Couples Communication

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					Couples Communication

             Kim Allen
         Director, CASPP
Associate State Extension Specialist
• Divide into groups
  – What makes a good relationship?
  – What keeps couples happily attached?
  – Do personality characteristics make a
    difference in how couples get along? If so,
    which ones are important?
  – Is what brings people together what keeps
    them together?
  – Nature or nurture?
        Research Overview
• Three names in relationship enhancement:
• Gottman
• Markman and Stanley
           John M. Gottman

• Leading researcher on relationship issues
• Co-founder Gottman Institute with wife
     Gottman & Driver (2004)
• Marital Stability and Divorce prediction
• Any guesses what makes a marriage
     Gottman & Driver (2004)
• Goal of study: to see if common positive
  events improve humor and affect during
  negative events.

• i.e. If I am happy and regularly do fun
  things with my spouse, will that have an
  effect on how we fight?
     Gottman & Driver (2004)
• Two sessions:
• 1st, couples sat facing each other and
  were ask to have a conflict discussion
• 2nd session, couples were in an apartment
  simulation. Couples spent 24 hours in the
  apartment, doing “normal” activities.
  Although 12 hours of tape was capture,
  the focus in this study was dinnertime
     Gottman & Driver (2004)
• Researches noted interactions in three
  areas: turning toward (positive), turning
  against (negative), turning away (ignore)

• Results: “couples everyday moments
  contribute to positive affect during conflict”.
     Gottman, Coan, Swanson &
          Carrere (1998)
• Study showed that “positive affect during
  marital conflict was the only predictor of
  both marital stability and marital
  satisfaction 6 years after the wedding”
• Humor and affect is also a prominent
  characteristic of senior couples still in their
  first marriage.
          Martin Seligman

• Positive psychology push, which suggests
  that the field needs to focus on strengths
  rather than weakness.
• Fits into Gottman’s research on positive
  affect and problem solving skills.

• As future practitioners, how is this helpful?
         Solving Problems
• Marriage interventions often focus on how
  to best handle conflict.

• Discussion on handling conflict….
  – Think of a couple you know that handles
    conflict well
  – Think back to how your parents handled
• Research shows that
  – Affection during conflict is connected to
    marital satisfaction
  – Daily moments contribute to affect during
  – When done well, conflict can be very healthy
    for couples
    Gottman’s Four Horsemen
• Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and

• Criticism
  – Attacking someone’s character rather than
  – Different than complaining
                4 Horsemen
• Contempt
  – Intention to insult
  – Mocking
  – Making fun of
               4 Horsemen
• Defensiveness
  – Denying responsibility
  – Making excuses
  – Repeating self
• Stonewalling
  – Disengaging
  – No responding
       Stanley and Markman
• Researchers at the University of Denver
  Center for Marital and Family Studies
• Created Prevention and Relationship
  Enhancement Program
• Author of Fighting for Your Marriage
   Stanley & Markman (1997)

• Phone Survey
• Stanley and Markman conducted a phone
  survey to 947 adults.
• The goal was to find out the perception of
• Most people reported being happy with
  their marriage
• Dedication to partner fostered stronger
  and happier relationships
• Couples argue most about….
   Couples argue most about
• Money
• Followed by
  – Children
  – Chores
  – Career and in-laws
     Other contribution to happy
• Having fun together is a core task, and
  most couples report that they have fun
  with and consider their spouse their very
  good or best friend.
• Division of Chores
  – Research shows that the more equitable, the
    happier the couple.
  – Who does more housework?
Contribution to happy relationships
• Dating, or spending time together to
  refresh relationship is important, and most
  important during middle years of marriage
• Bonding and sharing common goals and
  activities are important to the health of a
           Things to avoid
• Participants under 35 were much more
  likely to have used or received physical
• Domestic abuse is a serious issue, and
  deserves considerable more attention than
  we have space for today.
       Premarital Counseling
• Couples are much more likely to get
  premarital counseling today than in the
• Benefits of premarital counseling are not
  easily tracked, but current literature
  suggests that those who receive it are less
  likely to divorce than others.
• Couples cohabitate before marriage much
  more frequently today than ever before.
  – 11% in 1978 vs. 60% in 1998.

• Do you think that is good for the
     Cohabitation divorce rate
• The divorce rate for those living together
  before marriage is significantly higher (by
  about 13%). Why?
  – Theories include
     • Less commitment
     • Trial marriage because they are aware of potential
       issues already
     • View relationship as two individuals rather than as
       a couple
     Danger Signs in couples
• Danger signs that were identified by
  participants included:
  – Withdrawal
  – Escalation
  – Criticism
  – Loneliness
  – Belittling
  – Holding back feelings
  – Uneven perceptions
  Stanley and Markman (2002)
• Communication, conflict and commitment
  are fundamental to relationship success
• Negative communication is linked with
  lower relationship satisfaction and higher
  rates of divorce
• Negative communication is linked with
  thoughts and talk of divorce
• Skills to develop a safe place, emotionally
  and physically, to talk about problems will
  help couples succeed.
   Stanley & Markman (1997)
• Based on this data, the authors created a
  program to help couples improve their
• Preventing marital distress and divorce
  – is a positive move for families and individuals
  – Must focus on factors that all couples have
    control over
       Research on marriage
• Research on marriage shows that the
  interaction between couples is predictive
  of outcomes
• Couples who exhibited negative
  reciprocity, poor affect management and
  withdrawal during conflict where most
  likely to be in trouble
           Help for couples
• Psychosocial programs are available to
  assist couples in relationship
• Prevention programs that reduce risk
  factors and increase protective factors is
  gaining in popularity.
• These programs raise relationship
  awareness, foster change in attitudes and
  beliefs, and teach skills.
• “The best things people take from a
  marriage education course are how to talk
  without fighting, how to open up and
  share, how to put on the brakes when
  anger begins, and how to come back to
  the conversation in a safe, constructive
  way, and, they'll have increased
  confidence in their relationship."
         » Scott Stanley
• Based on the research surrounding
  healthy marriages, Stanley, Markman and
  Blumberg created
  – Prevention and Relationship Enhancement

  – clip
    Three important facts about
• People want strong, thriving happy
• People and societies benefit from
  marriage (can you think of how or
• American’s are ambivalent about marriage
       Markman and Stanley
• To make marriages better couples must
  – Feel confident about their relationships
  – Understand benefits of success
  – Choose good partners
  – Increase relationship skills
  – Communicate

  – Back to back activity
       Good Communication
• Key to conflict management:

• Communication activity
  – Back to back shape drawing

  – What is the breakdown of communication
    patterns? (verbal, nonverbal, etc)
• 7% spoken
• 38% body language and tone of voice
• 55% facial expression
Essential for couples to be aware of
  communication style perceptions

“I” messages & speaker listener technique
         Marriage Initiatives
• The Federal Government
  – New focus on healthy marriages
  – $750m in grants over 5 years

  – Any concerns?
• Low income perceptions are very different
  that middle class.

• Major initiative