Here our goal is to try and see communication from a new angle, using the most ancient roots of the word as well as the most recent research into the phenomenon. By reminding ourselves the foundations that lie underneath the idea of communication as a key to a healthy couple’s relationship, we can hope to remind ourselves of why it was so important in the first place.
The Roots of Communication
But many of us are wrong: Communication is a very multi-faceted experience that looks and feels different for every single person. To take a deeper look at communication, let’s look at the root.
The word “communication” comes from a Latin stem that also gives us such words as to “impart,” to “inform,” “to share,” to “divide out,” to “join,” to “unite,” to “participate in.” In the most literal translation of the Latin word, to communicate means “to make common.”
Even taking one moment’s pause to meditate on one of these definitions of communication can make any of us examine whether we truly are communicating as effectively as we could be with our partner.
Do we feel that communication is “uniting” us with our partner? Or do we feel that communication is more of a struggle or a battle, providing a divisive influence. Do we feel that we “participate in” a conversation together? Or do we feel that we are often simply taking turns venting our individual thoughts.
Thinking about the root of communication in this way can cut through the clutter of what communication is and what it means for couples. Thinking about the purpose and the function of communication reminds us quite starkly that inside of a couples’ relationship, all of the following factors can come into play to define our ability “to communicate:”
- Giving our partner undivided attention, without allowing distractions to creep in
- Making eye contact in a comfortable, accepting manner, to make our partner feel valued
- Placing ourselves on the same team as our partner, using the language of collaboration
- Keeping our body in a supportive and encouraging posture, to comfort our partner
- Being courageous enough to vulnerably share our own feelings, to earn our partner’s trust
Role of Communication
In a recent study, researchers at the University of Georgia measured the communication ability and relational satisfaction of 431 first-married newlywed couples. The couples not only filled out questionnaires online in order to assess their marital satisfaction, but also participated in short videotaped discussions, in order to assess their problem-solving ability as a couple as well as the amount of social support that they provided each other.
The researchers measured these features of the couples’ relationships a total of four times at roughly 9-month increments. By the end of this period of collecting data, the researchers had a good understanding of the overall communication ability as well as the marital satisfaction demonstrated by each member of the couple over the course of their first three years of marriage.
After examining the role of communication in relational satisfaction, the researchers came to a surprising conclusion. They found that while it’s true that communication is a critical element in individuals’ ratings of satisfaction in an intimate relationship, it’s not necessarily true that having good communication is the key to relational satisfaction.
Specifically, the researchers found that there was certainly a connection between these two concepts: Spouses who were more satisfied with the relationship did show more positive communication patterns, less negative communication, and communication that was overall more effective.
However, when the researchers looked closer at the timing of the relationships, they found that more often it was the case that being satisfied in the relationship generally led to having better communication. Less often did the positive communication itself ultimately lead to relational satisfaction.
What it Means for your Relationship
For your relationship, what this means is that communication should never be used as an excuse. Communication should never be thought of as the stumbling block upon which couples lose their balance. Communication should never be blamed as the cause of why a relationship might fail.
Instead, it’s vitally important to understand that a couple’s ability to communicate provides more of an indicator of their relationship’s health. When you or your partner feel that there is a breach in communication, this can provide a signal to address whatever issue lies at the root of the breach.
Alternatively, for relationships that are just starting off and are not yet to a point of irreversible commitment, a breach in communication can also be a signal that there is a fundamental incompatibility. Couples should use the “communication barometer” to seriously consider whether they are making the best decision for themselves and their partner by continuing.
In the end, whatever the stage of the relationship is, communication provides a valuable lens through which to view intimate relationships between couples. Our ability to connect with another human being in an intimate relationship is part of what makes us human, and that is something that deserves to be communicated!
By Couples Clinic
Lavner, J. A., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2016). Does couples' communication predict marital satisfaction, or does marital satisfaction predict communication? Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(3), 680-694.