Executive Contributor |Francesca & Stan Levine | Self-Care

We live in a connected universe, and we are meant to be in connection. Effective communication can create great connection, and poor communication can break the connection.

Poor communication is the most frequent presenting problem with couples, according to Francesca and Stan Levine, “Relationship Masters”. Married for 55 years and still growing their love, they are perhaps the most qualified therapists, coaches, guides, and trainers in Australia in the professional relationship field.

The Oxford Dictionary defines communication as “the imparting or exchange of information by speaking, writing or using some other medium”; hence, communication is vital. So how do we get it so wrong? And how can we get it right?


Are you listening mostly to your own inner self talk with the readiness to rebuke, rebuff, or deny the other, or are you listening with intention to understand and accept the other? This is very common; therefore, you don’t hear the other person correctly.

You can be right, or you can be in a relationship – it’s your choice.

Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen La Kelly Hunt designed “Safe Conversations: the speaker shares his/her thoughts, feelings, opinions, perceptions, and the listener simply listens and mirrors what has been said, without any comment. This is a profound, connected, and safe process.

The biggest communication block is negativity. Harville and Helen advocate Zero Negativity, that is no shaming, blaming, judgement or criticism, or make the other person wrong.

John Gottman posits a 5 to 1 rule, i.e., each time you express something negative e.g., “you’re a mess”, you need to offer 5 positives, e.g. “I appreciate your honesty”. That is the power of one negative comment that it requires 5 positives at least.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”: this English childhood rhyme is in fact NOT true, as illustrated by the following story:

A boy reduced his younger brother to tears by yelling rude names at him; their father gave the older son 12 nails and told him to hammer them into the wall. Then he had the boy pull out the nails; the father then pointed out to the boy the holes in the wall – the permanent damage that had been created despite the removal of the offending nails.

We are wounded in connection, and we heal in connection, so it makes sense to connect via positive communication.

Martin Buber, the German philosopher, stated that the relationship occurs in the space between the couple. So, it’s important to keep that space clean and not to pollute it with negative communication.

We may have learned poor communication habits in our family of origin; however, as adults we are responsible for our communication. According to Rony Robbins, we each have 100% responsibility for our communication. Now there’s an empowering idea.

Neuro-linguistic Programming holds that the meaning of a communication is the response that you get: that is fascinating, mature & also empowering.

If your words are aggressive or passive-aggressive, you can expect a response in a similar vein. However, if your words are assertive & honest, expressed as sharing and not dumping, clearly expressed, and intended to connect with mutual respect, the chances are that is what you’ll receive in response.

Communication is more than words. It has been estimated that only 7% of communication is expressed verbally; the rest is conveyed by volume, tone, pitch, and the use of facial, manual and bodily movements. So, pay attention to how you communicate what you want to convey.

For emotional communication, the love language of your partner is important – you need to find out what that love language is, e.g., verbal expression, acts of service, physical touch etc. It’s probably not the same as your own.

When it comes to mental communication, it is important to just share your thoughts, ideas and opinions and not try to impose them onto your partner.

Physical communication is how you touch each other to show affection: each person again may have different needs, and you need to be acquainted with each other’s different needs.

Sexual communication can be an especially difficult area of communication, especially if one of the partners has had some past sexual trauma. Again, be aware of each other’s sexual needs and don’t try to force your own on to your partner.

If you love someone, you need to give them love in the way he/she needs to receive it, not the way you want to give it.

It is important that words and actions and non-verbals are integrated, i.e., that they all give the same message. If you say, “I love you” and at the same time shake your head and are scrolling through your phone, that gives at least 3 conflicting messages.

You cannot NOT communicate. Even silence is a form of communication.

Think before you speak:

Is it right?

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it helpful?

It is very respectful and loving to pay attention. So, know what it is you want to communicate, and do so with respect to yourself and your partner.

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