Marriage Enrichment: Communication is the bedrock of any relationship

Differences in language between two people, based on what their family of origin passed on, can present a challenge

By Marian Christiana

Language, both verbal and physical, is a key ingredient to good communication. The first two factors dealing with good communication both focus on language. The first reminds us to watch our body language, and the next one stresses the need to use clear and concise language to identify an issue. These are very important components in a relationship, but anyone involved in a discussion needs to understand exactly what a person means by the language they are choosing to use in the discussion. We all come into relationships with our own vocabulary and value system for the use of verbal and physical language based on our upbringing.

The first words a person uses in a relationship are a direct result of their family of origin. The differences in language between two people can present a challenge, especially when those two people are planning to be married or are married. This language difference is not necessarily the result of a different dialect or a different country of origin. The differences can pop up in any part of your speech. Do you say turnabout or traffic circle? Do you say soda or pop? How you say something is a direct result of what your family of origin passed on to you. Speech is transmitted from parent to child in the distinct regional dialect of the parent.

Both of my parents were from Erie, Pa., so even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles I still had words in my vocabulary that came from my parents’ upbringing. Some of the language could be easily interpreted by an outsider while some of it could be real head-scratchers. We were told to “red the table” after dinner. I am sure it was supposed to be “rid the table” of all of the dishes but with their accent we heard “red,” so that is what we said. I said it for years until I met my husband, Ralph, and he asked me what in the heck I was talking about!

One of my favorite stories along those lines came from my sister, Kass, and her late husband, Tom. About 15 years ago, my late brother-in-law, Tom, phoned me to ask me what I called the end pieces of the bread and I said the “heel.” He started laughing and said that at breakfast that morning my sister asked him if he wanted anything else, and he said that he would like some “crust” toasted and buttered. Without asking for any clarification my sister cut the edges off around several pieces of bread, toasted and buttered them and took them to Tom. Tom was very confused when he saw his plate until he realized that by the words they used they were talking about two different things. His family called the end of the bread the “crust” while our family of origin called it the “heel.” This is a harmless example of the differences of the language we bring into our relationships, but at times instead of humor that language can be hurtful.

If we are unconsciously passing on our own particular language to our children think of the impact we could have if we intentionally passed on good communication techniques by modeling those techniques in our daily lives. First, of course, we need to learn the techniques ourselves before we can model them for others.

I know that I have talked about good communication in the past and that there are many books published annually on the subject.

There are also couples’ enrichment opportunities that will provide the attendees with tools to help them improve communication with each other. So much attention is given to a couple’s communication because it is the bedrock of any relationship.

The language we use can inflame a situation or calm it. Good communication can always have a positive effect on our relationships. Here is a brief list of steps that can lead to good communication:

Watch your body language. Sit facing the other person, have good eye contact, and be respectful in your facial expressions. (No eye rolling!)

Identify the issue clearly. Make sure the other party also can identify the issue. You want to make sure that you are discussing the same issue, then stick to the point!

Practice active listening. Allow one person to speak at a time. No interrupting! Be able to repeat what the person said and understand the meaning of the language that they used.

Take turns talking. Everyone has an opportunity to be heard. Communication is not one-sided.

Be open to new ideas and possible resolutions. It is best to begin a discussion with an open mind instead of concentrating on the result you desire. Compromise is always on the table in good communication.

Be respectful. Practice patience and respect during any discussion.

Bring the issue to a conclusion. If a conclusion can’t be found on the first attempt, agree to a specific time when you will meet to bring it to a conclusion. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm to find a resolution. Issues don’t always need to be resolved in the same old way. Using the same old way to resolve an issue might be the reason you are discussing it again.

Always seek reconciliation. Offer an apology and ask for forgiveness if necessary. If you are the injured party, be willing to grant forgiveness.

And finally, Practice, practice, practice! Every time we use good communication techniques we become better at impacting other people’s lives in a positive way. No matter what language you speak, the goal of good communication is to have a better relationship, and that’s a win/win for everybody.

Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.

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