Romancing the Stone. Sleepless in Seattle. Two and a half hours of movie magic devoted to falling in love, and then the screen fades to an imagined “happily ever after.” But in real life, happily ever after takes work, including good communication.
What is good communication? How does it happen? “Typically—it doesn’t just happen,” said Anna Buckingham, MA and Teen Clinic Coordinator at Jewish Child & Family Services’ (JCFS) Response. “You have to work at it. You have to talk. And talk. And talk. And not just talking about what movie to rent, but talking about what is important to you! This can feel scary. You may feel vulnerable. But the value to the relationship is exponential.”
Rosalie Greenberger, LCSW, JCFS Clinician and Family Life Educator says her ‘go to’ concept for communicating in relationships is from John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and founder of The Gottman Relationship Institute, a world-renowned therapeutic and research facility, who has done research on couples. “Think about an emotional bank account. During a conflict, a couple can quickly rack up a huge number of negative interactions. Building up positivity in the relationship is always essential,” Greenberger said. “The important ratio to remember is 5:1. It takes five positive interactions to counteract one negative interaction. A negative interaction can be anything from rolling one’s eyes, to smirking, to making a negative comment. Continued negativity erodes the love in a relationship.”
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight. Dr. Sue Johnson, director of the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (a practice being embedded at JCFS Community Counseling Centers), says research shows that happy couples fight, and that having fights is normal and healthy. “In fact, if you never fight it usually means that you are being very careful indeed and that isn’t healthy for any relationship.”
What is important, says Johnson, is a concerted effort to soothe hurt feelings and repair the divide after a fight. “The old idea that bad feelings will just fade over time is just that—an old idea! Your brain actually holds onto danger signals and negative emotions just to try to protect you. Research shows that you can heal hurts and create a love that lasts by showing your partner that you care about their feelings.”
Anticipating that there will at times be conflict in marriage and relationships, and working on communication ahead of time can help. “Couples spend months planning a one-day event, but too often spend just hours discussing a partnership of a lifetime,” said Greenberger, who will be offering the Chuppah Project at JCFS on March 3. “The Chuppah Project brings together Jewish couples for a day of learning, led by trained counselors to gain skills preparing them for the rest of their lives, like communicating effectively, problem solving as a couple, managing conflict and more.”
Buckingham helps teens learn how to build healthy relationships from the get-go. “And parents can play a big role in that,” Buckingham said. “As adults, we are the biggest models for our kids. By being thoughtful, honest and direct in our communication with each other, and our kids, we are modeling the reality of what makes up a healthy relationship.”
To learn more about the Chuppah Project, Response Teen Clinic, or couples and family counseling at JCFS, call 855-ASK-JCFS (855)-275-5237, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deanna Shoss is director of Marketing, Communications & Business Development at Jewish Child and Family Services.
Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS) is a partner in serving our community supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.