Good conversation: Whose responsibility
is it? How ease of communication can predict your relationship success
by Janet Jacobsen
by Janet L. Jacobsen
Almost all of us (91%) think were good communicators, according
to a national poll, but we also think that lack of effective communication
is the number one cause of divorce. A recent survey found that while men
and women are definitely talking to each other, we arent so confident
that were communicating well.
A poll of Americans perceptions of their communication skills, conducted
in 1998 for the National Communication Association, found that while 62%
of us say we are very comfortable communicating in general,
only 42% of us believe we are very effective communicators.
In other words, were comfortable with what we have to say, but not
as confident that we are really being understood.
Men most comfortable
Not surprisingly, we are generally more comfortable and confident about
speaking with our own sex than with the opposite sex. But when it comes
to inter-acting with that other gender, men have the advantage. More men
(58%) report being very comfortable talking to women, than women report
being very comfortable talking to men (52%). And while 49% of men think
they communicate very effectively with women, only 42% of women think
they communicate as effectively with men.
This figure says that more than half of each sex do not rate themselves
as very effective in talking to the opposite sex, and only
a little more than half of us feel very comfortable in such
conversations. How do we manage to date and develop relationships at all
if conversing is such a problem for so many of us?!
Starting a conversation with a stranger makes about 20% of us downright
uncomfortable, yet people do continue to meet, date and form relationships.
While we might be tempted to say, Well, sure, its the good communicators
getting all the dates, theres really more to the story than that.
In fact, while hardly anyone feels confident and comfortable talking with
everyone, almost everyone has someone that its easy to talk to.
Some of us are open to sharing a lot about ourselves; others arent.
Some of us want lots of interaction and feedback; others are happy with
a fair amount of quiet. If you think of your closest friends over the
years, the odds are good that their communication style was a fairly good
match with yours.
So why then do we try to form romantic relationships with people who have
radically different communication approaches? The first reason, of course,
is that relationships - in the early stages, at least - are moremotivated
by hormones than by logic. Still, we do emerge eventually from the fog
of physical chemistry and wonder whether this is really the right relationship
Heres a test:
1. Are you as comfortable talking with this potential partner as you are
talking with your best friend?
2. Do you feel as confident in talking with this person as with your friends?
This doesnt require perfect communication; if you think about it,
youll probably remember lots of screw-ups and misunderstandings
with your friends over the years. The bigger issue is whether you were
punished for the problems.
With our friends we tend to assume good will on all sides and laugh off
such difficulties, while for some reason many of us in romances see every
little communication breakdown as a crisis and a deliberate breach of
3. Of course, to get empathy and appreciation in communication, you have
to be willing to give the same. If the quality of communication in your
romances is significantly lower than it is with your friends, the first
place to check is with your own behavior. Are you giving your new love
as much support, understanding, and benefit of the doubt as you give your
friends? Its not realistic to expect to get what you dont
Its how you talk, not what you say
Certainly what we talk about in a romance will be somewhat different than
what we talk about with our friends. But our ease and expectations in
communication should be at least as good in our romances as in our friendships,
and preferably even better.
If your comfort and confidence in communicating with a romantic partner
doesnt measure up to your communication with your friends, or isnt
steadily improving in a positive direction, beware of that relationship.
If ease and growth in inter-acting with each other arent there early
in the relationship, they can be mighty hard to develop in the long run.