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Relationships – Verbal and Non-verbal Communication Critical

Debbie Chapman, Colorado State University Extension

The month of February tends to turn many people’s thoughts to romance and love. The excitement and enjoyment of a new love affair stirs hearts and minds. It is exhilarating! It’s the stuff of longing, of sentimental love songs and of romantic books and movies.

But what happens when life returns to the mundane moments? How does love last when the newness wears off? How do we keep the difficulties of daily life from ruining relationships? In the 1990’s much relationship research placed an emphasis on verbal communication and the ability to resolve conflict. That was all well and good.

However, according to University of Illinois Extension Family Life Specialist, Dr. Angela R. Wiley, in more recent years many professionals began to pay “more attention to the everyday interactions of couples” (2007).

They realized that the way couples interact in conflict is greatly influenced by their everyday patterns of interacting. The study of those patterns of interaction included an understanding that non-verbal communication is every bit as, if not more, important than verbal communication.

To illustrate the importance of non-verbal communication Dr. Wiley uses the phrase, “Aren’t you so pretty.” She states, “The tone and expression with which it is uttered matter tremendously. It might make a wife feel differently if her husband says with a beaming smile and a catch in his voice, ‘Aren’t you beautiful’ than if he sneers in an ugly moment, ‘Aren’t you beautiful.’ A lot of what partners communicate to each other does not come out in words.”

Many of us grew up hearing and saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That is just absolutely untrue! In fact, ugly words and non-verbal communications can doom a relationship. To have and maintain a healthy relationship, it is critical to establish an emotional connection by developing healthy ways of communicating both verbally and non-verbally.

Conflict is normal and can provide an opportunity for increasing intimacy in a relationship if it is handled well. Communication strategies that enrich relationships include:

  • Keeping communication clear—sometimes we may need help to become more effective communicators with our partners.
  • Keeping communication soft—calmness and a little gentle humor go a long way.
  • Keeping communication safe—no blaming, sarcasm or disrespect.
  • Keeping communication positive—which does not mean always agreeing but it does mean being respectful even when there is disagreement.

We’re all human and sometimes we fail to use these effective strategies in our healthy relationships. According to Wiley, “Healthy couples usually know how to repair relative minor damage in a way that keeps them together and happy. However, high insensitive negativity and abuse should not be ignored.” Just like seeking professional medical help when they are physically ill, people “should also seek assistance when symptoms of ‘illness’ occur in their relationships.”

So, as we contemplate the love associated with Valentine’s Day and the month of February, we may ask if certain people are made for each other. Maybe destiny in relationships is a reality or maybe it fits more into the realm of sentimental love songs and romantic books and movies.

Regardless, how we choose to look at it, the reality is that healthy relationships require effective communication. And that requires work!