Couples Communication Exercise: I Said, You Said

By Guest Writer Jessica Colburn

I have had a serious long-term romantic relationship, and even though we are not a married couple, we still have had our fair share of communication problems throughout our relationship. Sometimes it is easier to simply give up, because it feels like your words are not heard.

Boyle, Parr and Tejada emphasize the importance of couples communicating effectively and clearly. To them communication counseling is the key to success in committed relationships. According to the article, couples need to focus on the clarity of the message.
To do this, the couples counselor helps them distinguish between the speaker and listener roles and educates them how to communicate efficiently and clearly especially when emotions are involved. In the I Said, You Said exercise, non-verbal cues are eliminated and the couples attention focuses on the verbal messages the partner is sending. Though non-verbal cues are very prominent in communication, they are often easily misunderstood and the actual message is not taken seriously or correctly.

I Said, You Said

Communication Exercise for Couples:

Step 1: The therapist leads the couples through the exercise by assigning one individual the speaker role and the other the listener role. The couples sit back-to-back, so they can practice focusing on the verbal messages being sent rather than being sidetracked by the non-verbal cues. Next, the speaker gives instructions to draw a picture on the clipboards, which they both do. The speaker and listener can then focus on playing one role at a time and trying to send a clear message. After the couples have completed the exercise
they return face-to-face and discuss their experiences with the therapist.

Step 2: This exercise involves the same techniques, except the therapist wants the couples to progress towards an emotional level. Now, one partner shares a fun memory or experience from their relationship and then the listener repeats exactly what the speaker
just expressed. They exchange roles and follow the same process, ending with questions that reflect their positive emotions.

Step 3: The therapist instructs the couples to follow the same pattern as before, sitting back-to-back. However, this time the speaker shares a sad memory. Now, the couples have a discussion about the differences of the two emotions, as well as distinguish between sharing sadness and not anger. This shows that emotions can play a big role when
trying to communicate effectively.

Step 4: Now the partners advance to the stage where they have a conversation about opposing views. However, the partners cannot address anything that has recently resulted in anger or previously discussed that has created an intense debate. The speaker is
instructed to state their position and then the listener repeats what they heard the speaker say. This gives individuals the opportunity to state their opinion about the topic without having to defend their position.

Step 5 or Quid Pro Quo: In the last step of the exercise the therapist introduces the value of quid pro quo. By using this technique the partners are asked to try to make a small change in their previous statements. Next, the speaker tries out their new revised stance on the issue and the listener repeats what is said. They then switch roles and the therapist becomes more involved in the conversation as the couples become more comfortable communicating about these strong issues. The therapist can help the couples communicate more effectively and clearly by having the couples focus on their tone,
word choice, and volume, which can ultimately hinder or help the message.

In all, couples should know that they can learn from these exercises. Communication is one of the most important aspects of committed relationships, but also includes an on-going work in progress. Nonetheless, if taken seriously, couples can improve their
communication skills by focusing on effectively and clearly stating the message. Also, this can help teach couples the dominance of non-verbal messages over verbal messages. Emotions can sometimes affect the spoken message; however after a couple learns to speak with clarity the emotional aspect can be addressed without changing the
content of the message. Overall, this exercise should be used during earlier stages of a relationship, if communication problems should arise. Even though it is optional to have a therapist present, it is highly recommended for guidance and suggestions during the activity.

Parr, P., Boyle, R., & Tejada, L. (2008). I Said, You Said: A communication exercise for couples. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 30(3), 167-173.

Connections between self-esteem, commitment, and verbal aggression in romantic relationships

Old novel with picture of woman screamingAn anonymous contribution:

Growing up in a well rounded family, I never noticed a connection between verbal aggressiveness, commitment, and my parents’ self esteem. I personally perceived my parents as a committed couple that had a normal amount of verbal aggression.

In a survey of 76 heterosexual couples from a Midwestern university, researchers looked at the connection between these variables. To qualify for the study one had to be at least 19 years old and in a romantic relationship for at least a month. Specifically, the survey looked at:

  • Verbal aggression, which occurs when a person intentionally attacks another with the intention to humiliate or embarrass a person
  • Self-esteem, the value one puts in themselves and how they view themselves
  • Commitment, which involves how much one perceived their partner to be committed to them and how committed one is to their partner

The researchers found that self-esteem and commitment levels correlated positively. If a person thought that their significant other had high levels of commitment to them, then their self-esteem tended to be higher. This went both ways. If one’s self-esteem was high then their commitment to the relationship was high as well. It was also found that if one perceives their partner as being very committed their self-esteem was high also. Results showed that self-esteem and verbal aggression were closely related. As one’s self-esteem went down, one’s tendency to use verbal aggression went up. Finally, it was found that one’s own commitment to the relationship and the perceived commitment of the partner were not correlated to verbal aggression. After all the research was finished and analyzed, researchers found that there still needed to be more studies done on sociometer theory and its validity.

This study provides several key insights.  If you want your relationship to be relatively stress free, you should take your partners self-esteem into consideration. By showing high levels of commitment to your partner, you can help raise their self-esteem. By raising your partner’s self-esteem, you can reduce their tendency to use verbal aggression resulting in a less stressful relationship. After reading this study, I personally would try my hardest to let my partner know that I was committed to them.  By doing this, I feel that it would help raise my partner’s faith and commitment to me while simultaneously raising their self esteem. All of these things would help make the relationship potentially last longer and more satisfying.

Rill, L., Baiocchi, E., Hopper, M., Denker, K., & Olson, L.N. (2009). Exploration of the relationship between self-esteem, commitment, and verbal aggressiveness in romantic dating relationships. Communication Reports, 22(2), 102-113.

Hurt in Romantic Relationships: A Test of the Relational Turbulence Model

By Guest Author Lizzy Wellner

Through experience, I have come to realize that romantic relationships are bitter sweet; as good as they are, they often involve hurt.

In a recent study, 135 dating couples recorded any hurtful messages that happened in their romantic relationships once a week for six weeks to better understand if relationship characteristics establish how the partners may interpret hurtful messages. Interference refers to partner interference which affects the independence of each partner in a relationship. In other words, partner interference does not influence their partner to partake in activities on their own.

The turbulence model classifies methods intrinsic to the development of relationships which make people rasher to the circumstances of the relationship. This model predicts “that heightened relational uncertainty and interference from partners increase people’s emotional, cognitive, and communicative reactivity to relational episodes”. Relational uncertainty is the amount of confidence you have in your awareness of involvement in interpersonal associations, such as a romantic relationship.

The researchers of this study determined that the hurtful messages said over weighs the characteristics of any relationship and predicts how the couple will communicate about what was said. Also, they concluded that more severe and intense hurt is felt in relationships that are distinguished by relational uncertainty.

The communication between a couple about any hurtful messages said is important no matter the characteristics in your relationship. When feeling hurt in a relationship it is better to communicate to your partner how you feel so your relationship can grow stronger, and this study adds another piece of evidence in the importance of communication in these situations.

Theiss, J., Knobloch, L., Checton, M., & Magsamen-Conrad, K. (2009). Relationship Characteristics Associated with the Experience of Hurt in Romantic Relationships: A Test of the Relational Turbulence Model. Human Communication Research,35(4), 588-615.



The importance of security in young teenage boys and girls

classphoto courtesy of ctsnowBy Guest Author Samantha Krause

I have often seen other people who do not have close relationships with their peers as weird, or just not sociable. However, it seems having a close relationship with my parents has strengthened my own, personal ability to have stronger relationships with my friends than others. We often do not think about how a person’s relationships at home can affect other relationships and aspects of that person.

In a survey of 223 sixth graders (109 girls) Dwyer and colleagues assessed their attachment, ability to adapt socially, and friendship quality off three basic tests in which they took in pairs:

  • Security Scale: the amount of security the child feels based on their own relationships with their parents at home.
  • Attributions and Coping Questionnaire: giving something/someone (in this case, the child’s friends) a reason for acting the way they do, and then deciding how to deal with the given situation.
  • Friendship Quality Questionnaire: evaluating the relationships the child shares with his/her close friends.

The results indicate that children with higher levels of security at home with their mother and father likely felt higher levels of security within their relationships with friends. Having high levels of security in the home also improved the reported self-esteem and self-confidence in a child, enabling them to be stronger individuals later in life.  If they had a low level of security, they reported feeling sad and had a harder time building and sustaining lasting, strong relationships. Lower levels of security often lead to a greater chance that the child would develop negative coping strategies, such as revenge, emotional responses, and avoidance all together.

So, parents should try to create a positive chemistry in the house and raise their children in such a way that they feel a strong security in their relationships with their mother and father. Mother’s and the father’s should have individual relationships with their children. Since boys and girls react differently to each relationship, the importance of having a strong relationship and security with both parents individually is crucial. The stronger these relationships are the more likely the child will thrive in their other relationships as they get older. S/he will have a more balanced social life, as well as a healthy psychological well-being.

Dwyer, K., Fredstrom, B., Rubin, K., Booth-LaForce, C., Rose-Krasnor, L., Burgess, K. (2010). Attachment, social information processing, and friendship quality of early adolescent girls and boys. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 27, 91-116.

What communication values do men and women hold in their same-sex/cross-sex relationships?

By Guest Author Shea ChappelMale and female friends walking to beach

In the film “When Harry Met Sally,” Billy Crystal states that, “Men and women can’t be friends.” However, our own life experience tells us that this is not the case. Men and women are friends, and in a recent article Holmstrom seeks to understand more about these friendships and the communication men and women look for in both types of friendships, same-sex and cross-sex.

For this study, Holstrom surveyed 292 Midwestern students of varying races. She attempted to understand the relationship between the following:
·         –Same-sex friendships: friendships between people of the same gender
·         –Cross-sex friendships: friendships between people of different genders
·         –Affectively oriented communication: examples of this are comforting and listening skills. According to previous research, these skills are usually more valued by women and social science studies indicate that women are socialized to hold these skills.
·         –Instrumentally oriented communication: examples of this are persuasion and narrative skills. Previous research indicates that these skills tend to be more valued by men and that men are socialized to hold this set of skills.

Overall, Holstrom made a few interesting points in her study that tended to build on and support previous research of friendship communication. Her first finding indicates that both men and women rate affective communication skills in both cross-sex and same-sex friendships as more important than instrumental skills. However, the importance each group placed on affective skills differed, with women rating these skills higher than men. Third, Holstrom’s study indicates that gender of the friend may have an influence on communication values. The study showed that the participants rated affective communication skills as more important for female friends than male friends. Women in this study were also found to rate instrumentally oriented skills as more important in their male friends than in their female friends, but it should be reminded that overall, both men and women placed more value on affectively oriented communication across all of their friendships.

The most important thing I take away from this study is that in both same-sex and cross-sex friendships, affectively oriented communication is more highly valued by both men and women than instrumentally oriented communication. It is important to remember that in maintaining both types of friendships, one should make sure to employ affectively oriented communication.  It is interesting that both men and women value this type communication, even though both groups tend to be socialized into one or the other.  Previous research indicates that women tend to find same-sex relationships more rewarding than cross-sex friendships, and perhaps this is because females tend to get affective communication more from their fellow female friends than their male friends.
It is also notable that women looked to their male friends for instrumentally oriented skills and that both groups looked to their female friends for affectively oriented communication. I think this shows the importance of both types of friendships.

Overall, I think that it is important to keep in mind that people get different things out of cross-sex and same-sex friendships, but that each group looks for affectively oriented communication in all of their friendships.

Holmstrom, A. J. (2009). Sex and gender similarities and differences in communication values in same-sex and cross-sex friendships. Communication Quarterly, 57, 224-238.


What we use social media for

Research by NM Incite reveals some notable but not terribly shocking data regarding why people engage with social media.

From the highlights:

Not surprisingly, the top drivers of social media use among social networkers are keeping in touch with family and friends (89% and 88%, respectively) and finding new friends (70%).  Another driver of use is the desire to view and contribute to reviews of products and services as 68 percent of social media users go to social networking sites to read product reviews and over half use these sites to provide product feedback, both positive and negative.  Other top reasons social media users engage in social networking include entertainment (67%), as a creative outlet (64%), to learn about products (58%), and to get coupons or promotions (54%).

I am surprised people use it more to praise a product than to bury one, given  often I see people airing out their grievances about products on Twitter. On the other hand, people do not generally like the Facebook pages of a company that they dislike.

Who really values monogamy in a relationship?

By Guest Author Kelly Pullin

What if sexual monogamy wasn’t the only type of monogamy considered?  Who is to say that lack of emotional monogamy isn’t just as detrimental to a relationship as lack of sexual monogamy?

Old picture of two cute dogsSchmookler and Bursi explored the gender perspectives about monogamy, surveying 53 women and 34 men currently in relationships.  Their attitudes were measured on four dimensions: value of emotional monogamy, value of sexual monogamy, perceptions of monogamy as relationship enhancing, and perceptions of monogamy as a sacrifice.  The results of each dimension influenced the satisfaction of one’s relationship. The results indicated that both men and women considered monogamy a relationship enhancer, but only men considered monogamy as some kind of sacrifice. Women were found to value both emotional and sexual monogamy more than men.   In addition, they found that women were more likely to be unfaithful to their partners emotionally while men were more likely to be sexually unfaithful.

The main aspect to take away from this study is the statement that men and women who value both sexual and emotional monogamy in their relationship report to be a lot happier. It would be hypocritical if one was to be angry at the thought of his or her partner committing sexual infidelity while he or she is emotionally involved with someone other than his or her partner. All aspects of monogamy are equal, and all aspects of monogamy work together in a relationship. To have a healthy and successful relationship one must have both the emotional and sexual factors in tact.

Publicly, the emotional disloyalty in a relationship is not talked about or valued near as much as the sexual side of things.  But this emotional side needs to be exposed and cherished.  This study reinforces the understanding of differences between men and women.  Men are drawn to more sexual desires, while women are looking to be in a relationship with a lot of emotional love.  Both men and women should maintain awareness of their natural desires when entering a relationship.  Characteristics that are natural and subconscious can be hard to overcome, but ultimately getting past this barrier in a relationship will make the relationship stronger and satisfying in the end.

Schmookier, T. & Bursik, K. (2007).  The value of monogamy in emerging adulthood: A gendered perspective.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24, 819-835

Effects of sharing negative information during conversation

By Guest Author E. Corrada

Two women talking on a benchWhen two people talk, negative information is more likely to affect one’s perceptions toward something as compared to positive information.

Yoo conducted a survey of 114 undergraduate students who talked to another person based on a topic (midwestern university or cell phone) and type of context (positive, negative, or both).  The students were then asked to talk with this person and come up with a list of ten positive or negative aspects of their assigned topic.  For example, one pair had to come up with ten positive aspects of their given topic, and another pair had to think of ten negative aspects of their topic.  The pairs with combined information types were to think of five positive and five negative aspects of their given topic.  This was done to see if sharing negative information about a certain topic would change an individual’s view of that topic in a negative direction.

The results indicated that partners who discussed the negative aspects of a topic had the highest change of attitude in a negative way after the conversation.  The participants with both positive and negative information being discussed followed, and those that participated in only discussing positive information had the lowest change of attitude toward the target after conversation.

The other aspect of this study revealed that two people who share the same negativity about a subject are not going to like each other more because of their shared negativity.  The results for an increase in likability between partners were about the same for negative, positive, and combination information sharing.

Studies have shown that people regard negative information with more reverence than positive information, and are therefore more likely to pass it on.  This occurs in gossip quite frequently and is usually geared toward a target in a negative way.  Due to gossip’s negative aspect, it is important that people know when individuals engage in negative conversation about a target, people often believe that the information is true and begin to see the target in a negative light.  Gossiping can then cause a negative image about something to be spread throughout a community and eventually the image could be falsely altered again and again as it moves along from person to person.  With this being said, people should realize the potential harm that could result from negative conversation about a certain topic.  Conversing with someone about another person in a negative way can lead to some substantial harm and hurt feelings in the future.

Yoo, J.H. (2009). The power of sharing negative information in a dyadic context. Communication Reports, 22, 29-40.

A study of speed dating: How to get the second date

By Guest Author Krista Morasch

Speed dating candiesAs a speed-dating skeptic myself, it is intriguing to discover that although a six minute date does not offer sufficient time to learn a lot about a partner, the determinant in desire for a second interaction does not then completely fall to physical attraction. With social media and other modern technologies hastening our judgments of people, the ultimate impacts of these impressions remains a fruitful area of research.

Houser, Horan, and Furler recently conducted a study of 157 speed daters. They covered three basic issues in their study:

  1. How the dater’s predicted value of a future relationship relates to his/her attraction, similarity, and nonverbal communication to develop liking (such as eye contact) to her/his date.
  2. How the dater’s predicted value of a future relationship relates to his/her desire for a future date.
  3. How the dater’s attraction, similarity, and non-verbal communication relates to his/her desire for a future date.

The results indicated that when a dater predicted the value of a future relationship to be high, their attraction and amount of positive nonverbal communication was high as well. Similarity however, did not relate to the predicted value of a future relationship. The results also revealed when the predicted values of future relationships to be high when so too was the desire for a future date. Obviously then, a high desire for a date positively corresponds to high levels of attraction and positive nonverbal communication. Using this principle, the researchers could predict with 77 percent accuracy whether a dater would desire another date.

With this knowledge of what makes people say yes or no to another date, people have the opportunity to become super speed-daters. They will know what to do to enhance their chances of getting another date and hopefully use the knowledge in their speed dating endeavors. This study has provided and proven prescript things one can do to achieve this end. For instance, a dater can practice grooming and hygiene in a way to make him or herself more attractive. Also, a dater can intentionally send nonverbal communication showing his or her interest such as leaning in, holding eye contact, and/or smiling. Finally, he or she can choose discussion topics that will make him or her seem pleasant and desirable to be around in the future. When attractiveness, nonverbal communication, and high perceived value of a future relationship are present the likelihood for a desired further date is high as well. As such, it appears that enhancing any or all of these criteria will also enhance one’s date probability.

Houser, M.L., Horan, S.M., & Furler, L.A. (2008). Dating in the fast lane: how communication predicts speed-dating success. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25, 749-768.

The Pros and Cons of Listening to a Traumatic Experience

By Guest Author Tess Nelson

Two people talking, by alancleaver_2000It is common knowledge that people who have undergone a traumatic experience can heal emotionally by simply talking about it with someone else; everyone needs to vent.  However, while this process may be beneficial to the speaker, it can negatively impact the listener.

Lewis and Manusov looked at 82 reports of interactions between closely related persons (based on emotional ties and proximity, such as roommates, relatives, friends, and romantic partners). The end results indicated that the listener’s level of distress increased with the amount of responsibility felt and the time they spent listening.  However there are many varying factors that contribute to the listener’s level of distress that should also be considered, such as expectations by speakers, the level of distress the speaker is experiencing, the amount of support the listener can provide and what resources are available to the listener.  Another major influencing factor is the listener’s reluctance to listen; sometimes people just do not want to hear about it.  Nonetheless, the predominate deciding factor is the type of relationship between the listener and speaker. This relationship determines the level of responsibility the listener feels, what the speaker expects from the listener, and ultimately how each will feel when the conversation ends.

It is important that both persons leave the conversation with little or no distress. Ideally both would come out feeling better, but this is a difficult feat to achieve.  While generally the speaker may decrease their levels of distress, they may unknowingly distress the listener, especially if they have not undergone professional training.  If the listener can no longer offer support, they can only distance themselves emotionally.  The most common way to do so is to offer advice; however there is also a possibility that this too could have negative effects on the discloser, which in turn has a negative effect on the listener.  Thus it is at this point that the listener should encourage the speaker to talk to a counselor, support group, or other personal relationship.

Lewis, T., & Manusov, V. (2009). Listening to Another’s Distress in Everyday Relationships. Communication Quarterly, 57, 282-301.