Vol 57 No. 17 : October, 2005
Vol 57 No. 17 | Oct. 3, 2005
Cutting to the Heart of the Matter
Communication Studies’ Guy Bachman knows love means having to say you’re sorry sometimes.
“When couples forgive, they have to talk,” said Bachman, a Huntington Beach resident who joined the university in 2002. “If they don’t talk, they avoid each other. Couples who don’t talk are less likely to forgive one another after a hurtful event.”Bachman’s research focuses on how couples cope with hurtful events, including deception and infidelity. His current research includes nearly 300 participants who talked about having been hurt by something their partners had done or said. “People were more likely to report forgiving their partner when they were deeply hurt but their partner offered a sincere apology,” he said. “An apology is very important. It’s how you make that apology more than what you actually say. People were more likely to report receiving an apology when they believed the partner’s actions were unintentional. People were less likely to forgive partners who broke up with them. Sexual infidelity was another biggie.”
Bachman found in his research that those who forgave their partners for saying or doing something hurtful didn’t limit themselves to using conciliatory messages. “The hurt partners talked about their feelings and the relationships. Interestingly, they also engaged in negative messages, such as arguing and threatening to break up,” he said. “These may seem to be destructive forms of communication but what we found was that when people forgive, they were motivated to talk about the situation. We predicted couples interested in forgiveness would use constructive types of messages but our respondents didn’t always do polite things. They talked, but they often did it in a very negative way. But people who talk are more likely to forgive.”
Bachman found that the person who was hurt the most was more likely to forgive and use positive forms of communication.
“I found that puzzling,” he said. “Why be nice to the person who just hurt you deeply?”
Bachman and his colleague, Laura Guerrero of Arizona State University, believe that the more you love someone and care for them, the more likely you will be to talk and not avoid in order to work things out.
Bachman stated that most romantic partners do not mean to emotionally hurt each other. “But the point is that people in relationships hurt each other all the time,” he said. “We found a great many of those in relationships lie or say cruel things to each other. It is very common.”
Bachman is also interested in social support. What is it that people say and do to comfort others?
“My research shows there really are no ‘magic words’ to comfort others. There seems to be two central things involved for effective comforting, personality and relationship factors,” he said. “What we have found is that individuals who are secure in their relationships or attachments tend to perceive that their friends and intimate partners are the most effective in providing social supportive communication.”
In two recent studies, Bachman found people rate more rewarding partners and those who are closer as being more effective in providing supportive messages than those who are perceived as less rewarding.
“The more rewarding the relationship is, the more effective the message is perceived. For many years, it has been assumed that the type of supportive message is what matters. There is no a golden type of messages,” he said. “My research seems to back up the notion that perception is the key to supportive communication. What people actually say to help others cope with distressful situations may not be as important as how they are perceived by the distressed person. All it may take is being near a good friend, a few kind words, a hug or someone who listens well. The distressed might think, ‘God, I’m glad I have someone on my side.’”
Bachman’s advice for a happy relationship is build relational insurance.
“You’re bound to hurt your partner’s feelings and you’d better have some insurance before that happens,” he said. “Love them while you can. Be as nice to your partner as you can. Relationships wear down and partners start to take each other for granted. Partners often feel they don’t have to put on a nice, smiley face in front of each other all the time. That’s the wonderful thing about watching people fall in love. They act their best and are careful about what they say. They are angels. They get together in their love nest and build their little home. After that, they become less and less nice to one another. But the key is being able to talk and staying positive. Be able to talk and be comfortable with each other. Realize your partner is not perfect. But you aren’t either.”
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