Poor Communication Skills Can Hinder Relationships

first_imgValentine’s Day is a time of year when cupid, flowers and candy-shaped hearts can signal the most romantic day of the year. Many couples take the occasion to evaluate where the relationship is, but according to Cindy White, an assistant professor in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s communications department, many couples have a difficult time evaluating their relationships because of poor communication skills. “If a problem is recurring, chances are it’s about something other than what folks are talking about,” White said. “If it comes up again and again that one person doesn’t call when they’re late and one partner continues to feel upset about that, and the other partner continues not to call and feels as though it’s an infringement on their freedom — that’s probably a problem in the relationship that goes beyond the way the partners have been discussing it.” According to White, one way to look at communication problems is to use a dialectical approach in which problems are centered on three main tensions: autonomy and connection; openness and privacy; and predictability and novelty. “A lot of times, communication in relationships really centers around oppositional tensions, a situation where one partner is feeling one tension and the other partner is feeling the pull of the other partner,” White said. “For example, a person really wants to spend time together with their partner and yet their partner really wants to spend time alone. Though they might have a sense of those tensions, they are not able to articulate them.” If people have a difficult time articulating what the problem is, they will instead point to a concrete behavior or a specific situation, said White, when in fact what they’re dealing with is a much more fundamental problem in the relationship. Compounding the communication problem is an unreasonable mindset in our society where couples expect each other to know or sense when they are having problems, she said. “In our society we have often come to believe that if you have to say what you want or need then in fact your partner isn’t really doing their job,” White said. “What the research suggests is that, in fact, people probably do better if they’re able to, what we call ‘meta-communicate.’ Which is really talk about what they want and need from their partner.” “If people can set aside this notion that my partner should know everything I want or need and realize that what they’re doing in the relationship is negotiating, negotiating with the other person on how the relationship ought to work, what you can do is get past expecting the other person to know automatically what you want and, instead, share some of the things you want or need.” Valentine’s Day offers the opportunity for couples to validate their relationships, said White. The ritual of getting a box of chocolates, flowers and going to dinner reinforces the predictability of the relationship. White’s advice is for couples to take time during Valentine’s Day to reflect on what has been going on in their relationship to determine what their partner needs. Published: Feb. 5, 2001 Share Share via TwitterShare via FacebookShare via LinkedInShare via E-maillast_img read more