Music and Couples

By Faith Halverson, Music Therapist, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Faith Halverson, Music Therapist, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Faith Halverson

Recomposing the Interpersonal Duet Between Romantic Partners

A connection has long existed between music and love. In the Middle Ages, troubadours would travel the countryside singing about chivalry and courtly love. Baroque English composer, Henry Purcell, poetically captured this connection when he wrote, “If music be the food of love, sing on till I am filled with joy.” Even today, most popular music is filled with themes of love or desire. Couples may even choose a song that reflects their love for each other.

While music can capture the feelings and experiences of love, music can also be used to illustrate how we communicate with those we love. Music is a means of expression- a relationship wherein parts can be in harmony or dissonance. Similarly, the way we communicate within our own relationships can be in harmony or dissonance. This can be observed in the ways in which we communicate with each other, such as through our tone of voice or the words we use. We also send non-verbal messages through our facial expressions and body posture.

By noticing how you “harmonize” with others, you can assess the state of your relationships in that moment. Are you accurately communicating what you wish to say or are you sending mixed messages? Have you truly heard what was said to you or were you distracted by planning a rebuttal in response?

Nowhere is harmonious communication more important than between romantic partners. In order to have a successful relationship, partners must feel safe and comfortable in communicating with each other. This includes being a good listener that pays attention to both the verbal and non-verbal messages being sent by the speaker. By listening to your partner and giving them your full attention when they speak, you send to them a powerful message that you care.

Likewise, as a speaker, there are ways of speaking that encourage good listening. This includes expressing thoughts clearly and in an honest way, using positive (or neutral) words. This helps the listener become more open and attentive to what is being said, rather than becoming defensive. Statements that blame, or “you” statements, often trigger defensiveness or hostility and tend to increase conflict.

“I” statements can provide a helpful model for clear self-expression. They help a speaker describe their feelings and tell how they are affected by their partner’s behavior, without blaming the partner.

The three parts to “I” statements are:

  1. to describe the speaker’s feelings
  2. to make a statement about the behavior that caused the feeling
  3. to identify the reason for the speaker’s feelings.

For example, the statement “I get upset when you criticize my parents because my parents are so important to me” is an “I” statement because:

  1. it describes the feeling: “I get upset.”
  2. it describes the behavior: “when you criticize my parents.”
  3. it identifies the reason: “because my parents are so important to me.”

It can be uncomfortable using these skills at first, especially if you and your partner have a long history of dissonant communication. However, with practice and patience these skills will become more comfortable to you, leading you to have more harmonious communication. Naturally, you and your partner won’t always like what the other has to say, but by using good communication skills you will be better able to solve problems, thereby strengthening your relationship.

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