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Too often people in relationships have difficulty in communicating with each other effectively simply because they are intimate with each other, and tend to think that it is okay to “be honest with each other”, or that it is acceptable to not maintain certain boundaries commonly used in other verbal interactions and resort instead to name calling, swear words and similar aspects of unsavory verbal communication.Another reason why communication between couples is difficult is because as people spend more time with each other they tend to be able to read “nonverbal” communication and react to those cues rather than the words spoken.  Nonverbal messages can take the form of body movements (gestures as well as stance), facial expressions, and eye movements (including direct eye contact and failing to make eye contact).  Ekman and Friesen (1969) identified five different types of body movements evident in nonverbal communication.  These types included “emblems” or signs that we can make with our hands such as a circled first finger and thumb indicating the “OK” symbol.  Hand gestures or “illustrators” can be used where a person indicates with their hands the approximate size of an object, like indicating the size of a fish that got away.Showing emotion on the face is another form of body movement whereas a combination of hand and facial expressions was identified by Ekman and Friesen (1969) as being conversation “regulators”.  For example in a case where someone is waiting for a person to come to the point in a verbal spiel they might raise their eyebrows to indicate listening and make rolling motions with their hands to indicate “yes, yes, come on, get to the good bit”.  Similarly some one who wants to break into a verbal barrage from another person might lift their hands in the “stop” position and imply by the look on their face that it is time for the speaker to listen for a moment. The final type of body movement identified by Ekman and Friesen (1969) is what is known as the “adaptor”.  The adaptor is the type of movement you might make when you think you are not being watched.  For example a person might stifle a yawn behind their hand if they are listening to a political speech, or go to scratch their head, but only do it partially because they don’t want to detract from the conversation.  Obviously when used effectively the combined message between verbal and nonverbal communication can be either extremely focused, or extremely confusing depending on the conversation.Hansen (1997) determined that the biggest complaint in a number of personal relationships was that “we just don’t communicate”.  But as Hansen pointed out in many cases the communication between a couple might be fine, and the complaint is actually that one person in the relationship is not hearing or getting what he or she needs from the relationship.  Hansen (1997) determined that the breakdown of communication happened in a number of personal relationships including problems between parents and their teenagers, siblings, parents and their younger children and even parents and their own parents.There are a number of mistakes people can make when they are trying to discuss their differences.  For example verbal communication is at least a two person process – there needs to be a transmitter and a receiver.  The transmitter needs to make sure that there are no internal or external barriers to an effective transmission process.  These barriers can include internal ones such as the speaker using too soft a voice to be heard effortlessly; too loud a voice which often results in the listener just “shutting off”; and using words and phrases that the listener doesn’t understand.  External barriers to effective transmission can include a noisy or distracting environment; a listener with a hearing problem; a lack of privacy because of the location of the conversation, or either transmitter or listener also engaging in other unrelated activities during the conversation such as text messaging another person for example.Listening effectively is a skill all of its own and is often hard to do if the subject of the conversation is not particularly pleasant.  Listeners need to be able to hear what is being said objectively before reacting and this can be difficult if the speaker is actually launching a personal attack on the listener, which often happens when differences are being discussed.  At other times if two people are arguing, one or other of the couple might start making negative personal statements about the other person simply because they are hurting over the things that have already been expressed and are “lashing back” with a clear intent of wanting to hurt the other person, which does not help resolve any dispute.There are many ways in which two people can help diffuse a potentially argumentative situation, and try to reach a compromise together.  One of the most common devices for helping diffuse a conversation that is starting to get quite heated is to simply stop and breath.  When two people are arguing they generally engage their mouth before they think about what they are saying and this is when a situation can get out of hand.  If one person in this dispute can just mentally shout “stop” to themselves, take a deep breath (or two or three) and then before speaking again make a mental effort to speak in a lower, slower and more reasonable tone, this can quite often take the passion out of a discussion and return the situation to a more even footing.Another method for helping people to solve a dispute is the use of “I” statements.  This method requires that one person makes a conscious effort to actively listen to the other person.  Then by using “I” statements they try and reflect the feelings being expressed back to the speaker.  For example say Peter wants to spend another evening at home because he is tired after work, but his partner Jan has had a great day and she wants to go out for dinner with him.  When Peter says that he doesn’t want to go out, she gets angry with him and starts making “absolute” statements like “you never want to go out with me”, “we always do what you want to do”, “you’re always tired”.  Peter thinks that these accusations are not fair but rather than start yelling back statements to disprove Jan’s point he would be better to say, using a quiet and level tone,“(1) Look Jan, I am so sorry. (2) I hear what you are saying and you are right, I should want to go out with you and celebrate your promotion.  I can tell you are really upset with me and I am sorry I can’t be more excited for you at this moment.  (3) We have had a major crisis on in the office today and I am afraid I am just so wanting to have a quiet evening at home.  I honestly don’t think I would be very good company for you tonight.  (4) But look, I am proud of you and your promotion.  I know that you have worked hard to reach this point in your career and you fully deserve the added responsibility. (5) Would you mind very much if we took a rain check, and go away this weekend instead, perhaps to that little hotel up the coast we stayed on our last anniversary?”In this conversation there are a number of valid ways of helping diffuse a volatile situation.  In the first instance he apologizes to Jan, which immediately stops her being so negative as she waits to hear what else he is going to say.  In the second phrase Peter is validating her message, letting Jan know that he is listening to what she is saying, and making it clear that he thinks she is right in her arguments.  The third segment explains why Peter is tired on this occasion, and reiterates how he personally feels.  In the fourth segment Peter is praising Jan for her efforts and lets her know he is proud of her and prepared to make a compromise in the situation and phrase five explains what that compromise is he is prepared to make. His use of “the little hotel up the coast where we stayed on our last anniversary” also reminds Jan that they do have relationship history and his reminding her of a special time in their relationship will also help Jan calm down, hopefully to the point where the dispute is resolved.Often the way in which we communicate as adults is programmed in us through the role models we saw as we were growing up as well as the relationship we had with our parents and other family members.  Children who are often ignored by their parents not only grow up with low self-esteem, they also tend to be shy and lack confidence in social situations, which negatively impacts their ability to communicate effectively (De Vito, 1994).  Children who live in a house where everybody is noisy, is likely to be similar in their own adult interactions with family and others.  Good communicators as children tend to be those youngsters that are listened to at home and who have observed considerate communication practices between the adults that shape this child’s life.

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