What’s Your Communication Style?
Help Couples to Recognize their Communication Style!
I’ve always thought that I communicated well. I am usually pretty good at expressing my opinion. There was a point in my marriage where I learned that, while I could talk, I really didn’t listen well.
It caused a major problem in my marriage. My wife would tell something and I would quickly offer my advice on what she should do.
I didn’t understand that this was causing my wife to shut down. My wife, Michelle, decided that it wasn’t safe to share her feelings with me. So, she wouldn’t tell me when she was hurt. She kept things inside and resentment built up.
It caused us to be separated and disconnected. Our unhealthy communication was hurting our relationship!
I had what was called an aggressive communication style.
The book, “The Couple Checkup“, outlines four communication styles that people use. This is a great way to explain communication styles to the couples that you are coaching. These descriptions can help to identify poor communication habits that are harming a relationship.
Passive Communication Style
“Where do you want to go for vacation this summer? I don’t care, we can do whatever will make you happy.”
Someone with a passive communication style does not express honest thoughts or feelings. They believe that it is better to avoid conflict or criticism. This person tends to allow their own thoughts or feelings to be trampled on, which ultimately leads to feelings of not being understood or appreciated.
Michelle adapted a passive communication style in our marriage for a number of years. Honestly, it was partially in response to my poor communication, but it didn’t help our relationship.
A passive communication style will ultimately lead to feelings of being misunderstood or not being appreciated.
Aggressive Communication Style
“I’ve made arrangements for us to spend the week with my family at a cabin up north. You’ll just get crabby if we stay here and then we’ll all be miserable. It’ll be good for the kids to see their grandparents. We’re going to have a great time!”
Aggressive communication is the opposite of passive communication. Someone with this style tries to force their opinions and feelings on other people, regardless of what they think or feel. It’s often about being right or winning an argument. They may resort to criticism or putting others down in order to prove their point.
As I said, I used an aggressive communication style with Michelle. I don’t think that I was trying to be mean, I just thought I was right. I thought that I knew best and my opinion was the valid one.
Michelle got tired of arguing with me and gave up.
Our communication pattern was destroying our relationship.
Passive-Aggressive Communication Style
(Dripping with sarcasm) “This vacation idea of yours was really great. Oh yeah, I’m gonna agree to do this again – NOT”
Someone with this communication style may initially agree, but then conveys anger or vengeance later. Often, they use sarcasm and humor to hide their real thoughts or feelings.
Another way to be passive-aggressive is to agree to do something and then, not do it.
Assertive Communication Style
“I’ve been thinking that since money is tight now, we should visit my parents at their cabin this year. What do you think?”
Assertive communication is expressing your thoughts and feelings without it being at the expense of others. It’s being respectful to others, even when you are defending yourself.
Someone with this style takes responsibility for their own words and actions. They listen to others and respond appropriately.
This communication style builds closeness and intimacy.
Which Communication Style Works?
The only communication style that builds intimacy is when both people are assertive. This is a win-win result, even if you disagree. Any other combination creates a win-lose result, which doesn’t build a relationship.
I used to be aggressive in my communication style. Michelle was passive. Guess what? I tended to win, or at least I thought I did.
It took a while for us to realize that this wasn’t helping us. I learned to listen. Michelle learned to tell me what she was thinking. We both learned to be assertive.
When we work with couples, we explain these communication styles. We ask them which style they think they use. Do they both feel listened to? Do they both have a chance to express their thoughts and feelings?
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Help couples to recognize their communication style – You can explain the styles and see if they relate to one of them.
- Ask, “What do you like about your partner’s communication style?” – Find the positive that is working.
- Ask, “What would you change about your partner’s communication style?” – Find what can be improved upon.
Reference: Olson, D. H., Olson-Sigg, A., & Larson, P. J. (2008). The couple checkup. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.