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Couple's Guide to Communication
by John Gottman, Cliff Notarius, Jonni Gonso, Howard Markman

The following are excerpts from the above titled book and a book that we highly recommend for all couples.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert

12 Hours to a Great Marriage: A Step-by-Step Guide for Making Love Last

Chapter 1 - Listening and Validation

A Couple's Guide to Communication Good communication means having the impact you intended to have, that is Intent equals Impact.In other words, good communication between intimates is clear and precise.  The speaker tries to clarify the intent of his message by stating exactly what he is thinking, wanting, or feeling.  He does not assume the listener "knows" what is going on in his head; he tells the listener so that the listener doesn't have to guess or mind read.  The good listener tries to make sure that the intent of the message is understood, and does not fill in gaps with guesses as to what is going on in the speakers mind.  both partners are trying to make sure that Intent equals Impact.

In any particular discussion with your spouse you need to find out why communicationdid not occur.  The only way to do that is to get Feedback.  Feedback is what happens when the listener tells the speaker about the impact a message had.  But you have to ask for feedback.  Only when you know the impact that the message actually had and compare it to your intent can you find out where miscommunication occurred.  Unfortunately, most of us live in a feedback vacuum.  We rarely get or ask for feedback; we simply always assume that Intent equaled Impact, and this assumption leads to hurt feelings, confusion, or a variety of other communication pitfalls.  The first step in requesting feedback is to call a Stop Action.  A Stop Action is a request you make for you and your spouse to talk over how you are feeling and to check Intents and Impacts.  A Stop Action can break a long cycle of miscommunication in which Intents do not match Impacts.  In this way you can prevent a conversation from running away from you when you don't know why things are getting out of hand.

Messages - It is important for you to realize that all messages have two components:  a Content component, which is the printed word meaning of the message, and a Feeling component, which is how the content is delivered.  What are the feelings you hear behind the content of the message?

The Summarizing Self Syndrome - A problem seen repeatedly with couples is that each person continues restating his or her own position.  It's as if they each think "If only she/he would see how logical my point is and how much sense it makes to see things the way I see them, we wouldn't have any problems."  Each person is so sure they are right that they both think it's a waste of time to try to hear and understand the other person's viewpoint.  "What's the use of listening to that old, stupid, wrong, idiotic, pigheaded, stubborn point of view my spouse has?"  An so neither person really listens.  They both just restate again and again.  And they both feel frustrated, not listened to, not respected, put down, and lonely.

Some early stages of the Self Syndrome are:

  1. Both feel hurt and not listened to

  2. Neither feels that the other sees their point of view

  3. Conversation keeps seeming to drift "Off Beam" - Sometime the problems, needs, and wishes that you have seem to tangle up like one big know so that when you are discussing one problem area with each other, you deep drifting into other problem areas.  Instead of resolving any of the problems, you just get more and more tired and frustrated.

  4. Can't seem to stay on a topic long enough to solve it

  5. "Mind reading" -= As we get to know another person very well, we often act as if we can "read the other person's mind."  This habit can lead to a great deal of miscommunication where Intent does not equal Impact. Mind reading occurs whenever one person assumes what another person is either feeling or thinking without asking.

  6. "Kitchen sinking" - This term means that each discussion of one issue eventually winds up dragging in everything but the kitchen sink.  The discussion starts on one issue and, before there is a chance to explore that issue, one partner or the other drags in other gripes that may or may not be related.  Pretty soon both people get the feeling that they have to deal with all of the issues at once, and the problem seems like a tangled knot, impossible to solve.

Ending the Summarizing Self Syndrome - You start the Check-out and Paraphrase method.  This skill involves several steps:

  1. Call a Stop Action:  all discussion stops and you talk about the discussion itself.

  2. Feedback:  Ask for feedback on your impacts.  When giving feedback, make it clear, brief, specific, and on topic.  You are giving information to make things, better, not resentments to get even.

  3. Listen to feedback:  What is the content?  What is the feeling?

  4. Summarize and validate:  Paraphrase, in your own words, both content and feeling.  Without Validation, this will be meaningless.  You must get into your partner's shoes and see how reasonable it is for your spouse to feel this way.  And communicate this reasonableness.  This is very hard to do, especially when you yourself feel hurt or not listened to.  But you must do it.

  5. Check Impact:  Chick it with Intent, and discuss the discrepancy if one exists.

We cannot emphasize too greatly the importance of Validation.  Validation means that you communicate to your spouse that, if you were seeing things his or her way, standing on his or her platform, with his or her assumptions about things, then it would make sense and be reasonable to feel that way.  You are not saying "I agree with you," or "You're right, and I'm wrong."  You are just admitting the possibility that another point of view may make sense, given some assumption which you may not share with your spouse.  Psychologists are use to the possibility that two seemingly different views or theories can both be right.

For Validation you must assume, as a working hypothesis, that your spouse's views and feelings make sense if you can see them from his or her perspective.  We cannot overemphasize the importance of genuine Validation (even in part).  Summary without Validation will do nothing.  In addition, Validation has a practical advantage.  We have found that spouses often just want to feel that they have an important view point, that what they say is important.  by acknowledging an alternative viewpoint, your spouse will be more willing and pleased to work on a successful resolution of the problem.


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