Jamie learned how to communicate more effectively after taking several couples communication workshops and reading a few relationship advice books. He tried using “I” statements whenever he spoke about sensitive matters, and he even applied active listening when his wife shared her feelings about an important relationship issue. Yet according to his wife Lindsey, Jamie was causing breakdowns in communication at every turn.
How could this be? From a communication strategies standpoint, Jamie was hitting a homerun.
Effective Couples Communication: Check Your Communication Attitude
Upon close inspection, Lindsey was right in her assessment of her husband’s communication habits. The problem stemmed more from an attitude of negation than the way he communicated. It almost seemed like he had a “Yes, but…” mentality that took the form of him critiquing most of what his wife talked about or finding negatives in different circumstances.
Here are a few examples:
Lindsey: Are you looking forward to seeing your parents this weekend?
Jamie: Yeah, it will be good to see them, but the traffic driving up will be a nightmare…
Lindsey: How about a date night this Friday? It’s been a while since we had alone time.
Jamie: That’ll be OK, but last time we went bowling and I really didn’t enjoy that, so let’s do something else or I’d rather not go.
Lindsey: I’m reading this amazing book on spirituality; I’d love to share with you.
Jamie: I’ll look at it, but don’t expect me to be like you when it comes to that stuff. I’m more practical-minded.
Lindsey: Good news, I got the promotion! We can really use the extra money.
Jamie: Yeah, we can definitely use the money, but you’re probably going to hate having so much extra responsibility at work.
As you can see from the above examples, even when Jamie is agreeing with his wife, he puts some negative or cynical spin on the issue being discussed. And when Lindsey has pointed this out to her husband in the past, he claims that he is just being “realistic.” From his wife’s standpoint, Jamie is just being negative and not allowing himself (and her to some degree) to experience joy and positivity. (Keep in mind that when you follow even the most positive statement with the word ‘but,’ you tend to negate the positive part that preceded it. All that your listener will take away will be what followed the ‘but.’)
The impact this has had on Lindsey is significant. She finds that she is less and less likely to share her experiences and feelings with her husband. To compensate, she is reaching out more to others to get her emotional needs met, needs that she should be getting met within her marriage.
Couples need to examine how frequently they focus on the negative, how they undermine each other’s experiences (even unintentionally) and the dramatic impact this can have on each person. Negativity often shuts people down; it makes us feel judged, and as a protective act, we pull away and share less and less of ourselves.
And remember, this can occur even when you and your partner are using all the proper communication skills. No matter how you package it, negativity is negativity.