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Marriage Work-Out Team Building

Chapter 4: Communication:

A Key to Success in the Marital Team

A Model of Effective Communication for the Marital Team, Marriage Workout is based on a simple principle that, if followed, can result in effective communications. This principle is:

Focus on Feelings Rather than on Content.

An effective marital-team communicator is able to focus on the feelings behind a partner's message and not get stuck in the content.


Content is the ''thing'' behind the message. Content is the ''what'' of a message. It is the issue or subject of a message. It is value laden. It can conjure up positive or negative opinions. It can elicit strong or weak emotional reactions. Disagreements are frequently centered around the  Content of messages shared by spouses. Being “right” or “wrong'' are Content expressions. ''Winning'' or ''losing'' are often the outcome of content-focused communications. Hurt feelings can arise as a result of content-oriented communications. Content is important, however, because it is the ''things'' involved in marriage such as: sex, finances, in-laws, children, jobs, homes, cars, religion, time, meals, furniture, clothing, etc. Over-concentration on Content, however, can lead to marital stagnation and ill health. Ignoring Content can lead to confusion and lack of marital decision-making or action. The trick is to ''hear between the lines'' that is: “what is meant by the actual words spoken.”

Focusing on Content in marital communications has three pitfalls:


1. Parallel Listening: Parallel listening occurs when a  partner ignores the feelings of the other and concentrates solely on the content level. Parallel listening is a ''discounting'' of the other by ignoring the feelings being expressed and only adding to the flow of content, even when adding to the flow is relevant to the Content being, discussed. The one partner can feel he is communicating, but he is failing to hear the message being related ''between the lines.'' Parallel Listening typically results in ignoring the message being sent by the partner. Parallel listening often leads to a sense of being ignored, discouraged, or turned off by one member of the team. Parallel listening is one of the pitfalls of focusing on Content rather than Feelings.


2. Jumping to conclusions: Another pitfall of concentrating on Content to the exclusion of Feelings is jumping to the conclusion that you know the partner's ideas and feelings. Discussing ''things'' with no effort to clarify how the partner is ''feeling'' can lead to disastrous results. For example: Two partners can be talking objectively about the selection of a new car with the result that the car is purchased. The partner who disliked the car's looks had feelings ignored because they were neither openly expressed nor were they requested. The ''ignored'' partner will often build up resentment and hurt, eventually leading to marital crisis.


3. Competition for control of the marital-team thinking: Another pitfall of focusing on Content is the competition for who is smarter, more intelligent, who has more common sense and knows the facts. Couples who only communicate at the Content level can easily fall into the ''who is best'' and ''who is right'' syndrome. One-upmanship in marital communications is often a result of content-oriented communication. This discounting of the partner's intelligence, knowledge, and common sense will frequently result in alienation, isolation, lack of trust, and possibly a lack of affection.


Feelings are the lifeline to marital communications. They are the ''process'' behind the message. They are the ''how'' the message is being communicated. Feelings are value-free. There are no ''right'' or ''wrong'' feelings. There is no ''winning'' or ''losing'' by focusing on feelings. Having one's feelings understood and respected by another leads to a sense of being respected and cared for. Trust in one's partner evolves when the spouse has a sense that the other “knows” how s/he is feeling.


Focusing on Feelings in marital communications will lead to:


1. Effective Listening: A marital partners who focuses on Feelings of a message provides the spouse with non-judgmental acceptance. This acceptance helps the other feel understood, cared about, and listened to. In order to ''hear'' the feelings of the partner, a spouse must listen not only with head, but also with the heart. Feelings are the tools with which lovers listen to one another. Having one's feelings listened to makes a spouse feel loved.


2. Facilitative responding: A second positive outcome of ''feelings'' focus is facilitative responses shared by a partner who encourages the other to continue communicating openly and trustingly. Responses that reflect ''the feelings behind the message'' provide a mirror for the speaker to see clearly how s/he is feeling. This clarification of feelings concerning the message can lead to increased understanding and respect, resulting in improved ''bonding'' between the partners.


3. Productive problem-solving with enhanced communication: Effective listening and facilitative responses result in third benefit of focusing on feelings, which is productive problem solving. Marital. Conflicts and fights often result not just from disagreement over Content but more importantly because one or both spouses’ sense that their Feelings are being ignored or discounted by the partner. Productive problem solving is not pure content focused; rather it counts in and values the feelings of both parties. By counting in feelings, both parties feel cared for, understood, and loved; thus, they have the energy to problem solve creatively and bring about mutually beneficial solutions.


“Feelings” Words

Marriage Work-Out is a Feelings-focused process, although it involves many Content topics. You will practice focusing on Feelings rather than on Content during all of your Marriage Work-Out sessions. This will lead you to a warmer, richer, more loving relationship and a more effective marital team. Use the lists of feelings works to help you in your listening for Feelings. Use these lists of words to help you as you listen for the feelings in your marital partner conversations. Try to identify your partner’s feeling, then reflect them back to your partner.




Love, Affection, Concern, Interest


absorbed  altruistic  brotherly  congenial admired  amiable  caring  conscientious adorable  benevolent  charitable  considerate affected  benign  Christian  cooperative affectionate  big–hearted  compassionate cordial agreeable  honest  comforting  courteous dedicated  honorable  concerned  curious devoted  hospitable  neighborly  sweet easy–going  humane  nice  sympathetic empathetic  inquiring  obliging tender engrossed  inquisitive  open  thoughtful excited  interested  optimistic  tolerant fascinated  intrigued  patient truthful fair just  peaceful trustworthy  faithful  kind  pleasant  understanding forgiving  kind–hearted  polite unselfish friendly  kindly  reasonable  warm  generous  lenient  receptive warm–hearted genuine  good–natured  reliable  well–meaning giving  loving  respectful  wise good  mellow  responsible  helpful good–humored mild sensitive moral


Elation, Joy


airy exalted hilarious serene amused excellent humorous sparkling animated excited in high spirit spirited at ease exhilarated inspired splendid blissful exaltation jolly sunny buoyant fantastic jovial superb bright festive joyful terrific brilliant fine joyous thrilled calm fit jubilant tranquil cheerful free lighthearted tremendous comfortable frisky lively triumphant comical gay magnificent turned on complacent genial majestic vivacious contented glad marvelous witty convivial gleeful merry wonderful delighted glorious overjoyed easy ecstatic good peaceful enthusiastic elated grand playful happy elevated gratified pleasant proud enchanted great pleased satisfied




agog avid enthusiastic hot–headed anxious desirous fervent intense ardent earnest keen zealous


Potency, Strength, Fearlessness


able durable influential sharp adequate dynamic intense skillful assured effective intrepid spirited audacious encouraged lion–hearted stable authoritative energetic macho stouthearted bold enterprising manly strong brave fearless mighty sure capable firm powerful dauntless competent forceful reassured tough confident gallant resolute virile courageous hardy robust well–equipped daring healthy secure determined dauntless self–confident important




Depressed, Sad


abandoned despised horrible pathetic alien despondent humiliated pitiful alienated destroyed ill at ease rebuked alone discarded in the dumps regretful annihilate disconsolate jilted reprimanded awful discontented joyless rotten battered discouraged kaput ruined below par disfavored left out run down blue disheartened loathed sans burned dismal lonely somber cast off done for lonesome sorrowful cheapened downcast lousy spiritless cheerless downhearted low stranded crestfallen downtrodden melancholy sulky crushed dreadful miserable sullen dark dreary mishandled tearful debased estranged mistreated terrible defeated excluded moody unhappy degraded flat moping unloved dejected forlorn mournful upset demolished forsaken obsolete valueless depressed frowning ostracized washed up desolate funeral out of sorts whipped despair gloomy overlooked woeful grim glum hated worthless heavy–hearted wrecked grieving burdened


Distress, Hurt


aching disliked impatient skeptical afflicted displeased imprisoned speechless agonized dissatisfied injured strained anguished distrustful in pain stressed at the feet of disturbed lost suffering at the mercy of doubtful mournful suspicious awkward foolish nauseated swamped badgered futile offended the plaything of bewildered grief pained the puppet of blameworthy grieved pathetic tormented clumsy heartbroken perplexed touchy confused helpless puzzled tragic constrained hindered ridiculous ungainly crushed impaired sickened unlucky disgusted privation silly unpopular unsatisfied unsure victimized worried


Fear, Anxiety


afraid fainthearted jittery shy aghast fearful jumpy strained agitated fidgety menaced stressful alarmed frightened misgiving suspicious anxious hesitant nervous tense appalled high anxiety on edge terrified apprehensive horrified overwhelmed terror–stricken awed hysterical panicky threatened bashful ill at ease paranoid timid chicken in fear petrified timorous cowardly insecure quaking tremulous desperate intimidated restless uncomfortable dismayed jealous scared uneasy doubtful bullied shaky worrying dread embarrassed shocked yellow


Belittling, Criticism, Scorn


abused diminished made light of ridiculed belittled discredited maligned roasted branded disdained minimized scoffed at carped at disgraced mocked scorned caviled at disparaged neglected shamed censured humiliated not taken seriously slammed criticized ignored overlooked slandered defamed jeered poked fun at slighted deflated lampooned pooh–poohed thought nothing of deprecated laughed at pulled to pieces underestimated spurned libeled put down underrated derided




distrustful indecisive questioning unbelieving dubious misgiving skeptical uncertain hesitant perplexed suspicious incredulity


Impotency, Inadequacy


anemic flimsy insecure unable broken fragile insufficient unarmed broken down frail lame uncertain chicken–hearted harmless maimed unfit cowardly helpless meek unimportant crippled impotent nerveless unqualified debilitated inadequate paralyzed unsound defective incapable powerless unsubstantiated deficient incompetent puny useless demoralized indefensible shaken vulnerable disabled ineffective shaky weak effeminate inefficient sickly weak–hearted exhausted inept small wimp exposed inferior strengthless rudderless feeble infirm trivial dead beat


Anger, Hostility, Cruelty


aggravated cross hypercritical rebellious agitated cruel ill–tempered reckless aggressive deadly impatient resentful angry cool incensed revengeful annoyed corrosive inconsiderate rough antagonistic dictatorial indignant rude arrogant disagreeable inflamed ruthless austere discontented infuriated sadistic bad–tempered dogmatic inhuman savage belligerent enraged insensitive severe bigoted envious intolerable spiteful biting fierce intolerant stern bloodthirsty fuming irritated stormy blunt furious irate sulky boiling gruesome mad sullen bullying hard malicious unfeeling callous hard–hearted mean unfriendly cantankerous harsh murderous unmerciful cold–blooded hateful nasty unruly combative heartless obstinate vicious contrary hellish offended vindictive cranky hideous opposed violent critical hostile oppressive worked–up provoked prejudiced outraged wrathful poisonous piqued perturbed wrought–up

How Well Do I Communicate with my Marital-Team Partner?

Success of a marital team depends on effective communication. Answering the following 25 questions will assist you and your partner in identifying how effectively you are currently communicating. Answer each of these questions honestly. In the space provided, score the questions according to the scale of: (1) always, (2) frequently, (3) sometimes, (4) rarely.


Communications Questionnaire


______1. I schedule discussions at regular intervals regarding marital progress, problems, and activities?


______2. Does my spouse regularly seek my advice?


______3. Do I make a point of having meaningful discussions at regular intervals with my spouse?


______4. Do I avoid speaking critically of my spouse when talking to others?


______5. Do I avoid manipulating my spouse by planning things to say that will elicit certain reactions?


______6. Do I make a point of commenting about my spouse's accomplishments?


______7. Do I seem to criticize my spouse in front of others?


______8. Do I make ''fun'' of my spouse in a joking way?


______9. When talking with my spouse about problems and complaints, I listen fully and compassionately to my partner's concerns.


______10. Do I freely communicate about problems because I am certain about my ability to work out a satisfactory solution with my spouse?


______11. In the event of disputes, do I try to settle them as quickly and as openly as possible?


______12. Do I avoid blaming my spouse for problems in our relationship?


______13. When talking with my spouse do I ensure that no distractions interfere with our conversation?


______14. Do I avoid exaggerating or distorting facts a bit to make a certain impression on my spouse?


______15. Do I get feedback from my spouse regarding what s/he wants me to do, expects of me, and thinks I should do?


______16. If I sense something is wrong, do I approach    my spouse immediately to ask about my partner’s feelings?


______17. Do I encourage my spouse to express a viewpoint, even if it is one with which I do not agree?


______18. Do I avoid interrupting my spouse when I have an important point to make?


______19. Do I make it a point to schedule ''alone'' time with my spouse during which we can discuss our relationship?


______20. Do I encourage my spouse to blow off steam, to complain, to gripe?


______21. Do I discuss my personal feelings about controversial subjects (such as finances, sex, in­laws, children, careers or religion) with my spouse?


______22. Do I help my spouse by pointing out when s/he is wrong, offering corrective suggestions?


______23. Do I communicate even when I am unsure of my spouse's reactions?


______24. Do I consider myself to be open and honest in my marital communications while still respecting my spouse's feelings?


______25. Do I believe I am sensitive and responsive to my spouse's emotions in our communications?



______My Score      ______My Spouse's Score   ______Our Couple Score

Evaluation of this communication questionnaire

To evaluate the communication questionnaire, add the scores for each of the 25 questions. Record your score in the appropriate place.  Record your spouse’s score. To obtain the couple score, add both scores, then divide by two. Round off to the next whole number.

Interpretation of communication questionnaire:


Couple Score



25 to 45


Your team communication is constructive to the marital-team process. You can use Marriage Work-out as an instrument of on­ going marital growth and enrichment

46 to 65


Your team communications are usually productive. Enrichment and practice are encouraged. Use Marriage Work-Out to assist your marital team in enriching communication skills.

66 to 85


You both need a boost to improve team-building skills through good communication. Marriage Work-Out has a number of exercises and activities to instruct you in ways to improve marital communications.


Needs prompt attention

Communications are a serious problem on your marital team. Using Marriage Work-out can improve these skills; however, you may need a coach* to train your team in healthy ways to communicate.


*A coach could be a marriage counselor, priest, minister, or mental-health professional. Someone objective would be the most helpful.


1. In what areas are our marital team communications healthy and strong?

2. In what areas of communication do we need to change and grow?     

3. How much of our problem in communications is related to being overly focused on content?

4. How effectively do we deal as a couple with feelings in our communication?

5. How open are we to improving our communication?

6. How has communication been a problem in our relationship?

7. What have we done to improving communication? How successful were those efforts?

8. During our joint work on this communications exercise, how often did one or both of us use: (1) Parallel listening? (2) Jumping conclusions, reaching assumptions? (3) Competition for control of our team's thinking?

9. During our joint work on this communications exercise, how often did one or both of us use: (1) Effective listening? (2) Facilitative responding? (3) Productive problem solving?


10. Are our marital communications ready for a Marriage Work-Out?


11. What resources could we use to improve our communication?


12. What are we willing to do to lovingly remind each other when communication is floundering?


13. How can the use of feeling-oriented listening and responding improve our team's commination?


14. What content topics give us the most problems in our communications?


15. What steps can we agree to for marital-team communication growth?