The Study of Communication in Relationships 1 The Study of Communication in Romance: The Key to a Successful Relationship Winona State University
The Study of Communication in Relationships 2 Communication in Romance: The Key to a Successful Relationship A romantic relationship is like a garden. They can both grow, wildly and rapidly andconsist of different species and, of course, some weeds. From time to time, the weeds must bepruned and maintained. The weeds of a relationship will sprout over time as a couple becomesmore acquainted and comfortable with each other. Bothersome habits, jealousy, boredom, andanger can discourage a couple from staying together, especially if there is a lack of time andemotional investment. On the contrary, if a couple is committed to stay together, theirrelationship can be managedwith a proper balance of interaction and the willingness tounderstand differing communication. This paper will define what a relationship is, it will thenlook at the study ofGenderlect styles of men and women, and finally it will examineRelationalDialects Theory as it is applied to relationships. It will answer the question: how can a couplestrengthen their relationship by reinforcing their verbal and nonverbal communication? Romantic relationships can provide an important step in a person’s life. They can be veryrewarding or a discouraging experience, depending on the level of enjoyment and happinessgenerated throughout a couple’s time together. Aside from happiness why do people decide toembark on a romantic journey? It can be as simple as needing to fulfill emotional and physicalneeds that are unattainable by anyone else. The ultimate goal of romantic relationships is love,which can be subjective. In a perfect world a relationship between a boyfriend and girlfriendwould be exclusive and trustworthy. Good communication between a couple can amplify thechances of this happening, which is a contributing factor as to why the study of communicationbetween boyfriends and girlfriends in a romantic relationship is beneficial and worth exploring.
The Study of Communication in Relationships 3 An old adage claims, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” To fully understand thenature of this saying in relation to communication of men and women, one may seek advice fromTannen’s(1984) study of Genderlect styles in which she deciphers the differences in theconversational styles of men and women. Tannen believes that men and women speak “differentwords from different worlds” and has adopted the term “Genderlect” to explain that themasculine and feminine styles of speech should be viewed as two different, but worthy, ways ofspeaking. Females tend to speak in rapport talk during conversation, which fulfills their desire tocreate a connection whereas men, whoare more interested in establishing their status and powerin a conversation, speak in report talk in order to command attention and win arguments. Menuse talking as a platform in which to hoist themselves above their conversational counterpart.They tend to tell compelling jokes and stories that are meant to one up the audience, whilewomen tell stories about other people in order to demonstrate her unselfishness therebystrengthening her sense of community. When women become the audience rather than thestoryteller, they hold eye contact with the speaker, nod, or interject with a cooperative overlap,which is an interruption meant to communicate solidarity, it is used as a way to signifyunderstanding or invest confidence in the speaker. Because men are concerned with asserting andretaining their power, they steer clear of signals that convey concurrence. Genderlect styles provide insight into how men and women communicate in differentways.They should be viewed as two different but equal ways of speaking, rather than masculinetalk being superior and feminine talk being inferior. Acquiring this knowledge can be verybeneficial in the prolonging of a successful and loving relationship. A woman’s desire for humanconnection is fulfilled when she starts a relationship, however when it’s met with a man’scompetitive nature, there is bound to be conflict. While men tend to delight in competition, they
The Study of Communication in Relationships 4may find this communication conflict less discouraging than their female counterparts who wishto resolve any problem. Consequently, Tannenbelieves that both men and women need to learnto communicate in the other’s voice. She recommends that men take a dose of sensitivity in orderto effectively communicate with their girlfriends, while girlfriends try to be more assertive whencommunicating with their boyfriends. When women express turmoil they are experiencing totheir boyfriends, it would be more beneficial for their boyfriends to listen and convey anunderstanding rather than try and provide solutions. Showing agreement enhances the woman’sdesire for human connection. Because men wish to establish their dominance in any situation,their significant other should refrain from telling them to do things, like running errands, as thiswill compromise the male’s status and relational strain may ensue. Learning mutualunderstanding will allow the two sexes togradually bridge the cross-cultural communication gapand continue to find happiness their relationship. Genderlect theory provides great insight in the ongoing mystery of the differentcommunication styles of men and women;however it does provide some implications. Tannendoes not seem to take into consideration that there is greater difference among the sexes thanbetween them.By categorizing the Genderlect styles of men and women, Tannen is essentiallyinferring that all members of the two genders communicate the same way. She has not taken intoconsideration the ways feminine men and masculine women communicate and solutions to thesegender departure inconsistencies. It is important to remember that sex is biological and gender issocially constructed. Because of this, gender is evolving into blurred categories that nowencompass transgender, transsexual, drag king and queen, as well as many others. Tannen willhave to revise her theory and take all gender communication styles into consideration. There areforeseeable problems that may occur if a couple were toadhere to her theory and built a
The Study of Communication in Relationships 5relationship on these ideas.It is unknown if the benefits would outweigh the problems, however itis never wise to invest one’s life blindly to an abstract theory about something subjective as love. Like a game of tug-of-war, there are constant pushes and pulls between individuals who aretrying to communicate and build a relationship with each other. Baxter and Montgomery aretheorists who research the tensions within relationships, called Relational Dialects(1988).According to Baxter and Montgomery, conflicts are common in all relationships;however an absence of them may cause a relationship to suffer. Although they can bedisheartening, these women agree that discussing paradoxes within a relationship may sustain itbut not bring the relationship back to its original state. Baxter and Montgomery pinpoint threeconflicts that affect relationships internally and externally, and they are: integration-separation,stability-change, and expression-nonexpression. All dialectics must function as the yin and yangin the relationships, for without a balance of both needs, the relationship will fail due to anexcess of conflicts. It is important for those in a relationship to remember if one side wins, thewhole relationship loses. Integration and separation is what Baxter regards as the most central dialectic torelationship development.It is the conflict between connectedness-separateness and inclusion-seclusion. Meet Genevieve and Owen, two seniors in college who are in an exclusive romanticrelationship. While they both love spending time with each other, Owen wishes to spend everyfree time he has with Genevieve, and Genevieve likes to have her own space occasionally whenshe has a moment to spare. Genevieve must explain to Owen in a tactful way that, to his dismay,she is unable to spend every moment with him. As stated before there are internal and externaldialectics a couple must deal with, in which the tensions must be balanced within the relationshipas well as between the couple and its community. Genevieve and Owen will have to find a way
The Study of Communication in Relationships 6to balance their dilemma between inclusion and seclusion with their outside world andthemselves. The Relational Dialectic class that includes certainty-uncertainty within a relationshipand conventionality-uniqueness between a couple and society is stability and change. Like mostrelationships, Genevieve and Owen have reached a point in their relationship where they havegrown tired of the same redundant activities, and desire more excitement. They must find ahappy medium in which to incorporate new and interesting activities with predictability.Externally, it is easy for a couple to conform to social norms and incorporate relational patternsthat they have observed as being successful for other couples,additionally they must alsoencompass and essence of unconventionality that will their relationship unique. This can be donethrough spontaneity, inside jokes,interesting dates or trips or sexual intimacy. The final Relational Dialectic recognized by Baxter and Montgomery is expression andnonexpression. This dialectic includes openness and closedness, which is the tension thatrequires a couple to maintain an equal amount of intimacy and privacy between and surroundingthe couple. Genevieve sustains a high level of self-disclosure with her boyfriend, while Owenchooses to disclose less and less information about his life and feelings as their relationshipcontinues to evolve. While this undoubtedly irritates Genevieve, Owen’s amount of discretion isnecessary. Outside of their relationship the couple must figure out how to express to their peersthe dynamic of their relationship, while withholding personal and sacred information. Baxter and Montgomery provide two solutions when dealing with contradictions. Themost commonly used is spiraling inversion, which contends that a couple alternates between thecontrasting poles by responding first to one dialectical pull, and then another. For example,Genevieve and Owen can resolve their problem relating to integration and separation by agreeing
The Study of Communication in Relationships 7that every other night when they are free they will devote to the other person, that wayGenevieve can have her alone time while Owen can still retain the closeness he desires.Segmentation is the other compromising practice when dealing with the negotiation of tensions.In enacting segmentation, a couple privileges different aspects of their relationship. If Gen andOwen were to use segmentation to solve their Relational Dialectic dilemma, they could choose todisclose information about the progress of their relationship with family members, whilewithholding information about their sexual escapades. The couple is sharing information,without disclosing intimate details. Both spiraling inversion and segmentation are different waysof solving the strains of relationships, but in different ways. The idea of the constant pulls and tugs that surround relationships is the basis of theRelation Dialectic Theory posed by Baxter and Montgomery. It makes sense that the threedialectics provided are needed in a relationship, but because they are tailored to something asunique as a relationship, it is hard to make generalizations. Instead of providing accurate advicefor all relationships, it requires a more heuristic approach involving trial and error. The power of verbal communication is clearly important between boyfriends andgirlfriends. It is a vital way for two people to form a bond. Genderlect styles and RelationalDialects are rooted firmly in verbal communication and used to further a relationship, howevernonverbal communication is equally important. Facial expressions, hand gestures and sensualtouch are all examples of nonverbal communication that are beneficial to a relationship. Thiskind of communication is a heightened level of intimacy betweencouples and continues to raiseawareness of one’s emotions. As a boyfriend and girlfriend allow themselves to become more acquainted with eachother through mutual disclosure of personal information, they will become more intimate with
The Study of Communication in Relationships 8each other nonverbally and a physical relationship will emerge. Prinsen and Punyanunt-Carter(2009) conducted a study of nonverbal behaviors at different stages of relationships, whichrevealed that body language, facial expression, eye contact and touch are synonymous withverbal communication, and may even affect the way the couple talks with each other. Theresearchers questioned one hundred forty-five college students and asked them to describe theirnonverbal communication in their romantic relationships. The stages of relationships varied fromstudent to student and ranged from casual dating, exclusively dating, long term relationship,cohabitation while in a long-term relationship and marriage. Each of these stages haveexpectations regarding how a couple should interact nonverbally with each other and what theirbody language should be like while existing in that stage. The results of the study found that atevery stage of a relationship, as individuals become more familiar with each other, they tend totouch one another more, laugh more, smile more, and stare more. The couples were also morenonverbally expressive than those couples that were not at such an intimate level. However, thefrequency of positive body language decreases in couples when the satisfaction of therelationship decreases. So, the amount of time spent in a relationship does not always coincidewith that amount of satisfaction. This will briefly be revisited in the next paragraph whendiscussing the amount of touch initiated by males and females after marriage. Like Genderlect styles, the research done by Prinsen and Punyanunt-Carter showed adifference in the way men and women communicate nonverbally through touch. Women tend toreact less positively toward the touch of the opposite sexthan men do, but have a better reactionto touch overall, than men. A study conducted by Briggs and Willis (1992) measured thelikelihood of men initiating touch before marriage compared to women. It was found that mentend to initiate touch with their girlfriends more so before marriage and the year following while
The Study of Communication in Relationships 9women instigate it more frequently after a year of marriage. Some couples involved in theresearch revealed that after they got married, the amount of touch dwindled down to no contactat all. This could be a sign of trouble in a relationship. A study done by Beier and Sternberg(1977) in which they interviewed couples to see if the amount of touch reflected on thefrequency of disagreement or agreement within the relationshipconcluded that couples whodisagreed the least touched each other more. It would be interesting to research if the amount oftouch equals agreement and happiness or vice versa. For the married couples where the females initiated touching, it was hypothesized thatwomen use this type of nonverbal communication to preserve the bond with their husbands.Women perceive touch as expressing warmth, exclusiveness and love where on the other hand,men viewed touch to have an affectionate and sexual meaning. (Richmond, McCroskey andPayne, 1991)Because of this data, Willis and Briggs believe the amount of touch initiated bymen decreases after marriage because prior to this they were noncommittal and used touch as away to secure sex. After marriage the need to secure sex decreases. The research done surrounding nonverbal communication, mainly touch,demonstrateshow submerged in meaning nonverbal communication is. A couple can strengthentheir relationship using nonverbal communication by tuning into what one another are expressingwithout words. Both boyfriends and girlfriends should take the other’s facial expressions intoconsideration. The more they see their lover smiling and laughing, the better. A couple can usenonverbal communication to segue into effective verbal communication. When a boyfrienddetects his girlfriend’s glares or eye rolls, which signify irritability or hurt feelings, he would beable to take these observations and create a dialogue on how to fix the situation (while being
The Study of Communication in Relationships 10mindful of Genderlect solutions in order to effectively communicate with each other whileresolving conflict, of course!) Relationships are not always a bed of roses, however if a couple uses verbal and nonverbalcommunication effectively they can get rid of the thorns that prevent their relationship fromevolving. With the knowledge Genderlect styles and Relational Dialectics, boyfriends andgirlfriends are more likely to understand each other. They will also be able to maintain conflictsbetter, which are sure to arise as they become more acquainted. Being aware of these theorieswill increase the likelihood that a boyfriend and girlfriend’s romantic relationship will come uproses!
The Study of Communication in Relationships 11 BibliographyBaxter, L.A. & Ebert, L.A. (1999). Perceptions of dialectical contractions in turning points of development in heterosexual romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.16(5), 547-569.Beier, E.G. & Sternberg, D.P (1977). Marital communication: Subtle cues between newlyweds. Journal of Communication, 27, 92-103.Briggs, L.F. & Willis, F.N. Jr. (1992). Relationship and touch in public settings. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 16, 55-63.Lusk, Holly Michelle, “A Study of Dialectical Theory and its Relation to Interpersonal Relationships” (2008). University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects. http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chhanhonoproj/1206Johnson, K.L. & Edwards, R. (1991). The effects of gender and type of romantic touch on perceptions of relational commitment. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 15, 43-55.Prinsen, T. &Punyanunt-Carter N.M. (2009). The differences in nonverbal behaviors and how it changes in different stages of a relationship. Texas Speech Communication Journal, 1-7.Richmond, V.P, McCroskey, J.C., & Payne, S.K. (1991). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
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