How important is good communication to your relationship? Very…right?
Researchers have put a lot of stock in couples learning and using good communication skills. John Gottman, a relationship-research legend, has published over 190 research papers and authored 40 books on marriage and divorce. He has identified 9 specific skills (4 Don’ts and 5 Do’s ) to help couples communicate more effectively (Gottman, 1994) (see list on next page).
BUT…are good communication skills in relationships overrated?
Well, Gottman and Tim Clinton, President of the American Association of Christian Counselors, seem to think so. And as a long-time teacher of communication skills to couples…I agree.
Clinton (2003) notes, successful and happy relationships are not about couples learning good communication skills. Rather, they’re about couples working on their innate selfishness.
Humility Trumps Good Communication
As wonderful as you are…you are still a work in-progress. God is still working on the not-so-pleasant things about your character. (And if you don’t think you have anything not-so-pleasant about your character…there’s a larger issue of denial and self righteousness we need to deal with — but I’ll save that talk for later). Humble yourself…and know that you are an unfinished work. And your unfinished selfishness is not benefiting your relationship.
Clinton further says, when a person’s values and beliefs of relationships are polluted with selfish ways, a consistent struggle remains over learning how to be intimate with one another. I’d also add…selfishness creates problems with trust. Because, if you think your mate is selfish, as a defense mechanism, you’ll instinctively start elevating your own interest above your mate’s and the relationship because you don’t feel your interests are being considered. And that breeds resentment and division in the relationship.
And this is why communication skills’ training is over-rated. If you focus on skillfully communicating your wants, needs, and desires, and get really good at communicating your criticisms about your mate, but your “I-me-my’ attitude remains the #1 focus of your communication, your relationship won’t get better. It’ll get worse.
Don’t Be Jesus…Just Be Less Selfish
Allow your faith…as much as you are committed to it…to influence you to be more loving, others-centered, and less self-centered. Nobody’s asking you to be Jesus. But you can stand to be less ‘I-me-my’ focused.
Since Christ gave his life up for you…with no benefit to him, let that act of selfless love penetrate deeply into your heart and decide to follow that same example for your mate. This way, His love can be realized in your relationship and the way you communicate with one another.
Do this…make a commitment to yourself to do 2-or-more others-centered acts for your mate this week (because only doing 1 additional act is for punks). These selfless acts can do much more for the happiness of your relationship than any carefully crafted communiqué could ever express.
Taken from John Gottman’s book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994), below are the 4 Dont’s and 5 Do’s for good communication in relationships. Use these in concert with humility and acts of selflessness towards your mate.
The 4 Don’ts
1. Criticism – attacking and making negative accusation about your mate’s personality or character.
2. Contempt – name-calling, insulting, mocking, jouning, etc…
3. Defensiveness – deflecting blame or responsibility (with criticism or contempt) in order to protect your feelings.
4. Stonewalling – withdrawing or avoiding an issue in order to delay making dealing with it.
The Five Do’s
5. Calm Down – call a timeout. Get your heart rate below 90 bpm…because it’s harder to think logically with your emotionally heated. Step away, if necessary, until you and/or your mate can communicate without doing at least 3 of the 4 don’ts above.
6. Complain – believe it or not, being perpetually passive and non-confrontational creates more problems than it causes. You are voluntarily suffocating your identity. Telling your complaints and issue to your mate…in a non-critical or non-contemptful way…allow issues to be brought to the forefront and address. This is a hallmark of all successful couples.
7. Speak Non-Defensively – this is the opposite of not being defensive. Accept your responsibility, as much as you are to blame, then express your feelings from an “I” rather than a “you” point of view (e.g., “I feel that you don’t respect me”, not “Why do you always disrespect me!”)
8. Validate – acknowledge your mate’s position and point of view…even if you don’t agree. You don’t have to agree with them in order to acknowledge what they are saying is what they believe.
9. Overlearn Skills – be proactive and purposeful about learning these do’s and don’ts. Practice them daily until you don’t have to remember to do them. They just come natural.
BMWK: How do you communicate? Do you use any of these do’s and don’ts?