HAVE YOU EVER said something you assumed was innocent and simple, but it caused a major blow-up with your partner — leaving you totally confused? If not, consider yourself lucky … because many of us have.
Communication is the flow of information gathered by verbal and non-verbal messages we send. Our “affect” in communication is one’s automatic response, which may be consciously or unconsciously shared. Either way, one’s “affect” can lead to conflict.
Here are two simple examples:
A wife asks her husband this familiar question: “Do I look fat in this outfit?”
Husband #1: “No, honey! You look great. I tell you all the time you don’t need to lose one pound!”
Husband #2: Shrugs his shoulders and answers, “No.”
A hard working husband seldom has the opportunity to hang with his friends because of his work schedule. One particular Friday, he realizes he’s free and says to his wife: “Guess what? I don’t have to go in tonight and the guys are hanging. They would be so shocked if I show up! Do you mind if I go out?”
Wife #1: “Are you kidding? No babe, go and have fun! You deserve a night out. You’ve been working so hard! You’re right, they’re going to be so surprised to see you!”
Wife #2: Walks past her husband and responds, “I don’t care what you do.”
The differences between these responses are obvious. Response #1 is validating and affirming, while Response #2 is seemingly indifferent, unsympathetic, and inattentive. The “affect” messages (what they trigger or encourage) will be drastically different. Validation and affirmation encourage positive responses. Indifference and inattentiveness can trigger conflict.
GIVE IT A TRY
It is difficult to accurately decode your spouse’s intentions (behind the message he or she sends), but try anyway. Is there hurt, loneliness, sadness, excitement, anticipation, insecurity, distrust, or vulnerability behind their message? Are you willing to look deeper?
Every day, try to take a deeper look behind the words your partner speaks — in search of underlying emotions they may be experiencing. Also, own your personal responsibility — by increasing your self-awareness, evaluating your emotions, and openly sharing your challenges with your spouse.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a Marriage and Family Therapist clinical intern, Keesha supports individuals, couples, and families during difficult life situations. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Western Illinois University, and will receive her M.S. in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy in June 2017. Keesha resides in Chicago, Illinois with her husband of 21 years and two beautiful daughters.