What You Need To Know About Communication In Relationships
Communication skills are vital to successfully navigate our
social world. Nowhere is this more evident and obvious than in our
communications with others, particularly relationships. It is
almost a given that problems in relationships are rooted in poor
communication. In my practice as an outpatient psychologist, this
is the number one complaint I hear from couples.
Communication takes place on two very different levels.
The first one is "content." This is the issue being discussed.
If I talk about how my wife doesn't cook very well, the content has
to do with her cooking. We may cuss and/or discuss how well she
does or does not cook, but its all content. Content comprises only
about ten percent of what is actually communicated.
The deeper and usually more important part of communication is
"process." Process comprises all the non-verbal messages embedded
in the content. It includes the feelings of the speaker, the tone
of voice, volume, pace, pressure ("I can't get a word in edge-wise...),
timing/dynamics. The latter is about power plays, manipulations
because of strategic omissions, and is most often relayed by the
"when" of any particular content communicated. We psychologists
think that process material comprises up to ninety percent of
In relationships, particularly longer-term relationships,
communication reaches critical mass. Don't communicate and most if
not all of the relationship are compromised. One could say the
same thing about any kind of shorter-term relationship
(teacher-student, employer-employee) and the same would be true,
just less crucially. But in longer-term relationships, even those
of siblings, communication becomes increasingly important.
Romantic relationships start off with a bang, and gradually
quiet down. The process takes months, usually about six on average,
after which the couple settles into routines. Sometimes partners do
this faster but some stimulation junkie types prolong settling in
because it is not as fun. Regardless, sooner or later, everyone in
a relationship experiences some loss of intensity at superficial
Not coincidentally, this is about the time when communication
skills really become important. While it is true that communicating
right from the start of the relationship is important, it is more
important that partners know how to connect when the luster or novelty
wears off. Why? Because, as the relationship evolves, the real
aspects (qualities of personality) of each partner emerge. This is
in direct proportion to the decrease in distractions and cover-ups
that novelty embodies.
And, what "comes up?" Here's when the rubber meets the road
when it comes to making or breaking the relationship. If the
"deep stuff" is mutually compatible, the relationship will progress
and continue to be enjoyable/functional for some time. If either
of the partners have "baggage" the relationship will reflect this as
the deep stuff emerges and conflict will arise. What is the deep
This is the subject of my newest ebook on Effective Communication
and Other skills Especially for Long-term Relationships. The deep
stuff entails how we were brought up and what are our basic assumptions
about the world. We got those from not just parents, but from
relationships we have seen or experienced through any family-of-origin
connection. We derive our understanding of relationship dynamics from
media but also from everyone around us. When we were kids, we hung out
at neighbor's houses. Their parents had relationships, didn't they?
Teachers came to school every day and were neutral, happy, sad, etc.
How did they treat us? These registered somewhere in our brains, too.
All these and a zillion more messages formed to teach us how the
world of relationships "should" be. That's the deep stuff and it is
very complicated. It can be good or bad or anything in between.
See below for how to get more detailed information about how the
deep stuff impacts relationships.