Partner-pleasing: Styles Of Communicating

Posted at 18:47pm on 11th February 2009

For those who have just joined this series on Partner-Pleasing, let me bring you up to date. The aim is not simply to illuminate ways of improving communication in a relationship, but to enhance the overall experience of couples with each other. The exercises are based on those used by the internationally recognised movement of Marriage Enrichment, and were foundational to Courses led by my other half and I.

In the first article, we looked at Partner-Pleasing: Do You Have Different Expectations Of One Another? and, in particular, at Knowing and Being Known. Following that was Partner-Pleasing: Different Ways Of Communication In A Relationship, and today we're going to be examining the last two elements of that article, and seeing how Daily Sharing: the art of communication may be incorporated into our lives. As the British writer, Elizabeth Charles put it:

"To know how to say what others only know how to think is what makes men poets or sages . . ."

The four styles of communication are:

Styles of Communicating:

  1. Passing Information
  2. Aggressive Assertion
  3. Intellectual Approach
  4. Sharing Feelings

We have already discussed the first two, and today I'm going to examine 3 and 4.

  • The Intellectual Approach to making Decisions and
  • Sharing Feelings as a way to promote Intimacy


Relationships - life in general - mean that we all have to make decisions from time to time. They include the banal:

  • "Shall we go out on Saturday night?"
  • "What shall we have for supper?"
  • "What colour shall we paint the bathroom walls?"

And the life-changing:

  • "Shall we get married / move in together / have children / get a new job."

The intellectual approach to such questions is to tackle them purely from a basis of expediency. In answer to the questions above, the solutions might be:

  • "We can't afford to go out."
  • "It'll have to be pizza, because that's all we've got in."
  • "Same colour as the bathroom because we've got paint left over from there."

All decisions are thus reduced to practical matters, without any regard for your feelings or your partner's. And frequently, one partner in a relationship will be more prone to this type of decision making than the other. Based on a Myers' Briggs psychometric type indicator (which shows a person's psychological preferences in how they perceive the world and make decisions) this abstract assessment of a situation tends to be male-oriented.

However, whichever partner has this trait, it's important that neither sees it as negative, or a 'cold-hearted' means of reaching a verdict. Sometimes, this is a necessary form of communication between couples, and it should be recognised and valued in a relationship. Someone who is entirely ruled by their heart, is going to find their life dominated by either their own, or other people's needs and wants. The key is not to allow either the heart-led process or the intellectual approach to be the sole basis for decision-making.


The styles of communication in 1-3 above, may be found in all walks of life. Formal relationships, like those between employer and employee; authorities and public; police and captive; doctor and patient, may all use these styles to convey information, exert authority, or make plans and reach decisions. They are a necessary form of communication in these fields.

With few exceptions and on rare occasions, shared feelings are peculiar to friends and family. They are, in fact, crucial to the success of a close relationship. They both denote and encourage:

  • trust
  • confidentiality
  • mutual understanding
  • warm
  • cherished
  • friendship
  • and intimacy

You may trust your bank manager to keep details of your investments confidential, but you're unlikely to tell him that the sight of him gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Your doctor, too, can be trusted with intimate emotional secrets, and may even use them as the basis for a clinical diagnosis of your condition. But, unless you're married, or he/she is prepared to risk an illicit relationship with you, there's never going to be any reciprocity.

The whole point of a close relationship is that there are areas which are exclusive to the two of you. Sexual intercourse is the obvious and ultimate exclusivity; but shared feelings are the area of intimacy which underpins everything else. Relationship intimacy feeds on a diet of shared feelings, and depends on regular nourishment for its very existence.

It is, also, the area we most neglect!

Once the first thrill of 'falling in love' has worn off (as it inevitably does when nature has done her work and made us form an attachment with one another) what happens? He spends more and more time at work / the pub / footie / in front of the telly. She gets landed with more and more childcare / domestic duties / seeing 'the girls'.

Sharing your feelings - as you once did - is relegated to the past. And it requires effort - real effort - to reinstate that precious time. But effort is what is required if your relationship is not only to survive, but also to thrive.

  • Make a promise to yourselves and to each other that you will spend some time together, concentrating on your feelings.
  • Start with once a week, and work up to twice, three times, then daily.
  • Build it in to your lives - just as mealtimes and homework are built into your children's lives in order for them to develop and grow.
  • Shared feelings don't necessarily need to focus on how you feel about each other - though that's a good thing to aim for in each session.
  • Discuss the issues of real life: child care; your paid employment; time spent with family and friends; your shared values in life; your goals for the future.
  • By all means, talk about the practicalities of each situation, but don't leave it at that.
  • Do so in an attitude of how each topic affects you both physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Let me know how you get on with this exercise. Don't forget the Ground Rules outlined in previous sessions.


We'll look at Partner-Pleasing: Relationship Potential. Until then . . .

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