Saturday, April 5, 2008

Intimacy Through Communication

It is no secret that meaningful communication enhances the marital relationship. It is equally true that a lack of communication or negative communication will undermine a marriage. While most people are aware of these well established facts, few make a concerted effort to improve communication with their spouse.

There may be several reasons why couples are reluctant with respect to working to improve the communication in their marriage. Some simply don't know what to do. Others may be intimidated by the flood of information on the topic. It is easy to be confused regarding how to begin the task of improving communication.

Many marriage counselors are setting aside the exhaustive communication techniques and toolkits in favor of more simple, practical, and authentic approaches. One of the easiest ways to get started down the right path is understanding that there are progressive levels of communication. This is not a strategy or a technique, but simply an understanding that the content of what is discussed in our conversations dictates the level of emotional bonding that is created between two people.

There are basically five levels of communication. All five of these levels can be positive, and all of them are needed in a healthy relationship. However, the intimacy factor between two people deepens with each level - with one being the lowest level of intimacy and five being the highest.

Level One: Facts and Information
The first level of communication is basically "small talk". A good way to think of the first level is a conversation that one would feel comfortable having with a stranger. Level one communication doesn't get very personal. Examples of level one include: asking someone about their day, discussing something read in the news, talking about the weather, exchanging important facts that someone may need to know, and so forth.

Level one communication certainly has it's place in a marriage. It is particularly important to regularly share relevant information regarding daily schedules, finances, household duties, the children, and so forth. However, in order to increase intimacy in marriage communication must move beyond level one.

Level Two: Ideas of Others
The second level of communication moves beyond mere facts and information and begins to delve into the realm of more abstract thought. Level two involves a higher level of thinking and a more thoughtful discussion. This type of communication tends to have the effect of stimulating one mentally and is, therefore, more pleasurable and memorable.

Examples of level two may include: talking about a book or article that was recently read, a speech or sermon that was heard, or anything else that has to do with the opinions, philosophies and ideas with others. Level two communication is, perhaps, somewhat rare because people who know each other well tend not to withhold their own views and beliefs from conversation. This type of communication is a common way to "test the waters" in a relatively new friendship or relationship.

Level Three: One's Own Ideas
Level three communication is considerably more personal than the previous levels. In level two, individuals begin to discuss their own views, opinions, thoughts, experiences and beliefs. A higher degree of familiarity and comfort in the relationship is generally established before this type of dialog takes place.

As each successive level becomes more personal the level of vulnerability also increases. There is a degree of risk involved. While the potential for bonding and intimacy dramatically increases, so, too, does the potential for feeling awkward, unaccepted, invalidated, and so forth. The key to successful and meaningful communication at the higher levels is listening with positive regard and acceptance. Allowing one's spouse to freely express his/her thoughts and ideas enhances intimacy. Disagreement and debate generally harms intimacy.

Level Four: Personal Information
The main distinction between level three and level four is that the latter moves into areas of uniqueness and individuality. At level three one may discuss ideas and beliefs that are likely shared by many others (e.g. political, spiritual, moral). By contrast, level four delves into matters such as personal history, personality, likes and dislikes, regrets, failures, goals, hopes for the future, and so forth.

Once again, the level of vulnerability rises. And, depending on the response, so does the potential for either deeper intimacy or regression into isolation. At previous levels a developed sense of familiarity and comfort is required for successful communication. At level four and, especially, five a sense of emotional safety and trust needs to first be achieved. People generally do not share intimate details of their lives with others unless they feel reasonably sure that they will not be marginalized, judged, criticized, or looked down upon. If a relationship rarely or never achieves higher levels of communication it can often be because there are conscious or subconscious doubts with respect to safety and trust.

Level Five: Feelings, Emotions, and Needs
Finally, the highest level of communication is discovered when two people have a developed a heightened sense of emotional safety and are able to share their deepest emotions and desires. Vulnerability is at its highest but so is the potential for reward.

Some immediately think that this level is tantamount to exchanging affectionate, verbal expressions of passion and love. Although this can be the case this is not the only type of level five communication. Often level five also deals with feeling safe and secure enough in the relationship to discuss unfulfilled needs, personal emotional issues in some area of life, and so forth.

It must be remembered that feelings and emotions are not always logical. Reacting defensively or critically when engaged in higher levels of communication can threaten the potential of it taking place in the future. Likewise, one should not put pressure on oneself or one's spouse to have answers or two "fix" problems that are revealed in this stage of communication. The main tasks in level five are simply free expression, being present in the moment, active listening, demonstrating empathy, and attempting to understand one's spouse.

In conclusion, each successive stage requires increased vulnerability and risk. Emotional safety and trust are developed progressively. The potential for meaningful communication that will strengthen and deepen intimacy increases with each level. The best way to utilize this information is to discover and create natural opportunities to move into deeper levels of communication with one's spouse. This can be achieved by active listening, deliberate engagement, and asking subtle questions that are conducive to free self-expression. If approached with care and sincerity couples will find that the risk involved in higher-level communication is worth the reward achieved in deeper intimacy.

1 comment:

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