Spouse or Stranger?


Spouse or Stranger?
According to Science Daily, a professor of psychology at Williams College put together an experiment

Did you know that spouses sometimes communicate no better than strangers?? According to Science Daily, a professor of psychology at Williams College put together an experiment where two sets of couples sat in chairs with their backs to each other and tried to discern the meaning of each other's ambiguous phrases. “The spouses consistently overestimated their ability to communicate, and did so more with their partners than with strangers.”

Most people in any sort of relationship know, whether it's a friendship, dating relationship, marriage, or long-term partnership, it takes good communication to make things work and flow relatively smoothly! So to consider that we might get our point across just as well to someone we don't know at all, versus someone who knows us intimately, is a bit disturbing. What makes the study striking says the professor who conducted it, is that the spouse who was communicating was more confident that they would be understood by their partner than by the stranger, but in reality often weren't.


When I help couples communicate – whether in every day situation or in challenging disagreements and more painful parts of life – I encourage them to use what I call Smart Heart Skills and Dialogue, and talk about in my book Make Up, Don't Break Up.

When I instruct couples to use Smart Heart Dialogue, it's as a way to move beyond the anger and blame that typically is placed when an argument or disagreement comes to a stalemate, but it can and should be used in day-to-day communication as a way to practice truly listening to your partner, and as a way to provide a safe place for each person to share what's on their mind. The Smart Heart skills & dialogue is the glue to keep a relationship new!

Additionally, utilizing this type of dialogue is important in learning to fight fair as a couple. Fighting and disagreeing are not bad things, in themselves. Learn how to fight fair. It's a misperception that fighting is bad; a relationship without passion enough to launch arguments likely won't last for the long haul. However, arguing in the wrong way can also drive a relationship into the ground. I encourage having a weekly ten minute “Smart heart”-to-heart with a figurative emotional "bullet proof vest" to protect from hurt, anger and defensiveness, as you listen and echo back what you heard.

This type of discussion can open up the doors to putting the emotionality of a certain topic aside – whether it be finances, life decisions, career changes, fidelity, or a host of other things – and allow the couple to be honest with each other in a safe, loving space. Of course, this doesn't mean that each person has a right to be angry and hurtful – quite the opposite. This exercise is designed to take the heated emotion out of a discussion so that the couple can share their feelings without a threat of emotion or anger getting thrown in the mix.

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Dr. Bonnie Weil


Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil
Relationship and Family Therapist

Location: New York, NY
Credentials: PhD
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