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How Couples Communicate (Resource: Secrets to Lasting Love, by Gary Smalley)

Every relationship is a journey ... through five levels of communication … toward the desired destination of intimacy. This requires effort! Intimacy often does not come naturally because men and women are inherently different. Men tend to desire more independence, whereas women more social interaction.

There are five levels of communication:

(1) CLICHES - Typical, routine, oft repeated comments, questions and answers given out of habit and with no real forethought or genuine intent. "How are you?" "Fine." "Having a good day?" "Yes."

(2) FACTS - Information/Statistics about the weather, the office, friends, the news, personal activities, etc. Requires no in depth thinking or feeling.

(3) OPINIONS - Includes concerns, expectations, and personal goals, dreams, and desires. Due to differences of opinion that naturally arise between two people, especially between men and women, this is typically the level at which we run into the "wall of conflict."

(4) FEELINGS - Having gone through the "wall of conflict" via applying the communication skills following, you both feel safe to share your deepest emotions.

(5) NEEDS - The deepest level of communication and intimacy where you feel completely safe to reveal your unique needs with each other. Truly, unless needs are known and met, a couple will remain "strangers."

Many lacking the skills to make it through the "wall of conflict" revert back to the first two levels of communication and never truly get to know each other and satisfy needs. Lack of passion towards each other is in direct proportion to lack of effective, constructive confrontation! Sharing feelings and needs makes one "vulnerable" and can/will only be done where there is a feeling of mutual trust (see The Transparent Self , by Jourard).

Conflict is not only the wall, but also the door … for conflict is virtually "inevitable" … and it is only in passing through conflict that we are able to reach the deeper levels of intimacy.* If only more people realized this they would not view it as a destructive source, but a creative one … when "confronted" in a positive manner! Conflict is, in reality, a "tool" to bring two people closer together .. as long as those two do not allow it to lead to contention. In other words, your ATTITUDE makes all the difference! The inherent differences between men and women "automatically" cause conflicts to arise … but with the realization that it is these differences that enable men and women to compliment/complete each other, they are in the right "frame of mind" to make use of them constructively!

Three basic skills to make it through the "wall of conflict" are (1) honor, (2) drive-through listening, and (3) recharging the other’s "needs battery" through love.

Honor is the first and foremost skill – the master key to lasting relationships (i.e. reverence, awe, respect, admiration). To honor is to realize the value and importance of the other person and that its OK to have differences … realizing that through them you gain increased perspective and strength that you could not reach alone. The essence of honor is to listen to and understand, giving heed to the desires/needs of each other. This creates a "safe" atmosphere within which deeper levels (4 & 5) can be reached. A great example of honoring is the true story entitled "I’ll Never Understand My Wife" by Steven James.

Drive Through Listening is a way for ensuring both are communicating with real understanding and true respect. The term comes from when you order food at a drive through location. You give them the order, then they repeat it back. You either say "That’s right," or correct them. If corrected, they repeat back again for you to verify. This way you know they understand exactly what you meant! It works the same when two people converse. Both should take turns – one being the speaker, the other listening. When understood, the speaker changes roles with the listener. This procedure prevents the fault so many of us are guilty of – only half listening and not really understanding. Be sure, when the listening, to invite the other to say more, in case they do have more to say … and don’t "cut them short." Ask questions to further clarify/understand.

We Recharge each other’s "Needs Battery" through Small Acts of Love. "Every major conflict between couples is the result of someone’s needs not being met." (Stephen R. Covey) "Only in meeting these needs can you truly become one and remain in the deepest level of love." (Gary Smalley) Here are seven of the top needs people have: (1) feel connected through conversation and recreational time together, (2) feel accepted and valued, (3) feel mate is honest and trustworthy, (4) feel a mutual commitment to stay together and love/be loved, (5) be included in decisions that effect them, (6) verbal/physical tenderness, (7) vibrant spiritual relationship. We "recharge" each others needs by what Dr. John Gottman discovered – "turning toward" each other daily for at least/about 20 minutes … via conflict-solving or affirmative interactions. Acts as simple as facing your spouse, making eye contact, nodding, and responding positively will do wonders.

It can all be "summed" up in this one expression – Love lasts when each is "anxiously concerned for the well-being of one's companion." (see also "LISTEN … with Your Ears, Eyes, and Heart" ... and "Intimacy in Perspective")
* "The more deeply and honestly you love, and the more trust you create between you, the more your partner and your relationship will confront you with the truth, and the more uncomfortable you may become! This explains why couples often experience the period of time immediately following a deepening of their commitment [such as getting married and moving in together] as a time of increased tension and disagreement. The power of their vows and their intention to grow closer acts like a fire that ‘heats’ up the temperature of the relationship until it reaches a boiling point when all the impurities rise to the surface. All of a sudden, you become aware of everything that is not loving about your partner and about yourself. When you don’t understand this principle, you can misinterpret something healthy and purifying that’s happening in your relationship, and mistake it for something unhealthy and undesirable … when actually, things are trying to come more together. It is at these times, then, when you need to find the courage to stay instead of running, the courage to move into the truth instead of away from it, the courage to remain open instead of closing off— the courage to keep lovingThe Courage to Share Real Moments … (Real Moments occur when you and your partner are totally focused on one another and the love between you in the moment, when you are fully experiencing whatever is happening, when you allow your hearts to connect and the feelings to flow freely … It’s not what you’re doing that matters—it’s how you pay attention to what you’re doing that makes it into a real moment.…When you don’t pay attention to [your partner] while you’re [together] you are somewhere other than in the moment.)" (from Real Moments for Lovers, by Barbara De Angelis, Ph.D.) Getting to really know one’s partner via effective dating before marriage helps lessen the "blow" of conflicts after marriage! (see Dating: A Time to Become Best Friends)

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