So let’s talk about talking. So many arguments are impossible to resolve because of communication problems. Good communication can avoid arguments or resolve arguments. Bad communication can cause arguments or make them possible to resolve.
One of my favorite theorists on this subject is the radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing. He is most famous for his book Knots and for The Politics of Experience, but he also did some very interesting work on marital communication. But as with so many relationship issues, it’s complicated. Here’s the way he looked at communication:
1) I send a message; 2) you receive the message; 3) you respond that the message is received and understood; 4) I acknowledge that you received and understood it; 5) you acknowledge that you understand that I understand that you understand.
It’s that last bit that makes the whole thing a little weird, but it’s also the critical part. He argued that when we are engaged in an ongoing process of communication, knowing is not enough. Knowing that the other person knows is not enough. It’s not complete until you know the other person knows you know. But he was able, together with his fellow researchers, to design a paper and pencil instrument that he gave to married couples to measure how well they were doing on the last part– and it predicted marital satisfaction.
Let me see if I can come up with an example. Let’s say I’m running a radio station and broadcast “we’re playing the oldies. Call in your requests.” That’s the message sent. But is anyone listening? Whoops, I didn’t give out the phone number. That’s why no one is calling. So I go on after playing some Chuck Berry and give out the phone number. Someone calls in with a request! they ask for some Bruno Mars. Whoops. I explain that we do oldies. They ask for some Marvin Gaye. I put it on. They post on the station’s Facebook page that they loved the song. So now the loop is really closed. They know what I’m putting on, I know they know, and they know I know they know– and if you want to go completely crazy, we could go another level. But R. D. Laing suggests we don’t need to bust our brains further once we reach that meta-feedback level. My experience working with couples is that he’s right.
And that’s before we even start talking about the content of the communication. This is going to take a couple more installments.