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Communication

December 15, 2010

When couples come to our Marriage Works classes, many cite communication as the skill they most want to learn. Most have experienced the frustration of being misunderstood by their partner, and they know that what their partner hears is very often different than what was actually said. This was illustrated in our December blog posts. We laughed as Terri heard “set it up and floor it” as a driving instruction when her husband was actually repeating the coach’s instructions to his players. We identified with Greg’s experiences seeking driving directions from his wife. We felt these stories because miscommunication is common in relationships.

In Fighting for Your Marriage, Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg, suggest that our filters can cause miscommunication. As with any other filter, what goes through our communication filter is different than what comes out. Four types of filters can affect couples as they struggle for clear communication:

Distractions

When we talk, do we have our partner’s attention? Both external and internal factors can affect our ability to pay attention. External factors can be noisy kids (Greg), background noise (Terri) or a bad phone line. Internal factors can include being tired, thinking about something else or planning your next response while your partner is still speaking. For important talks, find a quiet place and don’t answer the phone or turn on the TV. Also, make sure your spouse is ready to listen. Ask!

Emotional States

Moods greatly influence communication. A number of studies demonstrate that we tend to give people more benefit of the doubt when we are in a good mood and less when we are in a bad mood. If we are in a bad mood we are more likely to perceive whatever our partner says or does in a negative light, no matter how positive he or she may try to be. The best defense against allowing this filter to damage the relationship is to acknowledge being angry, worried, sad or upset. Clarifying the emotional filter can allow the couple to postpone the conversation or to de-escalate and be clear with one another.

Beliefs and Expectations

We tend to look for or hear in others what we are expecting. We pull from others the behavior that is consistent with what we expect. That is one reason why so many old habits and patterns of communication come back with full force during the holidays when we are around the family we grew up with. Everyone has their expectation filters working, and everyone is reacting to the mix. We should exercise the humility to acknowledge that we do not always get it right when we size up others or their motivations. Humility is the little-used, greatest power for good in your relationship.

Differences in Style

Everyone has different styles of communicating, and different styles can lead to filtering. Styles are determined by many influences, including culture, gender and upbringing. Sometimes style differences rooted in family backgrounds can cause great misunderstandings, becoming powerful filters that distort communication. Being more aware of how your different styles affect your communication can go a long way toward preventing misunderstandings. Give some thought to style differences between the two of you, and talk about their effect on your communication.

We all have filters and they are constantly affecting what we say and hear. Many arguments start with one person misunderstanding what the other meant. Recognizing and acknowledging your filters will go a long way toward improving your communication and your relationship.

~Cindy

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