Good Communication = Healthy Relationship: How to Improve your Communication to maintain a Healthy Relationship

Published on June 21, 2016

Many people enter into a relationship with the aim to find someone who is going to make them feel good. Finding the right partner and sustaining a healthy long term relationship can be one of the toughest challenges we face in our lives. Daily routines, social pressure, financial burdens, failing expectations, anxiety, and stress can drain us emotionally - causing the bond with our partner to become thin and frail. To prevent this, one way is to examine the way we communicate.

Over the years couples develop a level of mutual understanding about what either partner likes or dislikes from living together. This can reach a stage where either or both parties take for granted that they know what the other is thinking or feeling without actually communicating. Eventually their ability to communicate with each other stagnates to a point where it simply stops. A lack of common understanding then appears.

"The great thing is to know when to speak and when to keep quiet." - Seneca the Younger

Studies of happy couples have shown that communication plays a key role in maintaining a healthy relationship and that it is important to cultivate one’s communication skills with each other. Couples need to make their time to talk to each other on a regular basis about more than just parenting issues or household chores. Discussing deeper and more personal subjects together with your partner helps you stay connected over the long term. But what makes out a good communication and how do we do it the right way?

Maintain a healthy relationship – have a look into your communication

The right way of communicating can help us avoid misunderstandings (which is common in our daily life). However, when misunderstandings occurs in a relationship, it can often be the trigger point for larger or seemingly unrelated issues that can be very destructive for a relationship.

Relationship is a work-in-progress. The etymology of ‘relation-ship’ (first of all the suffix–ship has nothing to do with the boat; the two are unrelated) is related to an older Germanic word meaning ‘to create’ (German schaffen ‘to make’). It suggests daily effort is required to overcome challenges and drive commitment from both sides. Working on a relationship (active process) has to be differentiated from having expectations (passive process) in a relationship.

When was the last time you ‘worked’ on your relationship?

The diagram below shows how communication can be defined:

A communication is based on a sender and a receiver.

The sender transmits his thoughts and feelings in a message (encoding process) to the receiver where the receiver needs to de-code the message to understand it. The difficulty and mis-understanding often occurs how the receiver de-codes the message the sender transmits.

Schulz von Thun (1981) developed a communication model - ‘The four-eared receiver’ (Tab.2):

This model shows that when a person makes a statement, it can receive four different ears and depending on which ear the person is listening this can create four different reactions:

  1. Factual ear (blue)
  2. Appeal ear (red)
  3. Self-revelation ear (green)
  4. Relationship ear (yellow)

Let’s take the example of a conversation between a couple during breakfast . The man complains to his wife that the egg has been boiled too long (Loriot’s ‘Breakfast Egg’) and it is too hard for him while the wife maintains that she has boiled the egg as usual (the normal given time) and there is nothing wrong with the egg. As the conversation went on both parties seem stuck in repeating their own arguments and point of view. The seemingly harmless issue of the boiled egg eventually led to the wife bringing up the frustrations of looking after the daily needs of the household. This fixation on their respective points of view often leads to anger, disappointment and increases misunderstanding. They seem to be communicating and listening to each other with a different ear.

If we try to integrate the above example into Schulz von Thun’s ‘4 Ear Model’ we arrive at the following: 

Fact ear: ‘The egg is hard’
Appeal ear: ‘Boil the egg 4.5 minutes’
Self-Revelation ear: ‘I don’t like hard eggs
Relationship ear: ‘You don’t appreciate me’

When the husband said: ‘The egg is hard’, he states a fact (communicating with the Fact ear). The wife could have easily responded using her ‘Fact ear’ with ‘I’ve boiled it as usual for 4.5 mins’. If both would communicate with the same ear (Fact ear) the conversation would remain neutral based on arguments and facts.

Be silent, or say something better than silence. - Pythagoras

In this case, the wife instead was listening with different ears. She took the remark personally and her feelings were hurt. She responded rather defensively instead with ‘Do you think I can’t cook?’ and stating that he does not appreciate the amount of work she does for him.

At the husband's end, he persisted with the "Fact ear" and ignored her message to be more understanding and appreciative of her.

Take Aways:

  • Be aware of how you communicate
  • Think of your receiver – ‘choose your words wisely’
  • Make sure you ‘sender’ and your partner ‘receiver’ are listening and communicating with the ‘same ear’

Communicating and how we communicate with each other is just one thing to be aware of in maintaining a healthy relationship. The Schulz von Thun model shows the four different levels of how we send and receive information. Once we start implementing it in our conversation and pay closer attention to the conversation and what the other person is saying, we will be able to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.


Category(s):Communication Disorders Problems, Relationships & Marriage

Written by:

Irena Constantin

Ms Irena Constantin is an Occupational Therapist as well as an Educational Psychologist

Irena Constantin belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore