Discuss the role of self-disclosure in the development of intimacy.
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In this lesson, you will learn more about how married couples communicate, negotiate, manage tasks and manage conflict. These are the skills essential to maintaining a relationship and can make or break a relationship. Couples with healthy communication and conflict management are more likely to succeed, both early in their marriage and later when they have their own families. Couples with less functional communication and conflict management abilities are less likely to maintain their relationships.
In the previous lesson, you touched on some of these ideas, as you learned about the tasks of newly married couples. Established couples must continue with many of the same strategies to accomplish similar relationship tasks. Nearly all family tasks require two skills: communication and conflict management. Topics covered include:
· Communication in relationships
· Conversational styles in couples
· Conflict management for married couples
· Marital violence
Communication in Relationships
Communication is essential for negotiating all marital tasks, including establishing a marital identity, defining marital roles and clarifying internal and external boundaries. According to Anderson and Sabatelli (2010, p. 154), “Communication can be viewed as a symbolic and transactional process through which we create and share meanings.” Communication includes both verbal conversation and nonverbal signals, like tone, behavior and body language. The symbolic meaning of these various cues is understood by both parties. Each couple must establish their own rules for communication in the relationship, called a private message system —and not the one on Facebook.
Since communication includes a range of nonverbal signals, all behavior within a relationship is a type of communication. It’s impossible not to communicate, although not all communication is healthy. The interactions you have with a partner are types of communication, but so are the things you avoid saying in a relationship.
Basic Constructs of Communication
Communication can be divided into several different constructs. The first of these is the message. The second is the metamessage, and the final is the framing of communication within the couple. Understanding the different constructs of communication is essential. Without these constructs, the information conveyed can be quite different.
· NONVERBAL SYMBOLS
· FRAMING MESSAGES
Messages convey information when communication occurs. Every message includes two different levels of content: the content level and the relationship level. The content level is the information directly provided, like “I went to the store and bought what we need for dinner for your mother.” The content level is what is directly said. The relationship level is the inferred meaning in what you say, provided by context, tone, facial expression, and other factors.
For instance, imagine the message about the dinner groceries included here. That could be a straightforward statement that the groceries have been purchased, but it could also have additional layers of meaning. If your partner dislikes your mother, that may impact the meaning of the statement. It could also be changed if you were supposed to have done the shopping, but failed to do so. The content level is quite clear, but the relationship level is much more ambiguous.
The metamessage can be thought of as the message within the message. Metamessages are shared by behavioral and nonverbal cues, much like the relational level of messages. The metamessage conveys information about three different relationship factors.
- This is how I see myself.
- This is how I see you.
- This is how I see you seeing me (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 155).
When couples understand each other’s metamessages, they are more able to meet one another’s needs and create a happy relationship. If they do not recognize metamessages, they are much more likely to come into conflict (Tannen, 2012).
Consider a rather ordinary interaction between a married couple. Both have just come home from work, and one asks the other how their day was. They get a tired and sad-sounding “fine.” In this situation, did “fine” mean that the day went well or at least adequately? In many cases, the answer is no. In fact, the day did not go well, and the individual is hoping for a very different response.
Metamessages are typically an indirect form of communication. Different people may be more or less successful at recognizing and reading metamessages. There are things couples can do to improve their understanding of each other’s metamessages:
· Couples should recognize that communication styles and metamessages are formed by the experiences in the family of origin. One person may mean something very different than another, even though the expressions, body language, and other factors may be similar.
· Some couples question their relationship if they fail to understand metamessages. It can take time, patience and effort to understand metamessages in a relationship.
· Thoughtful couples can slow down their conversations to reduce misunderstanding and listen carefully and actively to one another. Active listening includes the work of rephrasing what is heard to confirm that it’s been understood and understood correctly.
Defensive responses to difficulty with metamessages can damage overall communication between the couple. Avoiding defensiveness and being willing to admit mistakes can improve communication (Hartwell-Walker, 2016).
Nonverbal symbols are a key part of metamessages. These nonverbal symbols include body movements, gestures, expressions, postures and eye contact (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 156). These nonverbal symbols can convey a significant amount of information about meaning. While voice quality, volume, and tone are not nonverbal, these are an essential component of the metamessages associated with speech.
These are the differences that clarify whether “fine,” to use our earlier example, means fine, or means not fine at all. Fine, said in a cheerful tone, probably means I had a good day. Fine, in an ordinary tone, probably means the day was ordinary, or at least that there’s no desire to discuss it further. Fine, in a very sad or angry tone, does not mean fine at all. It may, in fact, mean that the individual wants to talk about his or her day.
The framing of messages is how people hear the messages communicated by others. This includes the message, the metamessage, and their own perceptions of their partner. Framing is the meaning the listener attributes to the metamessage. This is a personal and subjective process, influenced by the context of the relationship, the listener’s own experiences, and other factors.
Framing is often the source of misunderstanding or even conflicts in relationships. Messages can be interpreted as controlling when the intent is to create a connection. “The same exact words and gestures can be expressions of connection or control—depending, of course, on (1) the message the sender intends to convey; (2) the particular ways the message is expressed; and (3) the way the message is interpreted or framed.” (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 157)
The way a listener frames a message can dramatically change its meaning, in his or her eyes. Learning to recognize that framing may not always match the message or metamessage can help individuals in a relationship to improve their understanding and communication.
Individuals each have a unique conversational style. The conversational style is a unique style of communicating with others (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 158). The conversational style is clearly reflected in both what is said and how it is said.
While conversational styles are quite unique, there are several common dimensions to conversational styles. Each of these dimensions is important for understanding how people communicate and how they shape both messages and metamessages.
DEGREE OF DIRECTNESS
DEGREE OF INDIRECTNESS
HOW INTEREST OR DISINTEREST IS CONVEYED
Different factors influence both how people shape the messages they give to others and how they frame the messages that they receive from others.
The communication context is the first of these factors. This is the physical and social environment in which the communication takes place. Think about the different environments in which you might have a conversation during your relationship. You could be at home, in your own living room or in a restaurant having a quiet meal. You could also be engaging in sexual activity, or at a party, or with a larger group of family. The same things said in these different contexts, could appear quite different.
Both self-concept and self-esteem can impact communication in various ways. Typically, higher self-esteem and better self-concept are associated with the more direct communication. In addition, individuals with higher self-esteem are less likely to interpret others’ communication in negative ways. People with low self-esteem are likely to frame messages in negative ways and to believe others see them in negative ways.
Cultural rules shape communication, and can dramatically alter the perception of communication. For instance, in some cultures, eye contact is perceived as a sign of respect. In others, it may be perceived as disrespectful. Cultural awareness can help individuals to more accurately frame communications with others in their personal, or even their professional lives.
The ways that individuals’ families of origin communicate also shape communication for adults in relationships. Some families are louder, and others are quieter. In some families, arguing, bickering, or yelling are more tolerated and acceptable than in others. If two people come from families of origin with very different communication strategies, they may have a harder time understanding one another and communicating effectively.
Gender and Communication
Gender can also impact conversational styles and communication patterns. However, it is important to recognize that differences and the impact of these differences vary from person to person. These are broad generalizations, and the differences on the basis of gender may be smaller or less than expected in some cases. Substantial variations in communication style between individuals are common regardless of difference. Differences in communication on the basis of gender are typically the result of gender-based interpersonal orientations (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 161).
Some of the differences in communication between men and women are specifically related to how and when each uses language. In broad terms, women are more likely to use language to determine what they’re feeling, while men are more likely to use in a productive way. As children, and into adulthood, women talk to create and maintain relationships, while men do things to create and maintain relationships (Berl, 2013).
Communication and Intimacy
Maintaining a marriage or serious relationship requires multiple levels of communication. First, there is basic communication. This is communication about the needs and situations associated with daily life. It might be a request to pick up milk on the way home from work or information about family activities. This basic information usually lacks additional meaning. It’s quite straightforward and relatively unemotional in most cases. However, it can occasionally cause conflict if the related tasks are not well-negotiated.
Communication also supports, creates and maintains intimacy in married couples. Married couples must develop a private message system that supports and encourages closeness and intimacy. This is communication that tells the partner that they are loved and valued in the relationship. Several different elements in the communication process support this feeling of intimacy and closeness.
CONFIRMATION SELF-DISCLOSURE RULE OF RECIPROCITI don’t know
Misunderstandings and conflicts are inevitable in any relationship. A misunderstanding occurs when one party frames a message in a way that was not intended by the speaker. Conflict occurs when the two parties disagree about something. Transaction management refers to how a couple handles misunderstandings and conflict. A number of different factors impact how successfully an individual couple manages transactions.
ADAPTING TO THE SITUATION
Conflict in Marriage
Conflict is a direct and acknowledged opposition between the parties that they identify as a source of difficulty in the marriage (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 172). As such, conflict is a stressor in the relationship. While conflict is a source of stress, it may be either positive or negative. Healthy and appropriate conflict management can increase intimacy and closeness in a relationship. Poor conflict management will have a negative effect on the marriage. Effective conflict management is adaptable. The patterns in the relationship change to reduce frustration and upset. Poor conflict management maintains patterns, and frustration and upset may increase.
TYPES OF CONFLICT
Research has shown that many couples have the same type of conflicts and that areas of conflict for couples in the West are relatively universal. The same areas of conflict impact gay and lesbian relationships. Minor issues can quite easily become significant conflicts in a relationship. An individual couple may find that they have recurrent fights over where to store the soy sauce or how the put the toilet paper on the roll. In some cases, these conflicts take on an unexpected or illogical degree of importance.
· Lack of Quality Time
A lack of quality time spent together as a couple. This is a common issue between couples. One, and in some cases, both partners may perceive a lack of commitment to the relationship or interest in the partner.
The Sources of Conflict
Regardless of the specific conflict, most marital conflicts have a source that is deeper than whether or not the toilet seat was left up, or how much to spend and how much to save. These are deeper conflicts or different sets of expectations about relationships, marriage, and responsibilities.
· ROLE EXPECTATIONS IN MARRIAGE
· BALANCING SEPARATION AND CONNECTION
· FAIRNESS AND EQUITY
Feminine communication is often intended, either consciously or unconsciously, to build and maintain relationships. Women are more likely to disclose personal information and to seek comparable disclosures, to share expressions of sympathy or empathy, and to work to increase the engagement and comfort of others in the conversation. Feminine communication is more likely to involve engaged body language, gestures, and physical contact. However, it’s also more likely to be tentative or questioning. Indirect communication may be more likely for women than for men (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 161).
Masculine communication is more likely to be focused on solutions and problem-solving than women’s communication. Men are more likely to be direct and assertive in conversation and may be more likely to dominate the conversation. They may make an effort to maintain control of the conversation and are less likely to offer emotional or personal disclosures.
There are two explanations for these differences: power and socialization. In many cultures, women have less social power than men. This produces communication that is more tentative for women. It also produces communication patterns that are more dominant and assertive for men. The second explanation suggests that women are socialized to be more empathetic and caring, thereby producing different communication patterns.
These differences in communication style can cause misunderstandings in relationships. You’re probably familiar with some of these stereotypical problems. They’re common even in mass media. Think of a television sitcom. You’ve almost certainly seen at least one in which a woman is complaining about a problem, and a man is offering solutions, but she doesn’t want the solutions. He doesn’t understand that’s not her goal or why she’s talking about the situation.
Disagreements over role expectations in marriage are a substantial source of conflict. When ideas about marital roles are congruent or agree, there’s less chance of conflict. If ideas about marital roles disagree, conflict is quite likely.
In broad terms, you can define marital roles as traditional or modern. Traditional marital roles are divided along gender lines. Primary financial responsibility, car maintenance, and lawn care are typically considered masculine. Responsibility for the home, children and emotional labor relating to the families of origin are thought of as feminine tasks.
Modern marital roles advocate shared responsibility, for both finances and the home. In a modern marriage, both parties are likely to contribute financially, share household responsibilities, and have an equal voice in decisions.
If both members of the couple have a preference for and expectation of a very traditional relationship, they may feel comfortable with these roles. If one member of the couple expects a traditional relationship and the other has an image of more modern roles, they both may feel that their partner is not meeting their expectations.
Negotiations regarding role expectations typically begin with a complaint from one partner, illustrating how the other isn’t meeting their expectations. If the offending partner believes the complaint is legitimate, the negotiation can be quite minimal, with an apology and effort to correct the behavior. Effort from the offending partner reduces stress and restores harmony.
If the offending partner believes that the accusation is unfair, or that the expectations are not reasonable, the conflict will continue and may escalate. Negotiations can be settled peacefully, but this may be challenging, as both members of the couple believe that their position is the correct one.
The Goals of Conflict Management
Conflict management plays a key role in the level of closeness and intimacy in a relationship. Several distinct goals guide conflict management strategies. Depending upon the goals in the relationship, conflict management strategies can vary significantly.
· INCREASING INTIMACY
· CONFLICT ELIMINATION
· POWER AND VICTORY
When couples prioritize increasing intimacy as the goal of conflict management, they emphasize cooperation and compromise. Both members of the couple may be more willing to sacrifice for the well-being of their spouse and are more likely to find their partner’s happiness rewarding. Individuals work to be open and responsive. These couples are less likely to react defensively to one another, and more likely to work out mutually acceptable solutions.
The metamessage throughout these interactions is one of closeness, respect, and intimacy. The couple typically recognizes shared goals, interests, and values and feels good about their relationship.
Negative Conflict Patterns
Patterns of negative behavior and conflict can significantly damage relationships. In the last lesson, you learned about the “Four Horsemen” or four behaviors closely connected with relationship problems. Happy couples use these the least, distressed couples use them some, and couples headed for divorce use them a great deal.
· Criticism attacks your partner as a person.
· Defensiveness turns the problem back on your partner.
· Contempt is disrespectful language or behavior toward your partner.
· Stonewalling is refusing to discuss conflicts with your partner (Lisitsa, 2013).
If you’ve seen lists of things in your relationship that are serious signs of trouble, you may be familiar with gestures like eye-rolling. These all fit within the Four Horsemen. Couples in this situation are more likely to feed off the other’s negativity.
When both members of a couple have detached from the relationship, they may be completely emotionally disengaged from one another. In this case, they don’t typically display negative behaviors, as they no longer care enough to bother.
During the conflict, people may experience a state of being both emotionally and physically overwhelmed. This is called flooding and may limit one’s ability to continue conversation effectively. This is a fight or flight response and taking space from the conflict may be essential before continuing.
Conflict in Happy Couples
Happy couples do experience conflict and may apply several different conflict management strategies, even if those strategies are not ideal. Happy, or happy enough, couples can be grouped into three different conflict management strategies. These are the validating couple, the volatile couple, and the conflict-minimizing couple (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 185).
The validating couple implements intimacy maintenance strategies, including open communication and caring negotiations. The volatile couple may argue loudly but are often quite close and passionate. Their arguments are typically brief and quickly resolved. The conflict-minimizing couple lacks needed communication skills. They ignore conflict rather than addressing it, but work to maintain a close and intimate relationship regardless of the avoidance of conflict.
WHAT DEFINES A HAPPY COUPLE VERSUS ONE THAT ISN’T?
· Balancing Positive and Negative Interactions
A happy marriage typically includes five positive interactions for every negative interaction.
Marital violence remains a common problem. Estimates suggest that only seven percent of domestic assaults are reported (Anderson & Sabatelli, 2010, p. 192). In understanding marital violence, it is critical to remember that either member of the couple can be the victim and that marital violence also occurs in gay and lesbian relationships. Women are, however, more often the victim of marital violence, and more likely to be seriously injured by marital violence.
Many different factors contribute to marital violence. Cultural norms that tolerate or support violent and aggressive behavior are a contributing factor to marital violence. A family legacy of violence can play a significant role in marital violence. If individuals have witnessed violence in the home, they are more likely to engage in violent behavior in their own lives. Situational factors and stressors may increase marital violence. However, this may reflect aspects of reporting or a less-significant difference than it appears.
In order to manage conflict in a violent relationship, the victim may change their behavior to reduce the risk of violence. This is a complementary relationship, but it does not provide a long-term solution to marital conflict and the violence that accompanies it in these couples.
In a relationship, communication and conflict management are closely related. One cannot exist without the other. However, couples can maintain a happy relationship even with relatively poor communication and conflict management. Good communication facilitates good conflict management and a happy relationship.
Communication includes both verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as how the other party hears or frames communication. Both partners must learn the other’s conversational style, and adapt to meet each other’s needs. Effective communication encourages intimacy and closeness in the relationship.
Conflict management includes handling and adjusting all disagreements within a marriage. Many of these disagreements relate to conflicts in expectations of marital roles. Couples adopt different conflict management styles, but not all of them are effective or can produce a happy relationship. Negative conflict management behaviors appear in most relationships but cause lasting problems if they become common.
Communication: A symbolic and transactional process through which we create and share information.
Communication Context: The situation in which communication occurs.
Complementary Relationship: A relationship in which one partner acquiesces to demands to reduce any risk of conflict. This is common in violent relationships.
Confirmation: Positive feelings as a result of a partner’s responses and feedback.
Conversational Style: A unique and personal way of communicating with others.
Message: The overt content of communication.
Metacommunication: Communicating about communication.
Metamessage: The subtext to a message.
Misunderstanding: Incorrectly framing a message or metamessage.
Anderson, S. A., & Sabatelli, R. (2010) Family Interaction: A Multigenerational Developmental Perspective. London: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Gaspard, T. (n.d.) How to break out of the pursuer-distancer dance. Retrieved from http://movingpastdivorce.com/2014/10/how-to-break-out-of-the-pursuer-distancer-dance/
Krull, E. (2016) Marriage communication: 3 common mistakes and how to fix them. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/marriage-communication-3-common-mistakes-and-how-to-fix-them/
Lidipo, T. (2013) Relationship fairness: what a 50/50 balance means. Retrieved from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/relationship-fairness-what-a-50-50-balance-means-0826134
Lingren, H. (1996) Managing conflict successfully. Retrieved from http://strongermarriage.org/married/managing-conflict-successfully
Lisitsa, E. (2013) The four horsemen. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/
Tannen, D. (2012) Metamessages in family talk. Retrieved from https://www.enotalone.com/parenting/4465.html
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