Letter of Advice for a Newly Engaged Couple

Congratulations Susan and Gerald on your impending marriage. If I might, I would like to contribute some words of advice and suggest some effective communication tools to make your marriage successful and satisfying. Successful communication between couples increase the likeliness for a happy marriage, something every couple strives for. Communication is a process of many aspects that must be continually practiced and perfected. Though there are stumbling blocks in any relationship that may affect communication, following the advice in this letter will help you learn the many aspects of the communication process that must be continually practiced and perfected. I have put together a list of suggestions of communication tools and things to watch out for you both that will serve as a helpful guide in working towards effective communication in your marriage. The list begins with the first effective communication tool which is to develop and practice perfecting your emotional intelligence. “Accurately perceiving others’ emotions may help to more correctly perceive the partner’s needs and opinions and result in better perspective taking.” (Schröder-Abé & Schütz, 2011, p. 156).

Without emotional intelligence, you will not be able to understand, interpret, and correctly respond to the emotions of the other person. Emotional intelligence allows my husband to correctly perceive when a particular issue is important to me even if he does not feel the same way. By disregarding the importance of the issue for me, he is showing a lack of empathy and/or a lack of sensitivity towards the situation. The repeated practice of this process helps couples in developing “relationship satisfaction or closeness” with each other. (Schröder-Abé & Schütz, 2011, p. 156). “People who are aware of their emotions and are sensitive to the emotions of others are better able to handle the ups and downs of life, to rebound from adversity, and to maintain fulfilling relationships with others.” (Sole, 2011, Ch. 2.5, para. 4).

Emotional intelligence can be achieved by raising self-awareness, providing empathy for the other person, and by developing self-control over your emotions. (Mind Tools, 2013). Self-awareness is paying attention to what you are focusing on and how you will interpret the world. (Sole, 2011, p. 74). Self-awareness will allow a person to have control over their thoughts, emotions, reactions which will all have an effect on their behavior. A person that does not develop self-awareness could make tense situations worse by their behavior, reactions, lack of empathy, or a lack of sensitivity. A person that does not have control over their emotions lessens the likeliness of rational and coherent thinking. The next communication tool on my suggested list is to practice self-disclosure, also another opportunity to develop emotional intelligence. Self-disclosure is described as “sharing your private feelings, fears, doubts and perceptions with your partner.” (Schoenberg, 2011).

There is nothing to be gained if there is no self-disclosure between two people. The ideal self-disclosure between each other should mirror each other. If the level of self-disclosure is not identical for each person, it could lead to feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, low self-esteem, and the like which can lead to conflict. As the back-and-forth of the self-disclosure process progresses, so should the level of intimate information. If the levels of self-disclosure are mirrored, it can build a feeling of trust and it can give each person a feeling of closeness to the other person. When my husband and I first started dating, we would spend hours deep in conversation getting to know each other. We have since enjoyed talking to each other. It is easily forgotten how to have meaningful conversations amid the bustle of life where functional conversation or polite pleasantries become a daily routine. In an article I read that was written by Schoenberg (2011), it suggests taking at least 10 minutes per day to discuss self-disclosure topics with each other.

This could be a great technique to build a strong and firm foundation that also helps strengthen your emotional intelligence skills. As we grow older, we change in our feelings, perspectives, perception, and the like. In taking the time to practice the suggested daily 10 minutes to engage in mini sessions of self-disclosure, it keeps a couple connected, growing together in sync, and it improves the quality of communication. I will use myself and my husband as an example of the effectiveness of the 10 minute self-disclosure technique. My husband is busy with his day at work in the Army and I am busy with school and taking care of the kids. Every day is a nonstop busy day where we each have our responsibilities. Every evening before we got to sleep, my husband and I take the allotted time to remember ourselves as a couple. Even though we have been married for 11 years, we still ask each other simple open ended questions such as, “What movie did you like the most as a kid?”, “What did your family do for fun growing up?”, and “What places would you like to visit?”.

When you ask open-ended questions such as “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why”, and “how”, it requires “more than a “yes” or “no” answer and encourages the other person to talk”. (Sole, 2011, p. 172). There is always a possibility for you to run into stumbling blocks within interpersonal interactions to each other. Stumbling blocks could be in the form of self-image, self-esteem, and misinterpretation. Self-image is what we tell ourselves what we look like, if we are fat or skinny, pretty or ugly, smart or dumb, and the like. It is important to have a positive self-image because in accepting and loving yourself, it will allow you to be accepted and loved by another person. (Sole, 2011, Ch. 3.1, para. 29). If you do not have a positive self-image, it can be difficult to accept that another person accepts and loves you which could lead to distrust in a relationship. Self-esteem is your sense of self-worth and the level of satisfaction you have with yourself. (Sole, 2011, Ch. 3.1, Para. 30).

A low self-esteem could cause problems within the relationship because it could bring a pessimistic attitude to difficulties that may rise. For many people, weight issues have the potential to cause low self-esteem. A great example of this concept would be myself at the times when I am at my heaviest and/or I am badly in need of a haircut. My outlook is grim and chocked with frustration. I tend to have a negative attitude towards those around me and I have little to no desire to leave the house. This is in opposition to when I have improved my appearance and my self-esteem raises along with my attitude. I try to maintain a healthy self-esteem, which I suspect allows me to pull myself out of the pocket of low self-esteem when needed. A person with a healthy sense of self-esteem thinks highly of themselves and has confidence in their ability to bounce back from any adversities. If I did not do my best to maintain a healthy self-esteem, I do not think I would be able to pull myself out of the low pockets of self-esteem.

Instead, I would most likely fall into a depression. To further demonstrate this concept, we can use an analogy of a person that takes vitamins on a daily basis. The person takes vitamins to strengthen their immune system but that does not guarantee they will never get sick. A healthy immune system will “make you less vulnerable to disease and better equipped to overcome it”. (Esteemed Self, 2013). In applying this analogy towards a person’s self-image, a healthy self-image will not guarantee there will never be adversities. A healthy self-image will make a person less at risk of succumbing to adversity and able to overcome it. In essence, having a healthy self-image allows a person to believe in themselves and to be okay with the way they look, feel, and so forth. Another potential stumbling block is misinterpretation. Misinterpretation occurs when one person incorrectly perceives the message of the other person. It is important to give feedback and to receive feedback to ensure proper communication. Correct understanding is essential for effective communication between each other.

Misinterpretation can come from the tone in a person’s voice or from any nonverbal communication. The tone of a voice can sound very unfriendly from the sender, perhaps from having a bad day, which could confuse the listener. The listener could internalize the negative tone in the speaker’s voice thinking it is directed at them. Other problems with the tone of our voices could include unclear mumbling, yelling, talking too fast, or an irritated tone could all contribute to miscommunications. We must be conscious of the tone in our voices to avoid any miscommunications. Nonverbal communication is the message that our bodies give off. Much like the tone of our voices, it is important that we are mindful of what our body language is telling the person we are speaking to. For example, what we do with our eyes while we are communicating can signal to the other person if we are uninterested or bored in the conversation (not making eye contact, looking away, looking at our watch, etc.). Much like our eyes can communicate a message to the other person, so can our facial expressions. Our facial expressions can signal to the other person how we feel but, at times can be miscommunicated as insincerity. (Sole, 2011, p. 119).

Body posture and hand gestures are also part of the nonverbal communication that we must be cognizant of. Body posture can send messages of disinterest if, for example, a person is folding their arms while they are communicating. Folding your arms can be very tempting to do, especially during a conflict. The examples of nonverbal communication mentioned will only serve as an aggravation to the situation, or rather conflict. An example of this is when my husband would smile as he was making a point during our disagreements (conflicts). It was not a genuine smile, but rather a condescending smile. After thinking about the behavior during our disagreements, my husband and I made a pact to do our best at avoiding this type of negative nonverbal communication. It is important to practice a healthy sense of self-concept, which is an inventory of your strengths, weaknesses, traits, race, heritage, and any other description that makes you who you are today. (Sole, 2011, Ch. 3.1, para. 1).

Throughout your life up to this point, you have had many experiences to react and interpret different situations. My particular example of this would be the cultures that I grew up in. One illustration would be the Hispanic culture that my family and I are a part of. I experienced a sense of belonging to the Hispanic community and it therefore played a part in defining my self-concept. A sense of belonging is an important experience for a person so that they will see themselves as “loved, loving, and valuable”. (Ferrer & Fugate, 2003). In short, a person with a healthy sense of self-concept is able to have balance in their lives and is able to have better control over themselves, such as their emotions. This healthy sense of self-concept has a positive effect on relationships. Much like self-esteem or self-image, a negative sense of self-concept has the potential to keep a person from developing a feeling of belonging.

In lacking the feeling of belonging, it could serve as a wedge that separates the individual from another person thus preventing any closeness in forming. Throughout our formative years, we experience reactions from people that serve as a form of feedback or we perform a self-analysis on ourselves based on that feedback. One or both of these make their own particular contribution in shaping our self-concept, a sense of who we are based on a combination of the cultures we have belonged to. Over time, this combination of who we are strengthens our self-concept and is an important influence on your ability to perceive and overcome difficulties.

In application to your relationship, your self-concept has an influence on how you will handle personal and sensitive issues that may arise. When communicating with each other, it is essential to develop good listening skills. Listening has the power to make the other person feel worthy, appreciated, and respected. It is a very uncomfortable feeling when you are speaking to someone, they have poor listening skills, and you are left to wonder if they even care about what you are talking about. Comprehension listening, or “critical listening”, is listening for facts, information, or ideas that may be of use to you. (Sole, 2011, Ch. 7.3, Para. 16).

Empathetic listening is when you make an attempt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. (Sole, 2011, Ch. 7.3, Para. 18). Both types of listening will be of great use to you in your marriage. A great technique for both types of listening is the speaker-listener technique. To begin the exercise, the first speaker has the floor and when he or she is finished, the listener then summarizes what the speaker just said. This process is repeated back and forth throughout the disagreement or conversation. This technique helps in ensuring both people communicating are understanding each other. In taking a moment to summarize what the speaker has said, it gives validation to the speaker. This could also tie into emotional intelligence, or more specifically, the ability to be empathetic towards the other person. When a person does not feel validated, they will be less likely to listen to the other person. This is an effective technique to use when two people have difficulty in communicating with each other.

Case in point, during the early years of my marriage to my husband, we were having difficulty during our disagreements. Our disagreements were filled with emotions and were very tense. Each of us wanted to get our point across and wanted the other person to listen to us. We realized we were accomplishing nothing. We made a decision to attend counseling where we learned the speaker-listener technique. My husband and I both have a better understanding the importance of validity. It is essential for a person to be heard and validated in a conflict. In doing so, they will be more open to compromising with the other person. It has taken me many years to understand the importance of communication skills such as self-disclosure, emotional intelligence, and the speaker-listener technique.

All of these skills combined help in avoiding the type of pitfalls that can hurt a marriage rather than help. I stress the importance of all of these skills to you so that you will be successful in the coming years of marriage. I will also stress avoiding stumbling blocks such as low self-esteem and misinterpretation that can rob any marriage of the joy of healthy communication. I am confident that both of you will be successful in practicing and perfecting the art of communication in the years to come. One last note to remember, interpersonal communication is ever changing because people are ever changing, therefore you will always need to practice and perfect it. Good luck on your marriage and have fun learning to communicate with each other!

Esteemed Self. (2013). The Dangers of Low Self-Esteem. Retrieved from http://www.esteemedself.com/what-is-self-esteem/the-dangers-of-low-self-esteem/ Ferrer, M., & Fugate, A.M. (2003). Helping Your School-Age Child Develop a Healthy Self-Concept. EDIS. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy570 Schoenberg, N. (2011, January 17). Can we talk? Researcher talks about the role of communication in happy marriages. McClatchy-Tribune News Service. Retrieved from ProQuest Newsstand. Document ID: 2240370261 Schröder-Abé, M., & Schütz, A. (2011). Walking in each other’s shoes: Perspective taking mediates effects of emotional intelligence on relationship quality. European Journal of Personality, 25(2), 155-169. Doi:10.1002/per.818 Sole, K. (2011).Making connections: Understanding interpersonal communication. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Mind Tools. (2013). Emotional intelligence. Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm