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Spring 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 1 · pp. 103–5 

Recommended Reading

Couple Communication

Kathy Gray

Augsburger, David. Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard. Ventura: Regal Books, 1982. 171 pages. $6.95

Holds that hearing could be the most important aspect of communication. Hearing involves understanding and valuing the other person, letting go of our judgments and evaluations. An easy-to-read book. Makes an excellent gift to newlyweds.

Beck, Aaron T. Love Is Never Enough. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. 300 pages. $17.95

Examines the distorted self-messages we listen to and the consequences on communication. Addresses typical problem areas: role expectations, sex differences and anger. Packed with interesting case studies and exercises to involve couples in improving communication skills. A key book for pastors in helping couples resolve conflicts and improve communication.

Lerner, Harriet Goldhor. The Dance of Anger. New York: Perennial Books, 1985. 224 pages. $8.95

Subtitle: “A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships.” Appropriate case studies reveal patterns of anger that ensnare. Communication becomes more constructive when anger is managed.

Pearson, Judy. Communication in the Family. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. 352 pages.

More than just couple communication. Discusses the development of the family, the changing roles and the changing nature of the family. Offers insight on verbal and nonverbal communication, and managing conflict and stress within the family. A challenging book. {104}

Satir, Virginia. Peoplemaking. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books, Inc., 1972. 304 pages. $8.95

Focuses on couple communication as well as family communication. Challenges the rules within our communication; encourages positive growth. Analyzes four patterns of communication: placating, blaming, computing and distracting. An interesting book for professionals as well as lay people who care about “peoplemaking” through interaction.


Many different factors impact the communication with our spouses. We learn different communication patterns from our family of origin. One family rule might have been “At all costs—keep the peace,” while for another person the learned rule was “Yell all you want—we’ll still care about each other.” What happens if the family rules learned by one spouse conflict with the family rules learned by the other spouse? Could be shaky going! One key to flourishing communication is to recognize the learned family rules, reconstruct some of them, and talk about the differences in your communication patterns.

Just as there are a multitude of family rules and beliefs that one might bring into marriage, so are there different communication styles. Virginia Satir (1972) discusses four unique communication styles. The Placater apologizes for his/her very existence! An effort is made to please every one and never to disagree. A learned family rule may well have been, “At all costs, don’t rock the boat!” The Blamer is the dictator and must act superior at all costs. This person stands up tall and straight, pointing his/her finger at someone cowering in the corner (maybe even a Placater)! The Computer-type communicator appears very aloof and correct, careful to show little emotion. A family rule of “Don’t feel” may account for this style—a style intended to protect from getting hurt, but one that results in distancing. A fourth communication style is that of the Distracter. It is extremely difficult for these persons to stay focused. Such persons ignore your questions and flit from one thing to the next.

Very little progress is made in couple communication when any of these four stances is assumed in communication. {105} When one individual becomes the Blamer it is quite easy for the other to be the Placater. The stances can vary as quickly and often as the topics of conversation. Is there a solution to the dilemma of the many masks we wear in our communication styles? The solution is to let our communication be congruent. Satir refers to this as leveling. When I level with you, my words will match my facial expressions, as well as my body and tone. I can apologize if necessary, but it will be for an act rather than for my existence. People may have different backgrounds as well as different opinions, but leveling can begin to build bridges in communication. Each chooses to appreciate the other’s differences.

There are some negative influences that sabotage leveling with one another in communication. When one tries to read the mind of the spouse or just “guesstimate” what his/her intentions are, good communication is soon scuttled. In fact, communication has stopped! Or if one begins using a lot of “should statements,” one moves from the leveling position to the position of the Blamer or Computer. Labeling the person rather than the action also changes the leveling communication to the Blamer or Distracter. Just as leveling can be sabotaged by what we say, it can also be negatively influenced by what we don’t say. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of feelings and to communicate them in truth to the one we care about.

An important aspect of leveling is the use of “I” messages. “I” messages describe feelings and wants while recognizing the feelings and wants of the other person. An “I” message says what I really mean. In order to communicate in the leveling stance with my spouse, I could use a three-point message: “When you (behavior), I feel (feeling). I would like (desire).” Leveling is a good beginning step toward dynamic couple communication.

Kathy Gray is completing an M.A. in Marriage and Family Counseling at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

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