“You never pay attention. You always do what you want. You do not respect the budget we have agreed. I do not understand why you bought that TV for the room. We do not need it, that expense is not in the budget. You are useless. You are a fool and inconsiderate. I am tired of you continually doing whatever you want and not consulting these kinds of decisions with me”.
“Oh, my love, forgive me. I will not do it again. You know that I love you and I live for you. Do not be angry with me. I will do whatever you tell me to do. In fact, if you want, I will go to the store tomorrow and return the TV, as long as you are okay and do not get mad at me. It makes me sad to see you like that”.
“You are always telling me that you are not going to do it again and you end up doing it anyway. Could it be that you do not realize the behavior you show? How long do I have to put up with these packages of yours?
Communication is key in all relationships, but especially the marital ones. Many studies confirm that a marriage’s success is in communication. Efficient communication is not something innate in human beings, but something that is developed over the years. Several factors influence how your communication is, that is the case of your life script, the way you were raised, the emotional dynamics you experienced in your family of origin, your attachment style, and the emotional experiences you have lived in life. These factors can determine whether you have positive communication or negative communication.
Virginia Satir, one of the pioneers of family therapy, emphasized the importance of communications in the family as a way to develop healthy relationships. Families that are not healthy and do not nurture themselves are families in which communication is indirect, vague, dishonest, incomplete, and unclear. This poor and negative communication leads to develop low self-esteem, which results in maladaptive responses, especially when the couple is experiencing high levels of stress. For Satir, a healthy marriage is built on clear, complete, and consistent communication, in which there are clear roles to lead family processes.
Virginia Satir presents 4 styles of dysfunctional communication that marriages often experience when they are under stress and have low self-esteem. These are: The Accuser, the Appeaser, The Super Reasoner, and the Irrelevant. On the other hand, she advocates the development of a functional style or form of communication.
The Accusing style is the one used by the wife in the negative communication with which we began our article. All that wife does is to accuse her husband for what he did or did not do. She hides her feelings of low self-esteem and vulnerability by trying to control her husband, expressing her disagreement over his actions. The accusing style is continually trying to find flaws, criticizing, and calling out nicknames. It is as if the accuser does not feel good without making the other member of the family feel inferior. This style presents an image that the person is superior to the other person.
The responding husband in the story is apparently using the Appeasing style. That husband hides his feelings of low self-esteem and vulnerability by trying to appease, please, and satisfy his wife’s demands. He does this not because he is actually sorry, but because it is the strategy, he has unconsciously developed in order to survive stressful times in his relationships. That is why in this style, the person tries to apologize and do the unspeakable so that he/she pleases the other person at the cost of sacrificing the emotional needs. Deep down, in this style, the person tries to avoid being rejected and seeks to be valued and accepted through approval.
By applying this style, the person uses the defense mechanism of rationalization when she/he tries to anesthetize herself/himself and disconnects from her/his true feelings. Her/his communication exists on an intellectual or rational level preventing the emotions to interfere with the process. This style of negative communication always seeks to be correct, seeks perfection, runs away from spontaneity. People who use this style externalize their experiences and repress their feelings related to the problem they are facing in their relationships.
This style of person handles stressful moments in relationships by pretending that he/she is not there. The person who uses this style feels that she/he is not loved by the family and has no sense of belonging in the family. This is the reason why this person will do everything in his/her hands to refocus the communication towards something else, something not related to the stressful situation she/he experiences and from her/his own feelings. When communicating with the spouse, the person who uses this style will make irrelevant comments that have nothing to do with what is being said or asked.
As you can see, the style of communication you use has a powerful impact on your relationships, especially on your marital and family relationships. Your communication style will determine the level of acceptance and success you will have when building healthy relationships in your life. In the next post I will talk to you about the Functional style and how you can improve your communication style if you are using one of the dysfunctional ones that have been mentioned in this post.