UNDERSTANDING COUPLE COMMUNICATION STYLES

Q:
My partner and I are totally opposite in the way we communicate. Im an extrovert and I need to express all my feelings and he is quiet to the point of being withdrawn. It makes not only communication between us difficult, but also managing our fights. Is this a typical male-female difference or is it deeper than that?
A:
Some relationship experts believe that our communication style has less to do with our gender and more to do with our childhood learning and how we have adapted as we grow. According to Imago Therapy, people tend to fall into two groups: those who minimize their feelings and reactions to conflict, (often referred to as retreaters or withholders) and those who maximize (often referred to as the high drama types).

A Minimiser:
  • Tends to keep feelings in
  • Tends to diminish emotions
  • Tends to deny dependency
  • Tends to deny needs
  • Tends to exclude others from his or her personal space
  • Tends to withhold feelings, thoughts, and behaviours
  • Tends to have rigid self-boundaries
  • Tends to be inner-directed; takes direction mainly from himself or herself
  • Tends to act and think compulsively
  • Tends to try to dominate others
  • Tends to alternate between passive-aggressive and dominant/controlling
  • Tends to take the defensive position

A Maximiser:
  • Tends to let feelings out
  • Tends to exaggerate emotions
  • Tends to be dependent on others
  • Tends to exaggerate needs
  • Tends to be compulsively open and subjective
  • Tends toward clinging and excessive generosity
  • Tends to have unclear self-boundaries
  • Tends to be outer-directed; generally asks for direction from others
  • Tends to act impulsively
  • Tends to act submissively and manipulatively
  • Tends to alternate between aggressiveness and passivity
  • Tends to take the offensive position

Both minimisers and maximisers adapted to their upbringing and the way in which their parent/s or caregiver/s handled conflict with them and around them. Whenever they felt pain, and we all feel pain in childhood pain and conflict are growth trying to happen they adjusted their reactions to either let it all out, or keep it inside. As this pattern continues to develop over time, we each become very adept at our style it is familiar and it keeps us feeling safe when things are turbulent around us, particularly in partnership.

If you are matched with your opposite, as in your case, which is most common, it can be frustrating, but it can also been regarded as an opportunity to grow and learn about how to handle difference and competing styles in handling difficult feelings and challenges.

Awareness becomes the key to understanding each other. Rather than expect your partner to react and cope as you do, try to walk a few steps in their shoes and understand conflict from their perspective not the content of the conflict (who said/did what, who is right etc), but the process of how you each deal with it. Try to understand why the other withdraws or blows up, and how those patterns emerged. Ask each other to explain why they react they way they do where does it stem from? When in childhood did the pattern start? Do they want to change it or does it make them feel secure when things are unpredictable and hard between you? How can you both negotiate a way to better handle conflict despite and including your differences? Often a heart to heart talk will pave the way to being open with each other and finding a way to relate, in big and little conflict that will allow you to cope in your own way, while also better understand each other. Youre not on two different planets (Mars and Venus) and you can relate in the world together.

Comments

I think this applies to my husband and I. I'm definitely a maximiser. He might be a minimiser. It's helpful to see it in this framework. Maybe it will help us fight less.
Posted by Jan on June 2, 2010, 7:49 pm.
 

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