Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Positive Communication: The 51% Rule

Back in May I wrote about the five types of intimacies: recreational, problem-solving, work, sexual, and emotional intimacy.

The thinking still is that it helps to have all five of them in good shape to have a well-oiled relationship. Pun intended? Maybe.

People get married, of course, without having all five types of intimacy in wonderful shape. If we looked honestly at our relationships and waited for everything to be perfect, face it, no one would get married.

In fact, one of the cooler things about being in a committed relationship is that you have time to work things out, there's time to tweak the areas of your relationship that need tweaking, including the two people in it.

A marital therapy has three patients: The two partners plus the marriage. All three need to change to make a committed relationship work.

And you all laughed at the title of the blog, as in, yeah, right, everyone needs therapy? So okay, fine. Maybe you don't. But to work a marriage that's not working? You do.

This post is about working the relationship. It'll be helpful, perhaps, even if you're not in a committed relationship, but it's MOST relevant when you're already stuck in one. Bad word, let's say, blessed with one?

It's like this. If 51% of your marital communication is positive, the marriage will survive if you want it to survive. That means you can complain and carp at one another the other 49% of the time, I guess. But you don't have to.

Let's assume that you're not even sure of your percentages. You don't know how your marriage is batting. Here's a little primer on positive versus negative communication.

I'll start with positive communication.

Positive communication is supportive, encouraging, helpful, holds back criticism, lends praise and fosters hope.

Negative communication does just the opposite.

"Good supper, honey" is positive.
"Way too salty on the vegetables," is negative.

Too simple? You'd be surprised. Try these.

"I'd like to see you in the grey trousers," is positive.
"You look fat in those pants," is negative.

"I'll go with you for that mammogram," is positive.
"Damn, that mammogram is expensive," is negative.

"I'll visit your father in the hospital," is positive.
"If your father had admitted he needed a walker in the first place, he wouldn't have fallen," is negative.

"We probably should be working together on the kids' behavior," is positive.
"You let the kids get completely out of control," is negative.

"I'll baby sit so you can go to that meeting," is positive.
"You should never have scheduled a meeting when you don't have a sitter," is negative.

"I'm sure you can make it at that community college; let's take it slow," is positive.
"I don't know, it's so much money, and you flunked out of high school, why would you think you'd do any better now?" is negative.

"Let me pick up the clothes at the cleaners. It's on my way home from work," is positive.
"Why would I pick up the clothes at the cleaners? I'm the one working in this family," is negative.

"I'm sure that no matter what happens, even if you lose your job, we'll make it somehow. We'll be okay as long as we're together," is positive.
"We're dead if you lose that job," is negative.

"We'll find a way to get to that funeral," is positive.
"She's dead anyway, you don't have to go," is negative.

"You're a terrific painter. Keep at it if you like it," is positive.
"I think by now you'd get it; you're not going to make it as an artist, I don't see why you bother," is negative.

"If you don't get into medical school there are a zillion health science professions out there that need a dedicated person like you," is positive.
"You're at the bottom third of your class. I don't know why you'd think you're going to get in," is negative.

"I'll take the kids to baseball tomorrow, so you don't have to leave work early," is positive.
"There's no way I give a blank about baseball; I hate doing that carpool," is negative.

"It's sweet that you want me to golf with you. I really don't like golf, but if it's that important to you, I'll try it again," is positive.
"Why in the world would you ever ask me to do that?! Forget about it, not on your life," is negative.

And on, and on. Could it be true that marriage versus divorce really hinges upon positive versus negative communication?

Yeah, I think so. Probably the five intimacies are all "intimate" precisely because to be intimate requires supportive, encouraging, helpful, hopeful communication.

I tell people who are having trouble being too honest, which makes them too critical, to treat a partner as they would treat a boss, a superior at work. We never disrespect, criticize, swear at or complain to our boss, not unless everyone is joking around and it's somehow okay. Usually, however, we treat the boss like he or she is the boss.

In marriage there are 2 bosses. You guys are the executive committee. You have to build each other up, strengthen the bond, unite. Or else, boy, will having children be a challenge.

At the very least, shoot for the 51% rule.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Anonymous said...

Great post, Linda! Very helpful and reasonable.

therapydoc said...

Thanks Gem.

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of my annual visits with my brother's family. My sister-in-law never fails to carp at me for some violation of her multitudinous and unspoken household rules. She will always find something to carp about, in her quiet voice.

therapydoc said...

So funny.