Interpersonal Communication In Marital Relationships Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the last half of the century, our society has watched the divorce rate of married couples skyrocket to numbers previously not seen in the past. Although the eighties had experienced a slight decline in divorce rates, half of first marriages still were expected to dissolve before death. (Stacy, 15, 1991) Whatever happened to that meaningful exchange of wordsw, until death do us part, uttered by the bride and groom to each other on their wedding day? What could have been the cause of such inflated divorce rates? Perhaps young married couples are not mature enough to be engaged in such a trremendous responsibility, or, maybe, the couples really do not know each other as well as they thought. Possibly, they have been blinded by infatuation rather than by true love, or, quite simply, the couples mistakenly have different relational expectations.
Ultimately, all the possibilities point to one thing, which is a lack of communication. Somewhere along the line, there must have been a breakdown in the interpersonal communication process. Seemingly, the marital dyad has not used the correct communication patterns needed to sustain their relationship. In some way, each of them has notevaluated their partner carefully enough to ensure that this chosen individual is, in fact, truly their life long partner. By no means, is this the sole reason for divorce, but it certainly plays an enormous role. In fact, no one could ever pinpoint the exaact cause of divorce since each situation is unighu and is usually quite complicated. However, it would be unreasonable not to believe that interpersonal communication does not play an integral part in marital satisfaction. Since interpersonal communication affects almost all facets of a relationship, it has a huge impact on each and every part of both individuals lives.
Marital satisfaction, something that everyone would like to find an equation for, is the goal that all married couplesnaturally wish to achieve. Since marital satisfaction obviously has a direct relationship to marital stability, the more satisfaction that is achieved within a marriage, the more stable and more positive the relationship. This stability is accomplished through hard work and communication between the partners, and a mutual understanding of what part each must play in the relationship.
Communication has often been cited as the primary predictor to relational satisfaction. (Kelley and Burgoon, 40, 1991) Now, the question has arisen-what patternsprocesses of communication are the contributing factors that play such a vital part in the relational satisfaction? First, the expectations of a relationship and how these expectations are met play a large part in the dyad s assesment of how well the marriage is going. Also, the decision-making process, another important procedure that should engage both parties of a marriage, is of increasing importance in these post modern, feminist times.
As with any marriage, problems will obviously occur, and the manner in which these problems are handled will most often affect the happiness of the couple. Another major issue of dicussion is the amount of time a couple spends with each other, as well as the quality of the interaction, and lastly, the issue of similarity will be addressed. In order for a marriage to succeed, the communication patterns of the couple must be similar and compatible if there is to be any agreement between the spouses.
Marital satisfaction and the contributing factords are of extreme importance at this juncture in our society, though it has become obvious that there is a degeneration of communication and a lack of satisfaction in today s married couples. This disatisfaction results in the divorce rate being sohigh that it begs the question: how does this marital satisfaction originate?
This topic deserves a lot of attention so that the reasons for this degeneration can be avoided. The topic of marital satisfaction must be studied from a third person point of view to examine exactly how interpersonal communication is used in a marriage. Then, after this examination of marriages, try and decipher what seperates a stable marriage from one that does not function correctly. It should be determined what kinds of communication help create marital satisfaction.
Similarity and its Relation to Day to Day Interactions
Stability in marriage has a positive relationship on how well you and your spouse communicate in day to day interactions. In addition, if the dyad is to get along on a day to day basis, it is vital that similarities occur between the two partners. There is the popular saying that states, opposites attract. However, having given some thought to this issue, the question is, how could opposites function daily? How could they communicate effectively over extended periods of time? It is quite obvious that on lesser issues, some opinions or values have the ability to diverge, but on truly meaningful topics there must be agreement. People probably do better with others who are similar attitudinally, tempermentally, and behaviorally.” (Hatfield and Rapson, 211, 1992) However, this is not criteria for being in a relationship since involvement in a romantic relationship does not necessarily mean that partners are satisfied qith that relationship or deeply attracted to one another. (Hatfield and Rapson, 211, 1992) Persons may remain involved in a less than satisfying relationship because a more satisfyinf alternative does not currently exist. (Burleson, Kunkel, & Birch, 260, 1994) However similarity is one criteria for a successful and satisfying relationship.
People feel good and are more confident of themselves when people hold the same values, attitudes and concepts as they do. The discovery that another shares similar attitudes reduces uncertainty and is experienced as rewarding. (Burleson, Kunkel, & Birch, 260, 1994) In the beginning of a relationship, similarities are not as important as they become later on as the relationship progresses. Similarities in communication become cital to the survival of the dyad. In addition, at later stages of a relationship, the more similarities discovered will progress the relationship and deeper levels of intimacy are achieved. (burleson, Kunkel, & Birch 261, 1994)
Whether or not a couple has similar communication activities is a good predictor of them having marital satisfaction.
Because communication is the central medium through which couples initiate romantic relationships, build upon those relationships, address their problems, and generally live out their relationships, similarities about the significance of various communicative activities may be important predictors of attraction of partners and satisfaction with the relationship. (Burleson, Kunkel, & Birch, 262, 1994)
Not only will similarities in communication activities help lead you to choose a suitable partner, but it will also make those interactions more enjoyable while enhancing day to day activities. Communication is, perhaps, the most basic activity in which romantic partners, friends, and other intimates engage. (Burleson, Kunkel, & Birch, 270, 1994)
The interactions and communication activities that go on between the partners in the relationship define and provide the force that sustains relationships. (Dainton, 1, 1998) In marriage, most of the communication happens in conjunction with another activity. Talk is embedded in the activites of everyday life. (Dainton, 5, 1998) Most of the conversation that occurs deals with catching up on the day, planning or coordinating some activity, and the usual small talk.
The most important type of interaction is affection. This interaction is the most fulfilling and reassuring in relationships. It also carries the most substance, and, therefore, is the most meaningful. Affection is necessary for the maintenance of relationships. The couple needs to know that their spouse cares about them, whether it is to be conveyed verbally or non-verbally.
Empowerment and Decision-Making
Now that it has been established that interactions between the dyad are a necessity, a closer examination of the interactions is needed. Within the interactions themselves, who maintains the power authority and control? How does this affect marital satisfaction? In the past, it has been true that males made all the important decisions in marital relationships and females dutifuly complied with hatever the males wished. (Richmond, McCroskey, & Roach, 1, 1997) However, that is not the case these days, in fact, the women s movement has empowered women a great deal more allowing them to have a greater influence in/on society.
Most of the marriages in our society attempt to attain equality from each member of the dyad. Such relationships are highly dependent on communicativce interaction for decision-making and mutual influence of the marital partners on each other. (Richmond, McCroskey, & Roach, 1, 1997) A marital dyad that demands equality must use communication to attain it. Couples who have an equal balance of power in their relationship report the highest level of satisfaction in their marriage.
It is also found that spouses that have made an attempt to influence their spouse s behavior will probably induce a negative outcome. Then with that negative outcome, marital dissatisfaction will eventually develop. Some negative outcomes that are a result of an imbalance in marital power are verbal/symbolic aggression, marital violence, and relational dissolution. Richmond, McCroskey, and Roach, 4, 1997)
Members of marital dyads do not like when their partner tries to influence or coerce them. The highest satisfaction is reported when each member used referent power . Referent power is based on trust, respect and care. In the context of a marriage, the more affection and respect one has for the other, the more that person will try to please the other. (Richmond, McCroskey, & Roach, 5, 1997) Referent power is when a member defers power to the other member. This occurs when one member of the dyad is more knowledgeable, or has more competance in relative areas. In essence, they put their trust in their apouses control.
However, who holds control when it comes to relational maintenance? Maintenance is important in keeping marital satisfaction. Women are generally more comfortable in talking about their relationships with men. Women are more sensitive than men to social cues, and therefore, more aware of the quality of their relationships. (Ragsdale, 2, 1996) Women are, for the most part, in control of relational maintenance. Women use verbal expressions of affection more than men and also moreoften choose direct discussion in handling minor conflicts. (Ragsdale, 3, 1997) As a result of this, women tend to issues better than men and try to get problems solved.
Women are also more self-disclosive in their marriages than men, therefore sharing more of themselves with their spouses. Self-disclosure that is reciprocated by the spouse helps the relationship progress to deeper levels, therefore, projecting more satisfaction and creating a two-way communication. It helps to empower each member of the dyad and allows for easier maintenance.
Expectations and Fulfillment
Every communication message has a relaional and content component. (Kelley & Burgoon, 41, 1991) The relational component tells how one should receive the message. It pertains to what association the sender of the message has to the recipient and how the content, or denotive meanings of their message should be read. These meanings and messages are used to define the relationship. These definitions are then used to set op guidelines or set up relational expectations.
In a marriage, there are expectations that people set for each other. Whether these expectations consist of a spouse taking the garbage out, a spouse calling to say that they will be late, or expecting that a spouse not set any rules at all; they are, all the same, expectations that individuals hope will be met. Relational expectations may either be prescriptive or predictive. Prescriptive expectations are one s beliefs about what behaviors should be performed or avoided. (Kelley & Burggon, 41, 1991) predictive expectations are one s beliefs about what behaviors are likely to occur. (Kelley & Burgoon, 41, 1991)
When it comes to relationships, it is important not to violate expectations, especially prescriptive expectations. Unless of course, it is a positive violation, then the actions exceed the expectations and illicit positive outcomes. Violations result in status degradation and re-examining the relationship . (Kelley & Burgoon, 42, 1991) It is found that discrepancies in expectations are higher in disturbed marriages . (Kelley & burgoon, 43, 1991) So, if there is to be marital satisfaction, it is necessary not to create too many expectation violations in the relationship.
Communication is the basis of all interactions. During interpersonal communication it is necessary that the participants reach a mutual understanding of what message each other is trying to convey. This mutual understanding is vital to sustaining a functional relationship. As with any relationship, marriage is no different. Each member of a marital dyad must have clearly defined, and understood communication between them. Satisfaction and stability in a marriage is achieved through communication and interaction between its members. A breakdown of interpersonal communication is positively related to dissatisfaction in a marriage.
How can this problem of dissatisfaction be taken care of before it begins to be a broplem within the dyad? Is it even a possibility to alleviate the rising divorce rate? Too many people are getting divorced today, and the institution of marriage is losing its meaning. It is no longer thought of as a bond, or a tie that keeps people together till death do us part .
I believe that by continuing research on marital stability and satisfaction many more questions will be answeres. Many more ways in which satisfaction is obtained will be uncovered as well. I know that there will never be an equation for marital satisfaction, but hopefully people will realize that communication is the key factor to having positive relationships. And by using good communication, satisfaction in those relationships will follow.