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Dear Kate and John,

For a relationship to work there ought to be an effective communication between partners, as communication is the key ingredient in success of any relationship. Therefore, it is important that as a couple you work towards maintaining a healthy communication habit that will keep the relationship intact forever. For helping to build the habit, we will consider certain factors that hinder effective communication and suggest various ways, through which we can overcome them. On the same note, we will consider how perceptions, emotions, and nonverbal expressions affect interpersonal relationships. We will also go ahead to highlight the creation of self- concept and how it affects communication. After identifying the barriers and the effect of self- concept, we will be able to come up with possible strategies that you can undertake to ensure active, empathic and critical listening. This is because good communication entails good listening skills.

First, let us consider three key barriers, set up on the way to effective interpersonal communication. To begin with, we have semantic barriers. These are barriers that are related to language and, in most cases, result from difference in education background and the environment, in which one was brought up. In most cases, both of you may speak and understand English but your dialects may differ. This raises a challenge as the pronunciation of certain words differs, depending on a dialect that a person belongs to, and the difference in pronunciation may lead to a misunderstanding. For instance, John may be American, while Kate is British. The two of you are conversant with English as a language but your dialects are totally different. As a result, Kate may pronounce a word differently from how Americans do it, and the word may bring out a different meaning to John. The misinterpretation may raise issues that, if not handled well, may ruin the relationship. To overcome this barrier, you ought to understand each other’s background and try as much as possible to learn about your partner’s dialect to avoid clashing with his or her interpretations. Avoid using jargon that your partner is not familiar with, as this makes him or her feel like they are not involved in the conversation. You can also agree on a common language that both of you will use to bridge the gap between your linguistic differences.

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Other barriers are the psychological barriers. These are those ones that affect your emotions, causing you to interpret a message in the wrong way or to send a message that may cause dissonance to your partner. They are categorized as psychosocial, filtering, personal experiences, and other factors may also cause them (Sengupta, 2009). Psychosocial is caused by the tone or manner that the speaker conveys a message to the receiver. For example, if John tells you (Kate) that you are thin in a tone that suggest disappointment, you may experience communication fraught, since the following may not do much to make you feel any better. Filtering is the thing, where you are so consumed with your own needs or a problem that, what your partner is saying does not matter to you, and you do not care how they interpret your messages. This appears, in most cases, as a result of day- to- day activities that affect our emotions in a way. It may also occur as a result of hormonal imbalance, especially with ladies. For example, when John has had a rough day at work and on coming home he finds that dinner is not ready; you may find yourself shouting at Kate or saying something nasty to her that hurts her a lot. This may not be your fault but the pressure at work makes you lose patience and empathy and you end up hurting the one person you care so much for.

Personal experiences are the other hindrance. Although it may not be intentional, we create barriers with our past experiences (Johnson, 2012). What we go through, as we grow up, affects the way we associate ourselves with others and this may cost us a lot if we are not careful. We tend to relate our situations with our past experiences: hence we interpret and convey messages according to what we have been through in the past. Let’s assume that Kate was sexually abused by a person she trusted when she was a kid. This may affect the way she interprets John’s messages, especially if by any chance they remind her of the traumatizing experience. Kate may therefore retreat, when John touches her in a certain way out of the memories that cross her mind.

To overcome psychological barriers, you need to sit down and understand each other’s weaknesses and try to accept each other as he or she is, hence helping your partner to overcome those weaknesses. For instance, if John has a rough day at work, Kate should be a position to give him emotional support to help him to calm down before he gets to a point of releasing the pressure out on her in a hurting way. Knowing your partner’s background and personal experiences will enable you to help in overcoming the traumatizing experiences and help him or her to cope with the memories in a calm manner.

Now we will scrutinize how perception, emotions and non- verbal cues affect interpersonal communication. Everybody perceives a message differently as a result of differences in their culture, beliefs, values and even social status (Sengupta, 2009). This means that the way Kate interprets a message may differ from the way John interprets the same message as a result of these differences. Perception doesn’t tell us the truth about events. Instead, it gives us singular observations, washed in a mixture of emotions, memories and logic. Therefore, you should avoid judging your partner, based on your perceptions, and capitalize on facts, when making your judgments. This will help you to accept each other and as a result you will affect each other’s perception, hence the way you relate will be marrying in one way or the other. Also, make your messages simple and straightforward to make it easier for your partner to perceive and interpret it. The easier the message is, the more perceived it is as the sender intended.

Emotions are a very important factor that you ought to consider when interacting with your partner. This is because the immediate emotions of a person affect the way he or she will perceive your message and the reaction, that you will get, will depend on the emotions. Some emotions can be read from the face of your partner even without his telling what he is feeling. For example, when John is sad, he will pull a sad face and he does not have to tell you that he is sad. It is therefore very important to understand the emotions of your partner so that you can deal with them accordingly without causing disagreements. It is important to note that; there are times, when talking about past and present emotional experiences has a therapeutical benefit (Fussell, 2009). As a couple you should get into a habit of talking about your emotional experiences so that you can understand and help each other more. That is the core purpose of being a couple anyway. Assuming that Kate was told by her boss that she is a very lazy person and that makes her sad and downcast. It will help to talk to John about it and the assurance, that John gives you, will make you feel appreciated and important. You will feel that somebody finds you useful and hardworking g and even if your boss called you lazy, you are not lazy after all.

Aristotle said, ‘You cannot not communicate’. This statement means that even if you choose not to speak you will still communicate in other ways. Silence in itself is communication. It’s important to understand that ‘nonverbal communication is the language of relationships’ (Torppa, 2009). It is in the way that we treat others, much more than in what we say to others, that lets them know, whether they are liked or disliked, respected or disrespected, wanted or dismissed. A simple hug communicates a whole lot of a message to your partner and may save the day though you may not realize it. For example, when Kate is so hurt by something and she starts crying, a hug will do her better than plain comforting words. What we do to others count more than the words that we tell them. For example, if John tells you that he loves you and does not even hug you, when you are hurt, you may not even believe in his words.

How a person sees him- or herself, affects the way he or she communicates and relates with other people that are in that person’s life. Self- perception makes the self- esteem of a person; hence the behavior of a person revolves around it. It is important, therefore, to understand how people form self concepts and the impact that they may have on your relationship as a couple. Understanding this will help you to be in a position to help your partner to build a positive self- concept. It is important to note that self concept changes as added insight into our experiences. Johari defines self concept as ‘how you feel about yourself’ and added that it encompasses self- image and self- esteem (Sengupta, 2009). Self- concept in mostly created through communication. What people think of important renderings in their lives matters a lot to us and plays a large part in creating self- concept (Luke, 1999). This is to say that, what John thinks of Kate, affects her self- esteem a lot and may determines her self -perception . For example, John always tells you that you are beautiful, the statement is enough to make you feel beautiful and that gives you positive self- esteem because the person you love believes that you are beautiful. Kate’s self- esteem affects the way she reacts to matters, arising in the relationship, and how she handles them. The same case applies to John. What you make your partner feel about self holds the life expectancy of your relationship.

We develop self- concept by observing the way people respond to our behaviors and the way they communicate with us (Luke, 1999). For example, if whenever John buys a new gadget, Kate comments that he has a bad taste; John tends to believe that and may always think lowly of himself in matters, pertaining gadgets. That makes him to avoid purchasing gadgets because he feels that he can never choose a good one. As a result, he feels like Kate does not appreciate his efforts and this marks a declining line in the relationship. Although other factors, like culture and the media, influence our self- concept, the most important factor that you should note as a couple is that your feedback towards your partner plays the biggest part in shaping his or her self- concept and that his or her self- concept plays a very important part in helping your relationship survive. This is because, factors like media influence us but, having the support of our partners, we are able to overcome the negative influence and instead replace it with positive influence from our partners. For example, the magazines we see contain photographs of slim ladies and, according to the media, being slim is the new beauty. The more Kate sees these models and TV presenters the more she rates herself against the standards of the media. If by any chance Kate happens to be plum or any different from the models, her opinion of self may be that she is not beautiful and she may live in fear that John will change her for a slim lady. This makes Kate to have low self- esteem and it may cost a great deal of the relationship if it is not corrected in time. She starts to lose trust in the relationship as she feels that if she does not ‘shape up’ she will lose John because of a ‘beautiful’ lady. This, therefore, calls for you (John) to help Kate feel beautiful and believe that her body size is the best that you would ever want. The more you tell her how graceful her body is the more she believes that she is beautiful and that the opinion of the media does not count as much as that to her partner.

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Once you understand the creation of self- concept, you will understand why your partner behaves in a certain way or reacts in a specific manner, when you give a certain feedback. You should note that a person with a low self- concept may exhibit certain behaviors like being rude to counter what he or she feels about self. As the closest peer, you should be able to help your partner in creating a positive self- concept so that you can keep the relationship healthy and strong. At an individual level, you also need to work on making your relationship, work on doing your best to build a positive self- concept that will help you to deal with challenges in your relationship positively. Note that the healthier your self- concept is, the healthier your relationship will be (Staik, 2011). Staik suggests that you use selective memory to get rid of the negative images in your mind and capitalize on the positive images so that you can maintain a positive self- concept that will keep your relationship standing. Let the positives that you encounter be the key images in your mind and that will keep you from thinking of negative ones.

The key factor in communication is listening. Listening critically and empathically is the main factor that will keep your relationship together. Sengupta states that the thing that kills relationships appears because some people suffer from COLDOS. This is the Constipation of Listening: Diarrhoea of Speaking (Sengupta, 2009). Thus, failure to listen and speaking too much, without giving your partner a chance to say what is in the back of his or her mind, may cost you your relationship. To avoid this disease, we shall come up with strategies that will help you to involve in active, empathic and critical thinking when communicating with your partner.

First you need to suspend judgment as you listen to your partner. Let your partner speak out his or her mind without interruptions and without making your conclusions. That makes them feel important and feel that somebody cares for them. That is the whole essence of a relationship anyway. Secondly, be empathic by taking your partner’s problems as your own. Put yourself in his or her shoes and handle the situation the way you would have done if you were in the same. For example, if Kate loses her job, listen to her and respond to her the way you would have wanted her to respond if you lost your job. Do not blame her for the loss, even when you feel that it was her mistakes that made her lose the job. Let her feel that she is not a loser as somebody understands her and does not rejoice at her misfortunes. Active listening involves giving feedback to your partner as you converse. This means that you should engage in the conversation by asking questions and responding actively, like using words that will encourage your partner to keep talking.

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