Effective Communication Program: How to navigate the communication triangle

Week 1 Check your attitude

Designed by Ada Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Welcome to the Communication Triangle Program! Many times people live on automatic pilot and don’t realize they are disconnecting at a rapid pace, as a result of poor communication. I’m glad you have decided to do something about your communication.

At the heart of intimacy and joy are the connecting feelings of love, understanding, empathy and compassion. All of this is impossible without communication. Communication is the lifeblood of intimacy and connection. 

When a couple complaints of lack of intimacy, almost always communication is not happening, at least not in healthy ways. Communication is so important that I spend a lot of time teaching couples how to communicate deeply and effectively. To live together with satisfaction, couples need clear, regular communication. They need to be able to confide in each other.

Confiding—the ability to reveal yourself fully, honestly, and directly—is the lifeblood of intimacy.  Confiding includes sharing information about thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future. 

 When a couple complaints of lack of intimacy, almost always communication is not happening, at least not in healthy ways. Communication is so important that I spend a lot of time teaching couples how to communicate deeply and effectively. 

Communication is the # 1 stated problem among couples. Some of the complaints I often hear are:

 “We don’t communicate very well” 

  “We argue too much”  

  “We just don’t know how to communicate  

     with each other” 

  “She talks too much (or too little)” 

  “He clams up and never shares his feelings” 

  “She just doesn’t listen”  

  “He interrupts all the time and doesn’t 

     let me talk.” 

Why is communication such a challenge?

Why is communication such a challenge? For several good reasons:

  1. Many don’t have the most minimal clue. . . They never saw it work right in their families or anywhere else.
  2. Most have never taken a class on communication and don't have a clue how do to it well. We think it should be natural. Well, in an ideal world, yes, it should be. But the problem is reason # 3
  3. We have developed bad habits of communication due to how communication happened in our family or origin and/or different experiences in our life. The thing is, habits are so ingrained and automatic that we don’t think about them. They just take over. Let’s do a little experiment: Fold your arms.  Now do it the opposite way.  Notice how it felt to fold your arms automatically and then to fold your arms the opposite way.  When you tried the opposite way, how did it feel? did it feel strange and uncomfortable? The experience you just had illustrates how a habit feels.  Habits are ingrained and second nature.  They can either be good or bad.  Your communication habits will either enhance or detract from your effectiveness.
  4. Communication requires time. There is no way around this. And most couples feel they have a full schedule as it is, and don’t have the time to stop the madness for a few minutes of positive communication. Therefore, they don’t take time to communicate until there is an issue they can’t ignore anymore. Then a fight happens. And it reinforces their idea that it’s not worth to take time for communication because all they do is biker and fight. . .
  5. Communication is more than skill. There are matters of the heart that affect how we use our skills, and that facilitate connection and caring even when we may not be that great with words. Factors that can affect the quality of a couple’s communication include: commitment, willingness, intentions, desire, caring, and attitude

In this short series of 6 weeks program to effective communication we are going to explore what I call the Communication Triangle. If you understand the triangle, and commit to practicing the suggestions I’m going to give you, you will see an improvement in your feelings of love and intimacy.

Let’s start by talking about the foundation of all relationships and connection. It has to do with another triad: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They describe themselves as love, light, and truth. The psychologist Robert Sternberg developed the triangular theory of love. In his theory, the triangle's points are intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Intimate love is the corner of the triangle that encompasses the close bonds of loving relationships. Intimate love felt between two people means that they each feel a sense of high regard for each other. They wish to make each other happy, share with each other, be in communication with each other, help when one is in need. A couple with intimate love deeply values each other. Intimate love has been called the "warm" love because of the way it brings two people close together. Sternberg's prediction of this love was that it would diminish over time, since more time together would increase predictability.

Passionate love is based on drive. Couples in passionate love feel physically attracted to each other. Sexual desire is typically a component of passionate love. Passionate love is not limited to sexual attraction, however. It is a way for couples to express feelings of nurture, dominance, submission, self-actualization, etc. Passionate love is considered the "hot" component of love because of the strong presence of arousal between two people. Passionate love will tend to vary in different moments of the relationship.

Commitment, or committed love, is for lovers who are committed to being together for a long period of time. Something to note about commitment, however, is that one can be committed to someone without feeling love for him or her, and one can feel love for someone without being committed to him or her. Commitment is considered to be the "cold" love because it does not require either intimacy or passion. But without commitment, a relationship could end at any of those points when passion, or intimacy are not at their strongest. I prefer to call it stedfast love. Sternberg believed that committed love increases in intensity as the relationship grows. 


Communication Triangle

The communication triangle has to do with the ring before the last one. Remember that you can’t take communication away from the rest of the picture. Everything is interconnected. 

Positive communication can be boiled down to three essential elements: attitude, desire and skill. Attitudes and desires are more about who you are. They are matters of the heart. Positive attitudes and desires need to be invited, encouraged, cultivated, nurtured and consciously chosen in the face of difficulty. This is where the rubber meets the road! This is where your have to make a conscious decision. This is where lasting change begins. 

Communication skills are about what you know and what you’ve learned. Once you learn new skills, if you repeat them often enough it’s not so hard to learn them. But without the skills, communication can be challenging, even with the best attitude and desire.

Attitude: The first side of the triangle

Today we are going to concentrate on the first side of the triangle: Attitude.

Attitude refers to your sentiment toward your partner and the emotionally-laden perspectives that guide how you act in the relationship. It affects your willingness to accommodate to each other and to take personal responsibility for your part in relationship difficulties. Synonyms for attitude include mindset, perspective, sentiment, outlook, demeanor, and philosophy. It’s the orientation of your mind and heart toward your spouse. You can’t change what your partner does or says, but you can certainly have an attitude adjustment!

When couples complain that they're not communicating, they forget that it’s impossible not to communicate. What? Are you still communicating, even when neither of you is talking? Absolutely! Communication doesn't require either party to utter a single sound. In fact, you can sometimes communicate louder in silence than you ever could with words.

Imagine the following scenario: You are walking down the street, when a stranger knocks you down and steals your bag. You are terribly upset when you arrive home, and very much in need of your partner's attention. However, after you breathlessly finish telling your spouse about your awful experience, he says nothing, rolls his eyes, and then buries his head in his Tablet.

Is your spouse communicating something through his wordless response? You bet he is, and there's probably nothing positive for you in that message.

Perhaps your partner is saying that he doesn't really care about what happened to you. Maybe he's too caught up in his own concerns, or he doesn't know how to respond to yours. Maybe he's just too upset to talk, because he feels powerless to do anything to help you. In any case, that kind of silent communication sends a message that is as loud as any shout

Communication, and especially attitude, is about a lot more than talking. Many essential messages are transmitted through facial expressions, and body language — as well as through words that are left unsaid. Attitude in communication is also physical. Your spouse can convey a message of affection by gently touching your hand. However, if he squeezes your hand to the point of pain, that may be a very different kind of message.

Some couples are so entrenched in negative attitudes that they are either unwilling to use what they know or somehow they use communication techniques in ways that make matters worse.

Think about the statement, "We can't communicate." If you consider that many couples are in such a negative spiral that their attitude is one of wanting to hurt or to push each other away, you might argue that they communicate very effectively. Perhaps what couples really mean when they say this is, "We don't know how to communicate effectively.”

Common examples of negative spiral language are: 

  •  “I love you, but I’m not “in love” with you anymore.” 
  •   “If it weren't because of the kids, I’d be out of the relationship so fast, you would not see even my shadow.” 
  • “You are so dense it’s not worth talking to you.”
  •   “I’m tired of fighting about every little stupid thing.” 

Action Time: (See your workbook)

Good communication is a tool, and good tools can make a task easier to accomplish. But good tools can’t make up for the person using them. In the hands of a skilled cabinet-maker who sets out to create a beautiful piece of furniture, a hammer can be an important tool. But in the hands of someone with an unkind attitude, a hammer can quickly become a weapon. Don’t let your bad attitude convert communication into a weapon.

Have a positive attitude

To have a Positive attitude you need to: 

  • Consciously choose to focus on the positives in each other.
  • Make a list of your spouse’s positive qualities and things you appreciate. Think of what your spouse does that demonstrates his or her goodwill overall.
  • Understand your different styles and cultivate curiosity and an open mindset.
  • If you catch yourself dwelling on negatives, stop yourself. Shift your thinking to something positive.
  • If in conflict, have the positive attitude that by entering into dialogue you can solve or dissolve the issue.

Action time:  (See your Workbook)

Remember that practice makes perfect! Practice a positive attitude all week!