How many times have we heard that couples are having "communication problems" or "conflict resolution problems"? Pretty often. In my therapy office couch when I am working with couples, I can pretty much guarantee that this will be one of their main issues and goals to work on. There are gender differences that add to this issue, but I will address that in another article. For now and before learning some communication skills, it's helpful to start understanding this issue by dividing styles of communication into 3 main modes or styles: aggressive, passive, and assertive. If you can become more aware of your predominant style, that is the first step towards improvement. Two of the three communication styles tend to fuel conflict, resentment, and problems (aggressive and passive), the last gives the best chance for conflict resolution, peace, and understanding (assertive).
Communication Style 1: Aggressive Communication
In aggressive communication, a person communicates in an open, honest, direct manner, but also in a harsh, forceful, even abusive manner at the expense of another's feelings. This involves tactics like yelling, biting sarcasm, threats, flailing and intimidating body language, an upset or stern facial expression, etc. The underlying message in an aggressive communication is, I'm right, you're wrong, and you had better give in to me and accommodate "or else". Aggressive communication spans the gamut from disrespectful all the ways to being verbally and even physically abusive. In short, aggressive communication is a form of bullying and it lacks basic respectful, civil treatment of the other.
So, why do people use aggressive communication if it is so bad, even abusive? Because, at least in the short term, people often give aggressors what they want just to appease them or get them to go away. The problem is, aggressive communication leads to hurt and resentment in others, and then an aggressive or passive aggressive response in the future. In short, it often gets people their way now, but it creates enemies that they will have to deal with later. Victims of aggressive communication often remember their treatment a long time and may later retaliate or cut another off.
Communication Style 2: Passive Communication
In passive communication, opinions, wants, and feelings are either partly stated or withheld altogether in an effort to avoid conflict. Body language is often deferring, slouched, and submissive. The tone of voice is often excessively soft, quiet, even scared. "Conflict avoidant" people usually use passive communication styles, especially when the subject matter could involve contention or an argument. People who use a passive communication style often value others wants, needs, and feelings over their own. They generally value avoiding conflict over getting their way.
The main problems with the passive communication style in a relationship is that passive communicators tend to be neglected, mistreated, and taken advantage of. They tend to be less considered, less respected, and overall have less of a say and a voice in the relationship. Passive communicators often act like things are fine on the outside, but build resentment and disgruntlement on the inside, as well as self esteem challenges. Eventually, passive communicators usually get tired of being treated poorly and make their escape out of a relationship, much to the surprise of their usually aggressive partners.
Communication Style 3: Assertive Communication
Assertive communication is literally, a balance between the other two communication styles. Assertive communicators are open, honest, and direct like aggressors, but civil, respectful, and considerate like passives. Health, both with communication and in life in general, lies in the balance between the extremes. Assertive communicators often get their way like aggressors--at least as a compromise--but without alienating others through a spirit of cooperation, mutual consideration, and sensitivity. Also, assertive communicators, unlike their passive counterparts, are willing and even eager to talk out and resolve differences. Hence, assertives are generally treated with more respect and consideration versus the other 2 styles. While there are rare times when having an aggressive or passive communication style is the best for a particular circumstance, usually the assertive communication style is what works best in a relationship.
Examples of assertive communication include "I" statements: I feel_____, I need_____, I want_____; upright posture, confident and secure facial expressions, a patient demeanor, and most importantly and assertive tone of voice. A tone of voice that is assertive is firm and energetic enough to be taken seriously, but soft enough to sound civil, respectful, and considerate. Example of usually assertive communicators in the media include Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Tom Hanks.
So, what does this mean for you in your quest to find and cultivate a happy, healthy relationship? It means, learn, practice, and improve your assertive communication skills regularly from here on out. It will give many advantages in both finding and keeping a quality partner and spouse. Several decent assertive communication developing books include:
--How to Win Friends and Influence People by Carnegie
--Your Perfect Right by Alberti and Emmons
--The Assertive Woman by Phelps and Austin
--People Skills by Bolton
--Tongue Fu by Horn
Developing additional communication skills is an important component of your relational quest, and will give you a great advantage along the way. And it's worth it. Because "…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11). Best wishes,
About the author
Hello, my name is Dr. Randy Gilchrist (aka "Dr. G"). I am a licensed clinical psychologist, a licensed marriage & family therapist, and a certified hypnotherapist in private practice in Roseville, CA (www.dr-rg.com), practicing since 1997. Also, I am happily married in the temple (Manti) since 1996 and have 4 sons. I am a volunteer writer and contributor to LDS Dimension. I use my training, education, and experience to share insights with LDS Dimension on all things of interest to the LDS dating community. Please read my articles and columns on this site to assist you in your online dating journey. Also, to be considered for an answer in a future Q and A column, please email me your dating/relationship oriented questions to email@example.com. Finally, I also offer a powerful, effective worldwide custom hypnosis recording service just for LDS Dimension members for weight loss, pornography, and many other issues of concern to those in the LDS dating community (please learn more now at www.dr-rg.com/lds; email me questions to firstname.lastname@example.org).