Is Communication the KEY to...

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with a colleague from my tenure as a broadcast professional. After connecting again through social media, we exchanged brief updates on our lives, discussing our families and current endeavors. During the conversation, my friend revealed that he was going through a difficult divorce after many years of marriage. As he expressed his internal conflict over the decision, I empathized, and with a heavy heart extended my support to him.

This conversation prompted me to reflect on the issue of divorce and its prevalence in modern society. During my time at college, I learned that in the United States, there was a projection that up to 40% of married couples would end up getting a divorce. The main reasons being cited: communication issues or irreconcilable differences.

Curiosity peaked, and I began to ponder if the divorce rate had improved since the turn of the millennium, and if the reasons for divorce had since changed, as it affects such a large segment of the population. Let's take a look.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), currently in the United States the divorce rate is about 2.9 per 1,000 population. This means that the percentage of couples who divorce in the U.S. is approximately 39%. Surprisingly, not much different from the late 90's. However, it's important to note that divorce rates can vary depending on factors such as age, education level, and geographic location.

What's true now as it was back then, is the fact that communication (or lack thereof), continues to be the most cited leading factor that influences divorce. Even with the countless online resources and books available today, "why is the divorce rate still so high?" 

As a Coach, I've come to experience that when couples are unable to effectively communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs to one another, this most likely leads to misunderstandings, resentment, or conflict, making poor communication skills the main culprit, including:

  • Criticism and blame: When couples criticize and blame each other, they create a hostile and defensive environment that makes it difficult to communicate effectively.

  • Stonewalling: Stonewalling is when one partner withdraws from the conversation or interaction, shutting down communication entirely.

  • Defensiveness: When one partner becomes defensive, they may be unable to listen to their partner's point of view or take responsibility for their own actions.

  • Lack of empathy: When couples lack empathy for one another, they may be unable to understand each other's perspectives or needs.

To avoid communication breakdowns that deteriorate the relationship, couples can strive to communicate more openly, respectfully, and empathetically with each other. This includes engaging in active listening, and expressing each others needs and feelings clearly.

In addition, couples can also place unreasonable expectations on each other, for example: expecting their partner knows their inner thoughts and feelings without first sharing them through conversation. As a matter of fact, this happens more often than we think. To say the least, this type of expectation has a broad and negative impact on the communication process. Assumptions can usually lead to conflict and dissatisfaction in the relationship.

Another common occurrence is the Make-Me-Happy expectation. My personal belief is that happiness is not something that can be fully achieved through external means only, including a romantic partner. While a loving partner can certainly enhance one's overall well-being and bring joy into one's life, it is ultimately up to each of us to find and cultivate our own happiness.

Expecting one's partner to be the sole source of happiness can create a dependency, and over time, strain the relationship. Moreover, this expectation puts undue pressure on the partner, leading to disappointment and frustration when they are unable to satisfactorily fulfill the other's emotional needs and wants.

Instead, each partner should also focus on building their own happiness and fulfillment through self-care, personal growth, and individual pursuits. A happy and well-adjusted individual can then bring their best selves into the relationship, making it more successful and fulfilling for both partners who agree on this approach. For this, honesty is absolutely required.

But amazingly, people may fear that if they are honest, their partner may reject them or think less of them. This conclusion keeps them from fully expressing themselves, which may limit the vibrancy and passion for their relationship. Some of the more common reasons people jump to this conclusion include fear of rejection, fear of conflict, or they just feel they'll be hurting their partner if they're honest. Holding this false tenet and belief, enables the breakdown of the communication process in relationships.

In my case, consistently improving the communication skills between my wife and me, has brought highly beneficial and lasting effects to how we show up for each other, even after 25 years in a relationship.

Here are the eight keys we believe will help you heighten your communication skills and make you more successful in your relationships:

  1. Listen actively: Listen to the other person with an open mind and try to understand their point of view. Pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, and emotions.

  2. Be clear and concise: Speak clearly and concisely. Be specific about what you want to say and avoid vague or ambiguous language.

  3. Use "I" statements: Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements when expressing your thoughts and feelings. For example, say "I feel hurt when you do that" instead of "You always hurt me."

  4. Practice empathy: Try to understand the other person's feelings and perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and see things from their point of view.

  5. Avoid interrupting: Allow the other person to finish speaking before responding. Interrupting can make the other person feel unheard or disrespected.

  6. Practice assertiveness: Express yourself in a confident and assertive manner. This means standing up for yourself while respecting the other person's needs and feelings.

  7. Avoid being defensive: Try to avoid becoming defensive, even if the other person is critical. Instead, take responsibility for your actions and try to find a solution to the problem.

  8. Seek feedback: Ask for feedback from others about your communication style. This can help you identify areas for improvement and make adjustments as needed.

 In conclusion, while divorce rates have remained relatively steady since the late 90s, communication breakdowns continue to be the leading cause of divorce. Couples can avoid these breakdowns by practicing active listening, expressing themselves clearly and empathetically, and avoiding unreasonable expectations of their partners. Rather than placing the sole responsibility for happiness on their partners, couples can focus on building their own happiness and fulfillment through self-care, personal growth, and individual pursuits. Ultimately, improving communication skills can bring significant and lasting benefits to every relationships.


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