuring transmission of meaning. For example, if you
your partner to listen carefully to a serious though you have, you'd
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
carefully, then make your remarks.
Nonverbal channels can
assurance of meaning
transmission by being unrelated - or running
to the words. Connotes poor communication skills.
Efficient communication involves high levels of skill for both
and nonverbal channels - a sort of social intelligence. Over time,
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
style of talking. Included here might be Who initiates and
interaction, Who occupies family status positions.
role assignments. Families who
do not make full use of nonverbal
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.
allow partners to mirror each other's
behavior. Here there is a sense of equality and a minimization of
In the extremis, such a
relationship can escalate to intense
over equality - a sort of mini-arms race. Complementary interaction
are those in which one person's behavior complements the other's. This
is often situational and rational and a dominant/submissive
can develop. Here there is a sense of inequality and maximization of
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
Successful Couple Interaction
- Complete understanding of each other's role.
- Reciprocity in role performances: Getting Needs Met:
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
increasingly central to healthy family functioning.
of styles of listening impede effective communication.
Other Patterns of Ineffective Communication -
here's a list:
- Fakers only pretend to be listening.
- Interrupters never allow the other to
- Self-conscious listeners are concerned
primarily with their own status in the eyes of the other rather than
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
resisting distractions; controlling emotions and the tendency to
your partner is finished; asking questions and rephrasing to clarify
partner’s meaning; making use of the speed of your thoughts by
A. Mind Reading - assuming we know what the other is thinking and
There are various impediments
to communication, including the failure to listen. In addition, we need
aware of certain kinds of destructive messages and of important gender
differences in communication patterns.
B. Sending Double Messages - a message that has two conflicting
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
but I still wonder if you are the one for me.
Impediments to Communication would be destructive messages
Threatening, Moralizing, Providing Solutions, Lecturing, Criticizing,
Analyzing, Interrogating, and Withdrawing.
Poor Communication Patterns:
- Ineffective communication impedes intimacy
and facilitates misunderstanding, feelings of rejection, and conflict.
are a number of common destructive messages that characterize
communication. Four of the most common are: complaining/criticizing,
defensiveness, and stonewalling. There
- are a number of other ways of communicating that are
hazardous to a good relationship: ordering, threatening, moralizing,
solutions, lecturing, ridiculing, analyzing, and interrogating.
- There are various gender differences that
represent impediments to communication. Men rarely talk about personal
and approach life as a contest in which each party is striving to
independence and avoid failure. Women approach life as a community
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
complaint, it is also true that for many couples the quality of
improves over the course of the marriage.
The Double Bind - Messages from different channels may
to create a paradox through the simultaneous assertion of two mutually
exclusive messages. Actors pay attention to this or run the risk of
communication and poor role performance.
Double Binds are more
the context of close and long
relationships - need a history.
- "Put down than pencil or mommy will spank."
- Aunt Ellen stiffens as she sweetly asks for a Kiss.
Disjunctive Communications Between Command & Report
-disparity between verbal and nonverbal communication. "Honey,
the matter?" - "Nothing!!!"
Disqualification - sender invalidates his/her own message
preceding or following message with a disqualification on:
Disconfirmation or Mystification - Receiver denies sender's
and sender's legitimacy
- 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 /
do I know?
Punctuational disjunctions - a chain of communicative events
in a relationship. Ex: Person A
brings up an unpleasant subject
B withdraws to another room -> A responds by talking louder and
B - > B responds by ignoring A -> A responds by referring to
-> B etc. "I can't keep the house up because you won't even
up after yourself - "I don't pick up after myself because what's the
Who could tell the difference around here? -> It's always my fault!
right blame me -> If the shoe fits wear it -> You know all about
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
to the confusion about the nature of family roles: Provider, Decider,
- "You're not sick, just afraid!"
- "I can see how someone like you would say that!"
IV. The Communication of Intimacy
Two types of communication here: 1. Instrumental commands
for routine role maintenance and performance. 2. Intrinsic
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
understanding arising from close personal contact or familiar, joint,
a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal
sexual expressiveness where each family (depending on governing family
rules) will express intimacy differently. Relational currencies differ.
Patterned intimacy / Conflict
cycles, while serving to
the amount of intimacies exchanged, are caused by:
Fundamentals of Successful Couple
- Freedom versus Security Dilemma - The documented human need
(to be loved, held, caressed) seems real, there is also a "fear of
in humans (fear of being controlled, loss of personal mobility.
- Family themes, images, and boundaries that are rooted in
histories, contributing to varying rates of intimacy development.
- Touching, consistent use of first names, remembrances,
well defined role structure, negotiated.
1. Complete understanding of
2. Reciprocity in role
Getting ---------material/biological, needs.
3. Equivalence of Role
Functions - a
form of equality, fairness and
is very important in today's family.
Needs ----------psychological/emotional needs
Met ------------ physical/sexual needs.
4. Focus on the quality of
interaction between the couple - things
move pretty fast today. All families and all family members need
5. Show Respect for your
giving nonjudgmental feedback.
6. Using Confirmation
It is more Confirming to:
Improving Your Listening Skills
- -talk to a person rather than about
them. Includes: Verbal using
name taking them seriously acknowledging their presence Nonverbal
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
- -treat the other personally rather than impersonally.
- -differentiate between your sweetie and others.
1. Become an ACTIVE LISTENER.
at your partner -Concentrate on
what is being said -Watch for nonverbal cues -Try to understand what
is trying to say. -Communicate your interest in the interaction by
periodically with "I see", "I get it".
2. Resist Distractions
3. Control your emotions and
tendency to respond before your
4. As questions and rephrase
clarify your partner's intentions.
5. Summarize (better yet,
the important points you are
to make. Make an outline.
Satisfying communication is
important, but not sufficient for a satisfying marriage. On the other
is necessary: You can’t have a satisfying marriage without satisfying
communication. Satisfying communication
the growth of both marital satisfaction and intimacy. Couples that are
satisfied with their relationship, who define their marriage as a happy
and who indicate high levels of intimacy also report satisfying
patterns of communication.
There are certain aspects of communication that contribute to the well-
There are numerous books,
workshops, and courses designed to help people improve their
skills. Skills can be improved by attending to some basic rules and
them at every opportunity. All rules for
skills revolve around the goals for making us more effective senders
effective receivers. Unfortunately, a clear message sent in a
manner does not guarantee accurate
skills can be improved by
practicing the rules of communication. Certain exercises are
designed to improve communication skills. For those who wish to enhance
quality of their intimate relationships, good communication skills are
- Everyday conversations may be
more important ingredients in a satisfying marriage.
- Self-disclosure comes up
essential factor in an intimate relationship. In marriage,
enhances both satisfaction and intimacy. Exchange theory
suggests that self-disclosure
should be equitable.
- Certain other aspects of
also related to marital satisfaction and intimacy. In happy marriages,
are more stimulating and fun-filled conversations.