Monday, January 17, 2011

Communication: What’s the Big Deal?

If you’ve picked up any magazine in the last decade, you likely saw an article about communication. For many, it seems to be a buzzword that gets thrown around quite easily. I often read that families (spouses, in particular) should “communicate better”. Yet the role of communication in families is often implied…as if we all understand the role that communication plays in our lives.

From a family perspective, there are three ways that communication impacts our relationships:

  • Communication serves to constitute as well as reflect family relationships. This means that we use communication to create and maintain our relationships. This one is easy. Most of us know the frustration of trying to maintain a relationship with someone who won’t talk to us. It feels impossible!! Yet, the things we say about our family also tells us how we see those relationships. Let’s say I am griping about my brother to my mom. I say all kinds of nasty things about him. Yet, if someone asks me about my brother I might say we get along fine. But, the specifics I told my mom would really reflect the true feelings I have about my relationship with my brother. This kind of communication is fun to pay attention to!
  • Communication is the process by which family members create and share their meanings with each other. Growing up in my family, we called armpits ‘gapes’. I’m honestly not sure why. I can guess, but was never told. We just always called them gapes. And my sisters and I all think it’s a funny word. My husband’s family simply called them armpits. However, since he doesn’t see any harm in our silly family name for this body part, he goes along with calling them gapes with our sons. And they love it! They think it’s silly, too. So, in my family of origin, we had a word with meaning that we shared just in our family. It bonded us together in a good way. I bet your family has some special names or meanings, too. I’d love to hear about them!
  • Families are part of multigenerational, cultural communication patterns. This is one of my favorite concepts to teach freshmen at college because they insist they don’t have any cultural background. They are always wrong, though! Our cultural background can come from long ago family (my great grandfather is from Poland), to religious beliefs (born and raised Catholic, but more active Christian now), to regional differences (born in the northeast, while spending adult life in the south). All of those factors and more contribute to who we are as individuals. We each bring those differences to our marriage and future family. So, each of us is the product of generations of beliefs all shared through communication. We then form new family cultures when we merge our individual family cultures together. I think that’s a fascinating concept!
Q4U: So, now you know that communication helps us to create and tell others about our family, it helps us create meaning in our family, and it is the result of generations of cultural elements. How do you see these ideas lived out in your current family?

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