Key to relationship is conveying satisfaction

Published: Thursday, January 15, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 11:59 p.m.

Some studies show that effective communication is a symptom - not the cause - of a satisfying relationship. Of course, it can be difficult to know which comes first.

In any case, we know communication is critical in a relationship, particularly an intimate one.

We also know that satisfied couples express positive emotion five times as often as they express negative emotion (compared to a one-to-one ratio in dissatisfied couples).

So, for every one time they express fear, disgust, anger or sadness, they express joy, interest, caring, or humor five times.

It's important, then, not simply to communicate, but to convey your satisfaction, to talk about what pleases you.

Yes, it's also important to talk about what annoys you.

But no matter how well you articulate what's wrong and practice your listening skills, you'll improve your effectiveness dramatically by having something to say about what's right.

If you simply want to point out what's wrong, go ahead.

But if you want to do something about what's wrong and enjoy a satisfying relationship, point to what's right five times for every one time you point to what's wrong.

We tend to remember the negative, even dwell on it. She still remembers the time you said - right in front of everybody - that her legs were stubbly.

And he may never forget that time you alluded to him as skinny . . . even if you do tell him how lean and muscular he is five times.

Don't grow weary of telling him, though. It benefits both of you.

When you express your satisfaction, it reminds you of what's positive. It reinforces what you appreciate in your sweetheart and your relationship. It increases your satisfaction.

And if the studies are correct, then your satisfaction will, in turn, make you a more effective communicator and a more effective resolver of conflict.

Yes - the conflict will still be there, but it won't be getting as much of your attention. You'll be more adept at resolving it. You will have practiced your communication skills on the positive.

And remember that positive doesn't mean superficial. Don't stick with what feels safe. Talk about what's private. Don't avoid what you fear will disclose your vulnerability. Share your secrets. Don't try to maintain mystique or control. Build awareness and trust. Grow intimacy.

Then, when it's time to address a sensitive difference or problem, you'll be able to do it with somebody you know and trust with your feelings.

You'll be able to do it within the safety of a satisfying relationship, without tiptoeing around fragile emotions. You'll be able to do it with somebody who's responsive to your needs, rather than weary of hearing about them.

When you bring up what's wrong against a backdrop of what's right, it feels positive. It feels constructive - and it's easy to be receptive to that. You're making something good better, rather than pointing out one more thing that's wrong with something bad.

Ouch! It's no wonder dissatisfied couples have a tough time resolving conflict. It can seem insurmountable. Both partners tend to escalate the conflict, rather than deescalate it.

Both tend to blame the other and cross complain. Both have loads of ammunition stockpiled. And there seems to be no end to the battle, only breaks in the firing.

Satisfied couples know each other and understand each other. They're more apt to feel trusting and trusted. They're on the same side, the same team.

They're less apt to judge each other harshly or misinterpret behavior as negative. They're more apt to feel loved.

And, yes, they're more apt to communicate effectively!

Jan Denise Soroka is a columnist, author and speaker based in Florida. She invites comments and questions through e-mail at; or visit her Web site at

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