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The Effects of Communication Styles on Marital Satisfaction

The differences in communication styles between men and women have been a topic of interest in the research world for many years. These differences may lead to miscommunication, conflict, and even dissatisfaction between couples. This study analyzes the communication styles among genders, more specifically among married couples. It questions how differences in communication styles between married couples married five years or less affect marital satisfaction. The study will be conducted through the use of an interaction analysis. Its goal is to increase the amount of knowledge regarding effective communication and how it relates to marital satisfaction in order to ultimately aid in the rise of marital satisfaction and the decrease of the divorce rate in the United States. EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 3 Today, divorce has become a very common part of life, and it is likely that ineffective communication plays a crucial role in the failure of many marriages. Communication may lead to the success of a marriage or to its detriment, depending on its level of effectiveness. This effectiveness of communication is likely connected to the overall satisfaction of married couples and is worthy to be studied in order to increase marital satisfaction. Learning more about the differences in communication styles between men and women will aid in the more successful sending and receiving of messages, both verbal and nonverbal. For example, a woman may communicate in a way that has meaning to her. However, the man receiving the message may interpret it differently than she intended due to their differences in communication style. This can cause conflict and lead to further problems in the relationship. However, if the man decoding the message were familiar with his wife’s style of communication, he may have interpreted it properly therefore avoiding a conflict situation. The reverse, when men are communicating to women, is also true. Husbands and wives are interdependent, and their level of commitment and desire to maintain a healthy relationship often depends on the other person (Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 2008). Conventional wisdom says that there is no such thing as lack of communication. A person always communicates something, whether intentional or not. Becoming more aware of how one’s own self communicates will also aid in more healthy communication between spouses. This literature review will discuss nonverbal communication styles, including flirtation, and conflict communication, including communicated perspective-taking. EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 4 This study will further advance communication research by helping people discover more about their personal communication styles as men and women and by helping them communicate more effectively with their partners. In a culture where marriage is considered a risk, it is crucial to conduct studies that will help further the knowledge on how to have a successful marriage. Review of Literature Nonverbal Communication To many, nonverbal communication may take a back seat to verbal communication. It is often overlooked and may be deemed unimportant. However, this aspect of communication speaks volumes. Nonverbal communication may consist of looking, smiling, frowning, touching, or expressions of surprise as seen in Weisfeld and Stack’s research study (2002). Women have been found to exhibit these forms of communication more often than men. Weisfeld and Stack studied nonverbal behaviors related to the closeness of a couple and found that women looked at their partners for a significantly longer amount of time as compared to men. The average length of a wife’s look was 7.5 seconds while the husband’s was 4.5 seconds. However, while men express less emotion and nonverbal communication, this may not necessarily mean that they are not listening when their wives speak to them. For instance, Weisfeld and Stack theorized that men may show less emotion because they have been taught to dampen emotions such as anger. When a husband and wife have a disagreement, the situation can escalate quickly if the husband fully expresses his emotions by becoming violent. Therefore, it was suggested that many men fail to show emotion in general because they have trained themselves to be “emotionless” in these conflict situations. Sabatelli, EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 5 Buck, and Dyer (1982) also suggested that this is true. In their study focusing on nonverbal communication and its relationship to marital complaints, they found that wives who had husbands who were good communicators tended to have more complaints about their husbands. Their hypothesis was that because men are expected to tone down their emotions, having good nonverbal communication skills may be seen as socially unacceptable to their wives. It is important to consider who the more effective communicator is so that we can learn from each other on how to communicate better. Noller (1980) found that there is a connection between a couple’s marital adjustment and their skill at communication. She had each participant first take the Marital Adjustment Test (Locke & Wallace, 1959) to determine their overall marital satisfaction. Then, after the couples’ communication was studied, the results showed that those with low marital adjustment demonstrated considerably fewer good nonverbal communications than those with high marital adjustment. However, the question must be raised: Do couples have a higher marital adjustment because they have good communication, or do couples have good communication because they are happy within their marriage? Women were found to be better nonverbal communicators across several studies (Noller, 1980; Sabatelli et al., 1982). However, being an effective communicator involves both encoding and decoding messages. Women have a natural tendency to be more expressive. Therefore, men were found to make more errors than women when encoding messages (Noller, 1980). However, it was also found that women were not better decoders, or receivers of messages, than men. Though it is quite possible that this was due to the husbands’ poor ability to encode messages effectively. The same EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 6 was found in other studies (Sabatelli et al., 1982; Koerner & Fitzpatrick, 2002). Additional findings by Sabatelli et al. and Koerner and Fitzpatrick also suggest that familiarity plays a role in how effective nonverbal communication is. In both of their studies, participants encoded and decoded messages to their partners. The interaction was recorded and evaluated by judges who attempted to decode the same interactions. Both studies revealed that the spouses were significantly more skilled at decoding their partners’ messages, implying that couples may become more successful at interpreting their spouses’ nonverbal communication over time. Communication Styles When Flirting. Flirting is often associated with the start of a couple’s relationship. It is employed when one shows interest in another person or when one wishes to demonstrate sexual attraction. As demonstrated in Horan and Booth-Butterfield’s (2010) study, receiving affection is directly related to relational satisfaction. While giving affection is connected to commitment in a relationship. However, many may wonder if the act of flirting continues in committed relationships such as marriage. Is there a reason to flirt within marriage, and if so, how do women and men differ in their flirtation styles? In Frisby and Booth-Butterfield’s (2012) study on the purpose of flirtation, they found that a major reason for flirtation within a marriage was to create a private world between the couple and to motivate sex. They also found that women were more likely than men to use attentive flirting, in which the woman shows a great amount of concern for her husband. However in a separate study on flirtation motivation, men were also found to utilize attentive flirting in order to make their wives feel beautiful (Frisby, 2009). In concordance with previous research, Frisby found EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 7 that men typically flirt to encourage sex, and women often flirt to focus on attention, fun, and interest in their spouses. Another difference in flirtation style may occur due to the differences in the amount of expressiveness between men and women. Weisfeld and Stack (2002) conducted a study on nonverbal communication related to the closeness of married couples. Their research shows that on average, women smile and laugh significantly more than men. According to the same study, 78% of the spontaneous touches that occurred during the experiment were initiated by women, demonstrating that women’s flirtation style is much more animated. Conflict Communication Styles One inevitable aspect of any marriage is conflict. We as humans will always have disagreements that must be resolved, and as men and women, we have many differences in communication styles. It is possible that these differences are the cause of conflict situations within marriage. Hanzal and Segrin (2009) found this to be true in their study of negative affectivity, a personality trait that tends to cause distressing reactions to negative situations. They found that spouses’ use of harmful communication styles during conflict was directly related to not only their own marital satisfaction but also their partners’. During conflict, husbands and wives may demonstrate positive problem solving, positive verbal communication, compliance, defensiveness, stubbornness, conflict engagement, withdrawal from interaction, contempt, anger, fear, sadness, and whining, as revealed by Gottman and Krokoff (1989). In their study on what makes a marriage satisfying, they found that the use of these types of communication by certain spouses EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 8 may lead to dissatisfaction in a marriage. For example, defensiveness, stubbornness, and withdrawal were found to produce marital discontent over time, especially when exhibited by the husband. Based on this research study, it is evident that marital satisfaction is more related to negative communication than positive. It was revealed that, in particular, the wives’ sadness and the husbands’ whining, examples of negative communication, were both connected to overall marital dissatisfaction. Interestingly, it was also discovered that spouses were more content in their marriages when the wives expressed anger during conflict and less content when they expressed fear and sadness. One explanation for this could be that men respond better when their wives communicate in similar way as they do such as being direct when expressing frustration. Another aspect of conflict communication is partner appraisal, or a spouse’s perceptions of the other (Sanford, 2006). In Sanford’s study, three types of appraisal were studied: expectancies for partner understanding, expectancies for partner negative communication, and negative attributions for partner behavior. He maintained that based on a spouse’s appraisal of the other, his/her behavior will change. For example, if the wife expects her husband to be harsh and negative when a conflict arises, she will begin the argument already in a defensive mode. On the contrary, if she expects her husband to be accepting and kind, she will act in the same manner. Sanford’s study found that wives’ expectancies produced within-person behavior change more so than men’s, implying that women are more susceptible to the effects of their appraisal. Communicated Perspective-Taking. One way to resolve marital conflict effectively is for both spouses to see things through the other’s point of view. Kellas and EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 9 colleagues (2013) referred to it as perspective-taking. It demonstrates that a person cares for his/her spouse and is making a conscious effort to resolve any issues. The research team found that the main way spouses sensed perspective-taking from their partners was through agreement behaviors such as confirmation, supportiveness, and taking ownership of faults. However, there were significant differences in how husbands and wives perceived perspective-taking individually. When husbands observed negative or unsupportive behaviors from their wives more often, they were less likely to rate them as understanding their perspectives. When husbands observed attentiveness from their wives, they were more likely to see them as taking their perspectives. Conversely, negative behaviors, such as inattentiveness and disagreement, were the only factors that related to wives’ perceptions about their husbands’ perspective-taking, verifying the differences in communication preferences between men and women. Overall, this study demonstrates the great effects of negative communication on the perceptions of perspective-taking between spouses. Communication among couples is a topic that has been thoroughly studied. However, further study of the differences in communication styles between men and women will lead to better understanding. Specifically, communication among newlywed couples should be studied in order to learn what may be causing strife early in a marriage and ultimately lead to better understanding of how to maintain a successful marriage. Therefore, the following research question is raised. RQ: How do differences in communication styles between married couples married five years or less affect marital satisfaction? EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 10 Method To answer the proposed research question, I would utilize interaction analysis. The sampling frame would consist of any person who has obtained a marriage license in Florida within the last five years, which would produce a diverse group of newlywed people who have varying incomes, careers, and education. To choose the sample, systematic sampling would be employed. The twenty third name on the list would be selected and every twentieth name from that point on would be chosen. Forty couples would be selected. To begin the study, participants would first be asked to take the Marital Adjustment Test (Locke and Wallace, 1959) individually and in private to determine their satisfaction in marriage. In the next part of the research process, three types of communication would be examined: nonverbal, conflict, and flirtation. To assess nonverbal communication, couples would be placed in a room that contained a kitchen and everything they may need to cook a meal. Recipes would be provided and couples would be asked to make a three course meal with their spouses. The interaction would be videotaped and transcribed. A coding scheme would be developed based on the different types of nonverbal cues that occurred. To evaluate conflict communication, participants would be prompted to tell a story about a time when they experienced a stressful or tense time in their marriage. Again, the interaction would be videotaped and transcribed, and the coding scheme would be developed based on the different types of positive and negative conflict communication that occurred. Flirtation among spouses would be assessed throughout the entire research process including cooking the meal and discussing a stressful time in marriage. The data produced would be compared to EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATION ON MARITAL SATISFACTION 11 participants’ scores on the Marital Adjustment Test to determine how their communication style relates to their marital satisfaction.

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