Improving Communication

Improving Our Communication Skills

This is the first step in the Marriage Encounter program. We try to improve our skills so every other step is more effective. Good communication is essential to a good marriage. Husbands and wives have to communicate with each other in order to build their marriage relationship. The better we communicate, the better we understand each other.

This presentation on Communication was given by Brad and Tanya while Brad was incarcerated in a Federal Correctional Institution. They will illustrate the five different levels of communication. They will explain how communication skills can be improved, and will place emphasis on the sharing of feelings.

5 Levels Of Communication

Brad: We communicate on various levels with people that make up our everyday lives. Even with each other, Tanya and I use different levels of communication. Communicating over the phone is common for us, so we’d like you to listen in on a few of our phone conversations as we try to illustrate the five levels of communication. See if you notice a change as we progress from one level to another. We’ll start with the lowest level, called: “Small talk” or “Chit chat”.

1. Small Talk Or Chit Chat

Tanya: This is what happens to our conversation when our thoughts are somewhere else, or we’re only thinking about ourselves, and not listening to each other.

Brad: Hi, Tanya, where you been?

Tanya: Elisa cut her knee.

Brad: I didn’t get your letter.

Tanya: She wants a bandage.

Brad: When are you coming to visit?

Tanya: She’s getting blood on the chair.

Brad: That’s nice.

Tanya: I’ll write soon. Bye

Brad: See ya!

Tanya: Unfortunately, there are couples who communicate like this regularly. There often isn’t any thought put into small talk. NOTHING was communicated. If you were listening carefully to what we said, you know we weren’t listening to each other. It fits the description of “small talk” or “chit chat”.

2. Stating The Facts

Brad: The second level of communication is “Stating the Facts”. Here we talk about what we’re doing, facts about the weather, etc, but we don’t communicate anything about ourselves that sets us apart from anybody else. We are acting like a computer – just spitting out information. Listen in on a phone conversation where we state the facts.

Brad: Hello, Tanya, how’s it going?

Tanya: Fine, but we’re expecting heavy rain.

Brad: Wow! There’s not a cloud in the sky here.

Tanya: I hope it’s that way Sunday when I visit you.

Brad: What time do you think you’ll get here?

Tanya: Oh, I’ll come right after going to church.

Brad: That’s great. Will you be bringing Elisa?

Tanya: Yes, and she wants to show you her bandage.

Brad: Oh! Was she hurt badly?

Tanya: Not really!

Brad: Well, listen, my time’s up. I’ll call you tomorrow.

Tanya: Great! Bye

Brad: When we communicate at this level – “Stating the Facts” – we don’t tell our spouse anything about ourselves. We merely communicate information.

3. Opinion Level

Tanya: Still another way we communicate is called the “opinion” level. There is some risk involved here because we voice our opinions regarding judgments and decisions.

It’s more personal than “small talk” and “stating the facts” but opinions often lead to disagreements and we spend most of our time defending those opinions.

Brad: Thanks for coming. How was your trip?

Tanya: Traffic was terrible. Elisa was so restless! See, she’s already climbing on the chairs.

Brad: Tanya, Honey, she’s just a child. You can’t expect her to sit still all the time. Come here, Elisa. Show Daddy your bandage.

Tanya: Oh yeah! She obeys you right away. You ought to see what I go through trying to get her to eat a few bites of vegetables, or to go to bed at night.

Brad: I don’t understand why you can’t be more patient. Look at her, she’s so cute.

Tanya: Maybe if I could leave her with you for about a week, I’d enjoy her, too.

Brad: In my opinion, you’re overworked taking care of her; while I miss her.

Tanya: I think you’re right. Perhaps we need to walk in each other’s shoes for awhile.

Brad: As we shared on the “opinion” level, you got to know a little more about us, but I’m sure you could also feel the tension. If we learn to share on the next level of communication, (The Feeling Level), the emphasis moves away from defending our opinions and instead helps us to really understand each other-to put ourselves in the other’s shoes, so to speak.

4. Feeling Level

Tanya: The next level of communication is the level of feelings. Because my feelings are uniquely my own they reveal who I really am. This is the level we will be sharing on mostly during the following 4 Phases of the Marriage Encounter. An example of this deeper level of communication is this little dialogue.

Brad: Tanya, I think you have a good idea. If we tell each other what it’s like for us, maybe we could understand each other better. Oh, I know I can’t physically walk in your shoes – like trading places. But we can walk in each other’s shoes emotionally.

Tanya: Like you mean to share our feelings?

Brad: Yes, what’s it like for you being a mother?

Tanya: I feel cheated. This isn’t what I thought it would be like. Things are so out of balance in my life – I have so much to do with so little time for myself. I worry about Elisa a lot. She doesn’t eat well, and she often doesn’t obey me.

The whole burden of raising her has fallen on me and I feel like a failure. I envy you because you only see good in her, while I’m worried about her health, whether she’ll be ready for school next year. I’m worried that you aren’t seeing the areas where she needs more guidance and discipline.

Brad: Well, now I understand better where you’re coming from. I feel cheated, too, but in a different way. I’m missing out on seeing her grow up. I don’t want to see the problems, because I don’t know how to solve them from here. I feel like I’m the one who’s a failure.

Tanya: I’m beginning to see how different we are. It’s like I get worried about her and you try to point out how cute she is, because you can’t do anything about the problems.

Brad: You’re right. I’m afraid you don’t love her like I do. I want to be assured that you love her.

Tanya: Gosh, I do love her. But if you can’t see that, maybe she can’t either.

Brad: I’m sure you do love her, Tanya. As a matter of fact, you love her enough to discipline her. I love her because I want her to like me. I’m so afraid she won’t remember me.

Tanya: Really? I never imagined that you felt that way. Perhaps we could find ways for you to be more a part of her daily life.

Brad: If I keep up with what’s happening in her life, I’ll be a better father for her. I certainly can encourage her to eat better. I’ll just tell her what I had to eat here, and (smiling) how I wish I could eat what she has. (Tanya smiles, too.) There are probably a lot of ways that I can help you with Elisa if I just used my imagination.

Tanya: The most important thing for me is to feel free to talk to you without fear of rejection. When I feel free to tell you what worries me, and know that my worries are being shared by you, I think I could relax more and enjoy the happy times with our daughter.

Brad: Maybe by understanding each other, we’ll both become better parents.

Tanya: Let’s start by giving her more of our attention right now. She’s being so good playing with the other children here. Don’t you just love her?

Brad: Yes, and I love you, too.

Tanya: The next level of communication is the level of feelings. Because my feelings are uniquely my own they reveal who I really am. This is the level we will be sharing on mostly during the following 4 Phases of the Marriage Encounter. An example of this deeper level of communication is this little dialogue.

Brad: Tanya, I think you have a good idea. If we tell each other what it’s like for us, maybe we could understand each other better. Oh, I know I can’t physically walk in your shoes – like trading places. But we can walk in each other’s shoes emotionally.

Tanya: Like you mean to share our feelings?

Brad: Yes, what’s it like for you being a mother?

Tanya: I feel cheated. This isn’t what I thought it would be like. Things are so out of balance in my life – I have so much to do with so little time for myself. I worry about Elisa a lot. She doesn’t eat well, and she often doesn’t obey me.

The whole burden of raising her has fallen on me and I feel like a failure. I envy you because you only see good in her, while I’m worried about her health, whether she’ll be ready for school next year. I’m worried that you aren’t seeing the areas where she needs more guidance and discipline.

Brad: Well, now I understand better where you’re coming from. I feel cheated, too, but in a different way. I’m missing out on seeing her grow up. I don’t want to see the problems, because I don’t know how to solve them from here. I feel like I’m the one who’s a failure.

Tanya: I’m beginning to see how different we are. It’s like I get worried about her and you try to point out how cute she is, because you can’t do anything about the problems.

Brad: You’re right. I’m afraid you don’t love her like I do. I want to be assured that you love her.

Tanya: Gosh, I do love her. But if you can’t see that, maybe she can’t either.

Brad: I’m sure you do love her, Tanya. As a matter of fact, you love her enough to discipline her. I love her because I want her to like me. I’m so afraid she won’t remember me.

Tanya: Really? I never imagined that you felt that way. Perhaps we could find ways for you to be more a part of her daily life.

Brad: If I keep up with what’s happening in her life, I’ll be a better father for her. I certainly can encourage her to eat better. I’ll just tell her what I had to eat here, and (smiling) how I wish I could eat what she has. (Tanya smiles, too.) There are probably a lot of ways that I can help you with Elisa if I just used my imagination.

Tanya: The most important thing for me is to feel free to talk to you without fear of rejection. When I feel free to tell you what worries me, and know that my worries are being shared by you, I think I could relax more and enjoy the happy times with our daughter.

Brad: Maybe by understanding each other, we’ll both become better parents.

Tanya: Let’s start by giving her more of our attention right now. She’s being so good playing with the other children here. Don’t you just love her?

Brad: Yes, and I love you, too.

5. Empathy

There is actually a fifth level of communication called “Empathy”. Empathy occurs when we identify with and feel deeply the emotions of the other person – feel their pain, their excitement, their frustration, or their joy. It doesn’t happen very often.

There was some empathy in our conversation at the feeling level in the visiting room. We are really connecting when we feel EMPATHY. The sense of mutuality and mutual support is very powerful.