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What it Means to Have Good Communication Skills in Your Relationship

Probably the single most important contribution you can make to your marriage is to be aware of your own feelings.

What’s the second most important contribution you can make to your marriage? It’s being aware of your partner’s feelings.

To say that each of these skills is vital to the health and happiness of a couple is actually an understatement.

I’m hurt.

My wife is disappointed.

I’m angry.

My boyfriend is feeling overwhelmed.

Even if you are aware of the feelings in your relationship, like for example, the ones above, what are you supposed you do with that knowledge?

This is where communication skills enter the picture.

How do you tell your partner that she made you angry? That he hurt your feelings? How do you let your partner know that you need something from her? The way you communicate a difficult message is just as important as the message itself.

To get a window into how to do it unsuccessfully, let’s use this example of Mark and Beth from my book, Running On Empty No More.

Examples of Ineffective Communication

Mark is hurt and angry because Beth ignored him at a party, even after he asked her to stick with him since he didn’t know anyone.

  1. Passive-Aggressive: “I’ll show her how it feels. I’ll ignore her at my work party next week,” Mark decides.
  2. Aggressive: Mark walks up to Beth during the party and says quietly, but in an enraged tone, “You are so self-centered! I’m never going to another party with you again.”
  3. Sarcastic: As soon as Beth gets into the car to drive home Mark says angrily, “Well, I hope you had fun at that party because I sure didn’t.”

Passive-Aggressive

Passive-aggressive actions are actually not so much communication as retaliation. Mark thinks his tit-for-tat approach will teach Beth a lesson, but it will not.

When Mark ignores Beth at his work party one week later, chances are high that Beth will never connect Mark’s party behavior to her own. But even if she does, she will resent him for it.

Passive-aggression is essentially trying to make a right out of two wrongs, but over time this method simply weighs down the relationship with negativity.

Aggressive

In the aggressive example, Mark communicates in an accusing and attacking way, and his timing to do so is poor. His words, tone, and choice to speak his mind during the party all ensure that Beth will not want to do anything to fix the problem. Instead, she will feel attacked, hurt, and possibly embarrassed. Mark’s needs will, unfortunately, be even further thwarted.

Sarcastic

In the sarcastic example, Mark waits until it’s too late for Beth to change her behavior. He does not communicate his feelings directly or with care.

Sarcasm is like a jab that comes at you from the side. Beth will feel accused and attacked, and her defenses will immediately rise. And once Beth’s defenses are up, Mark’s message is lost.

The Worst Thing About Ineffective Communication

There is an infinite number of ways to communicate ineffectively, and we only talked about three very common ones. If you recognize even just a little bit of yourself or your spouse in these examples, you can safely conclude that one or both of you did not learn effective communication skills in your childhood home.

As a therapist who specializes in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect, I do see that, without a doubt, the communication of many, many couples is affected greatly by the way emotions were addressed in each partner’s childhood home.

Some families address the feelings of their members openly and directly and display an ease in discussing problems and emotions. Others are deeply uncomfortable, or completely unaware of, the feelings of their members. These emotionally neglectful families fail to teach their children the vital emotion communication skills they will need in order to have a happy marriage.

If you or your partner grew up in an emotionally neglectful family, there is a high likelihood that your marriage is being held back by a lack of communication skills. In addition to being frustrating and divisive, there is one more less-recognized negative result from ineffective communication: your messages, your feelings, and your needs go unheard. So they will likely not be fulfilled.

Examples of Good Communication Skills

Mark is hurt and angry because Beth ignored him at a party, even after he asked her to stick with him since he didn’t know anyone.

  1. Mark puts his hand on Beth’s shoulder at the party and whispers into her ear, “Remember I don’t know anyone here. Don’t forget to stick with me.”
  2. Mark waits until they are driving home and then says, “I thought we were going to stick together at the party tonight, Beth. What happened?”

In the first example, Mark communicates perfectly. He expresses his needs to Beth while they are still at the party, which permits her to fix the problem in real time. He does it in a non-blaming way by simply reminding her. In this way he is not only giving her the benefit of the doubt (that she’s not purposely ignoring him), he reminds her in a way that will make her want to solve the problem.

In the second example, Beth does not have the opportunity to fix the problem at the party. But Mark is still communicating in a non-blaming, non-aggressive way.

Asking questions is an excellent way to avoid accusing the other person. It also gives your partner a chance to explain herself. And it opens the problem up for conversation, as opposed to setting up an automatic angry or defensive clash.

The Best Thing About Effective Communication

When it comes to good communication skills, there are many advantages. Not only does do they help you be honest with each other, but they also enable you to constantly get to know each other better, even if you have been together for 20 years.

And just like poor skills, there is one more thing that most people forget about: when you say things in the right way so that your partner can hear them, you have the opportunity to get what you want and need.

As a therapist, there is one thing I can say about this beyond a shadow of a doubt. When it comes to communication skills, it is never too late to learn.

To learn much more about emotions and how to improve communication in your marriage, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and very difficult to see or remember. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

What it Means to Have Good Communication Skills in Your Relationship

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb has a PhD in clinical psychology, and is author of the bestselling books Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationship. She has appeared on CBS News, New England Cable News, and NPR about Childhood Emotional Neglect, and has been quoted as a psychologist expert in the Chicago Tribune and CNBC. She currently has a private psychotherapy practice in the Boston area, where she specializes in the treatment of couples and families. To read more about Dr. Webb, her books and Childhood Emotional Neglect, you can visit her website, Emotionalneglect.com.


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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2018). What it Means to Have Good Communication Skills in Your Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2018/10/what-it-means-to-have-good-communication-skills-in-your-relationship/

 

Last updated: 19 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Oct 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.