A popular notion states that communication is the key to a good relationship. But is it true?
If communication were the key to solid relationships, then effective communicators would have thriving relationships, and poor communicators would be in struggling relationships.
The idea that communication is critical to relationship success suggests competent and practical expression, good listening skills, and thoughtful responses. In other words, the focus is on the mechanics of communication. The same criteria for 'effective communication' are applied across various settings and relationships.
This notion is misleading. The skill set needed for effective workplace communication vastly differs from that needed in an intimate relationship.
The intimate relationship is unique and different, including when it comes to communication. If it's true that 'most experts agree that 70 to 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal', then it is likely higher for intimate pairs.
Regarding communication between intimate partners, the feelings behind the exchange matter most in the intimate relationship. Partners tend to be highly attuned to non-verbal innuendos, gestures, micro-expressions, body language, tone of voice, and more when communicating.
Communication between intimate pairs is much more than simply exchanging information. Tucked within the dialogue is a constant search for non-verbal clues to these questions: "Do they love me? Do they see me? Do they understand me? Do they respect me? Do I matter? Can I trust them?"
People in intimate relationships want to be seen, understood, accepted, and highly regarded by their spouse or partner. Partners and spouses are attuned to these non-verbal nuances even when communicating about benign matters such as household chores or simple tasks.
Does Talk Deepen Intimacy?
A couple could have robust and expressive dialogues. Their vocabulary is vast. They may have a command of key concepts. They can talk for hours, but in the end, they could feel more disconnected than ever. It all depends on the emotional content of the conversation.
Talking, on its own, does not necessarily bring two people closer.
Being an effective communicator is not directly correlated with deepening connection, feeling seen, heard, or understood.
Why is this? It's likely because, underneath the impressive verbal exchange, one or both sensed that their partner didn't love or care about them. It was the feeling in the exchange rather than the information exchange itself. Body language and non-verbal micro-behaviors speak louder than words regarding communication between intimates.
Another pair could have a less sophisticated exchange. The pair might bumble awkwardly, unable to find the right words. However, effective communication becomes insignificant if there is a strong foundation of trust and security that both can feel.
Despite the technical fumbling, they may still feel understood. Sophisticated communication can have little impact on the intimate relationship as it's all about the feeling behind the words.
The Problem with the Idea That Communication Is Key to a Relationship
As communication evolved to become the identified 'problem' in relationships, the remedy became to improve it.
"Good communication" emerged as synonymous with a good relationship.
It's worth mentioning here that according to psychologist and author Dr. John Gottman in his book "7 Principles for Making Marriage Work" shows that "...it's a myth that communication...is the solution to happy, lasting relationships..."
The culture, social media, relationship experts, and marriage counselors stridently uphold the 'communication is the key' notion to the detriment of couples everywhere. This erroneous premise has people concluding that their relationships would improve once communication improves. Couples consistently aim to communicate accurately and concisely for stronger connections.
People in relationships started working hard to communicate with great precision and clarity. They thought better and more effective communication' leads to greater understanding and connection and that agreement would follow by eliminating confusion. Not so!
After all, the thinking goes: if your partner knows your needs precisely (with no room for doubt because of flawless and accurate expression), they will respond to your pleas and meet your needs. Avoiding confusion or misunderstanding was assumed to be the proper remedy. Not so fast!
Unfortunately, this approach results in significant disappointment, frustration, and exasperation. Couples soon realize that improving communication has no direct bearing on relationship satisfaction.
Again, challenging the 'communication is key' notion is simple: if true, then impressive communicators would have the best relationships and poor communicators would have the worst. That is not the case.
Begin With a Clear Understanding of The Romantic Relationship
Understanding the fundamentals of romantic relationships is crucial to putting the 'communication is key' concept into context.
A romantic relationship is, foremost, an intimate bond. The intimacy bond is a survival mechanism as potent as the maternal-infant bond. Partners depend on one another, like an infant depends upon its mother or caregiver for survival.
Infants and their mothers or primary caregivers have an innate non-verbal attunement to one another. The non-verbal infant feels safe in its mother's arms, inhales his mother's scent, can feel her heartbeat, senses her rhythmic breathing, feels her skin, and hears her voice.
The mother and infant communicate on many levels - but none with words. They lock eyes, coo at one another, and exchange smiles. They lock eyes and love one another.
Similarly, a romantic relationship is a powerful bond designed for sexual and emotional intimacy. Like the mother-infant bond, the romantic relationship also has a physical element.
In infancy, the mother holds the infant close and secure. The mother's secure hold helps the baby relax, knowing that in his mother's arms, he's safe. In adulthood, the parallel physical component is through physical affection, cuddling, touching, eye contact, and sexual intimacy.
The baby's senses identify its mother, and safety and security come from being in her arms and her responsiveness to his needs. The mother's responsiveness to the baby's moods and discomfort is the emotional component. Again, none of this is verbal.
Connected couples express volumes through gestures, glances, touches, and tones. Love partners frequently communicate without speaking.
Connection is the key to a strong relationship, specifically through a shared intimacy bond. This connection is achieved through emotional and sexual exchanges, often done without words.
Couples that consistently and reliably turn toward each other for their emotional and sexual needs maintain their secure bond. A bonded couple has a powerful sense of unity and moves through life as a unit. They are never far away from each other in thoughts and feelings.
If a job description existed for a romantic partner, it would involve frequent assurance of love and desire. Maintaining the intimate bond requires being aware of the sexual and emotional aspects of the relationship.
Each person must have confidence and assurance that they are both loved and desired. When this occurs, relationship contentment follows.
It's Connection That Paves the Way for Smoother Communication
Romantic partners who feel loved, cherished, and cared for are more receptive to their partner's thoughts, ideas, and feelings — even those that they disagree with. When romantic partners feel close, connected, and loved, communication is lighter and easily flows. The confidence that comes when you know with absolute certainty that your partner loves and desires you makes communication smooth and satisfying.
The common misunderstanding on this matter has flipped around.
If it's smooth communication you're after, it's best to create a powerful bond of intimacy first. Focus on emotional connection rather than accurate or precise communication. When a bond is solid and secure, being receptive to a partner's thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and opinions comes naturally and easily.