What's your communication stress style? How about you partner's? This is the seventh episode of a series on Getting Ready for Marriage. In this podcast episode, Elizabeth Polinsky discusses the importance of identifying your communication stress styles in oder to improve your communication.
IN THIS PODCAST
1. Why I am doing this series on Getting Ready for Marriage:
I had a wedding photographer reach out to me asking me to provide some tips for couples getting married. I created an entire checklist for her with the things I think are foundational for getting ready for marriage and starting off your marriage on the right foot. If you want the checklist, you can download it here!
2. Recent story about communication styles in my marriage:
My husband is about to start workups for deployment and we went on a trip with some friends to Charlottesville Virginia. We had a super great time! There was one night were I was working on some stuff on my computer, and all the sudden I looked up and he was no longer right next to me. It turned out that he had gone out to the hot tub with some of our friends and didn't tell me or invite me. While this may not be a bog deal for everyone, it made me really angry that he didn't invite me. This is because deep down it triggered emotions and thoughts that maybe he didn't want to include me or that I wasn't even a thought to him. These were painful thoughts and emotions for me which then led me to getting really angry and blaming him. And this is partly because blaming is my communication stress style.
Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world.” - Virginia Satir, 1988
The 5 Communication Stress Styles in Relationships
3. The Theory Behind the 5 Communication Stress Styles in Relationships
These styles come from Virginia Satir who was the mother of family therapy. Her whole thing was that communication is what determines the type of the relationships we have! Her basic idea was that we all react to stress and especially threats to our self-esteem. This is what happened in the above example with my husband and the hot tub--it made me feel that I wasn't wanted and wasn't worth thinking about.
This is just an example of how something could be a threat to someone's self-esteem. Although the threat, or the painful thoughts and feelings, will vary from person to person. Threats to self-esteem could involve feelings of shame, guilt, rejection, fear, low self-esteem.
When there are threats to self-esteem, people react with one of the communication stress styles: blaming, placating, being super-reasonable, or distracting. These are ways that we protect ourselves from threats to self esteem. They are coping skills to try not to feel so insecure. They all relate to the question of "am I going to be accepted or rejected in this relationship? will I be seen as not good enough or unwanted?" They are coping styles for the fear of insecurity or the painful feelings that come up when rejected or unaccepted. Often these are coping skills that people learned in childhood that they get carried on into adulthood. However, they can become a problem in marriages. The final style is called the congruent style which is the one we all want to strive for.
[These styles] are like a mask that we wear to try to coverup the feelings of insecurity and to try to not feel so insecure" - Elizabeth Polinsky
4. Communication Style 1: Blaming
5. Communication Style 2: Placating
6. Communication Style 3: Super Reasonable
7. Communication Style 4: Distracting / Irrelevant Style
8. Communication Style 5: The Congruent Communication Style
The above 4 styles are styles that come out when someone is under stress and especially when they have feelings of insecurity that are impacting their self-esteem. You want to know what your stress style is and what your partners stress style is.
Virginia Satir and her team of researchers estimated that about 50% of people are placaters, 30% are blamers, 15% are super-reasonable, and 0.5% are distracters. That leaves about 4% of people communicating in the congruent style or the leveler style.
The congruent style is what we all want to strive for. In this style, people are not using one of the other 4 styles. Instead, in the congruent style the individuals thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all match and are in-sync. This different than in the other 4 styles because in the other 4 styles the person feels something but is doing or saying something different.
In order to be congruent in your communication and have you feelings and behaviors match, you have to be able to feel your feelings. This can be very challenging for people. You have to let yourself feel your feelings, then share them with others in an authentic and straightforward ways.
Ultimately we want couples to be able to feel their feelings, and share them in authentic and straightforward ways; especially when they are handling conflict, trying to confide in each other, or when they are trying to solve problems together. " --Elizabeth Polinsky
See if you and your partner can identify you communication stress styles. Just knowing you styles will help you prepare for marriage. Being able to identify them and communicate about them will help you navigate when they come up in marriage. It will make it easier to recognize when it is happening and you both will know that it is stemming from stress and when something it triggering you sense of self-esteem.
If you find that you need help woking on communicating in congruent way and changing you stress style of communication, consider working with someone who is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or who is a Certified Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).
Davies, M. (2019, March 21). Four stress communication styles. Medium. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://email@example.com/four-stress-communication-styles-b804de9f5c6
Gehart, D. R. (2014). Mastering competencies in family therapy. Belmont, CA: Brooks-Cole, Cengage Learning.
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Elizabeth Polinsky is a marriage and couple therapist specializing in working with military members, veterans, and their families. Liz is located in Norfolk, Virginia, and provides online counseling services throughout Virginia, Nevada, South Carolina, and Arkansas.
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The Communicate & Connect Podcast
In Communicate & Connect For Military Relationships, I provide educational tips for relationships, communication, and navigating military family life.