Relationship-building communication is the key to emotional bonding and intimacy.
When spouses describe their communication with each other, many wives complain that their husbands or male partners "don't open up." This phenomenon is very common in marriages and is often a source of great unhappiness to the female partner. In fact, men and women do differ from each other in a number of ways. Their desire and facility to explore and share their emotions is widely different. Their need for closeness and intimacy are so mismatched due to differences in their physiological makeup.
In the famous Broadway musical "South Pacific," a sailor makes the plaintive plea "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Today, more and more women are frustrated by their husband's lack of need/desire to discuss his day, express his feelings or go into emotional detail about his experiences. So women even begin to raise the converse question: "Why can't a man be more like a woman?" The answer is: men and women are hardwired differently. This point has been amply described on a psychological level by John Grey, PhD in his book "Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus."
Physiological studies also point in the same direction. In one study, adult males and females were assigned the same task. Measurements of their brains while performing the task showed that different parts of the brain were activated by the different sexes.
Differences in actual brain structure have been noted and measured by Jay Giedd, chief of brain imaging at the National Institute of Mental Health. In this 20-year-old brain mapping project, MRI scans of boys' and girls' brains were done on subjects beginning at age nine and continuing till age twenty. The findings were reported in the 2010 journal proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists found differences in the brain's cortex between males and females. Quite notable in the early ages, decreasing slowly in difference, but still clearly dissimilar even as the subjects reached the age of twenty.
Can the differences in the nature of men and woman affect what they talk about to each other? Can we specifically measure their concerns and what they say in the personal relationship between a husband and wife?
In the course of many years of practice in marriage/couples counseling, I have found a number of excellent tools that help professionals assess a variety of communication skills. With each discovery, I was happy to increase my repertoire of diagnostic instruments for use with my clients. These questionnaires focus on the competence of each member of a couple to argue constructively, negotiate differences and solve problems. This is especially helpful in situations where each partner has strong feelings about the matter.
However, in spite of all my studies, I haven't found any tools which assess a person's behavior in these areas of communication: self-revelation, emotional expression, exploration of the partner's feelings, ego-boosting and other verbal behaviors such as expressing appreciation, praise and statements of love that are crucial for sharing, emotional bonding and building an intimate relationship.
I created the "Measuring a Couples' Relationship-Building Communications" assessment form to address this gap in the available communication measuring instruments. My goal is not to delve how effectively the couple communicates when trying to solve a problem, but rather to investigate the frequency and nature of the couple's "bonding communications" and "constructive overtures" to each other. The questionnaire spans a broad range of statements and behavioral approaches that form a foundation for relationship-building, bonding and intimacy.
I have been using this diagnostic instrument successfully to help individuals assess their strengths, weaknesses and needs along the cited dimensions. This questionnaire has assessment value for the marriage counselor as well as the couple. A three-way discussion in the counselor's office creates a friendly setting in which each spouse can sensitively reveal valuable information about his/her emotional needs to their partner. This will create the purpose of mutual understanding, accommodation, bonding, growth in the relationship and greater marital satisfaction.
Can men be trained to be more sensitive to the emotional components of a situation? Yes. Will it change their personalities? That depends on how you define personality. If "personality" includes internal changes (greater awareness) as well as external changes (behavior), then the answer is yes. Men, as well as women, can learn to alter their personality to better accommodate the emotional needs of their partners. This includes becoming more revealing of their emotions, more interested in their partner's life and by making warm, constructive, ego-boosting communications and behaviors that enhance each other's happiness.
1. Description of the Assessment Form
The assessment form is composed of fifteen questions with sub-categories. Each category describes a type of relationship-building communication or interpersonal behavior. The goal of which is to promote closeness with one's partner. During the course of this article, the following terms will be used interchangeably to describe the twelve questions on the list: relationship-building communication, relation-building statement, constructive overture, approach-behavior and bonding-communication. These terms, in themselves, describe the panorama of actions that are being addressed.
Examples of Relationship-Building Communications and Constructive Overtures
We grade each partner's tendency (or lack thereof) to:
- Initiate talk about his day, ask about partner's day, share past and present experiences.
- Reveal and discuss feelings.
- Share emotional reactions to experiences.
- Reveal emotional needs.
- Show sensitivity to partner's emotional reactions and needs.
- Initiate discussion of problems in the relationship or at least show a willingness to participate.
- Listen attentively and respectfully with an open mind to thoughts and feelings about any subject under discussion and respond appropriately.
- Express appreciation, recognition, love and other ego-boosting and relationship-building thoughts and emotions.
2. Administration and Use of This Assessment Form
The paragraphs that follow give an abridged overview of how I use this tool with couples.
Each member of the couple is given an assessment form and independently rates himself and his partner on all of the fifteen categories of interpersonal behaviors listed in this questionnaire. Keep Reading.......
This article was originally published at Bergen Marriage Counseling & Psychotherapy. Reprinted with permission from the author.