A second type of communication is much subtler. Meaning is conveyed through tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, posture and so forth. These statements usually concern the relationship itself rather than the content of the communication. This analogical type of communication gives one a sense of more or less rather than distinct notions about what is or is not the case (digital). We speak a little louder to add emphasis to a statement we have made. A loud declaration, “It is cold today!” is quite different from a statement made in a matter-of-fact manner that “it is cold today.” Similarly, my request that you wear your gloves today can be conveyed as a casual recommendation or as a forceful command solely as a result of the tone of voice and related nonverbal cues.

All of our interviews, of course, were conducted in a digital, verbal medium. We have quoted the words spoken by both members of the couple, and only occasionally comment on the tone of voice or gestures that accompany these words. Yet, this is certainly not the full story. In the case of Kathy and Dave, the interviewer felt that Kathy’s voice was very demanding and often quite “whiney” whereas Dave conveyed a clear sense of resignation with an underlying expression of exasperation and strained patience. Do Kathy and Dave hear these messages in each other’s voice? Have they ever heard these messages? What do they do about these messages, if they are heard? Many couples retain the status quo by choosing to ignore these messages, or at least never commenting to one another (meta-communicating) about what these messages seem to be saying about the relationship. An examination of this rich, analogical information is quite risky. A remarriage process often is needed to precipitate this type of discussion.


The final axiom of communication concerns the nature of the relationship between two partners. In symmetrical interactions, partners tend to mirror one another. Emphasis is placed on minimizing the inherent differences between the two partners. Conversely, in complimentary interactions, partners attempt to achieve a maximization of differences, with one assuming the superior (“one-up”) position, while the other adopts the inferior, secondary or “one down” position. Kathy and Dave’s relationship is clearly complimentary in nature, with Dave serving in a one down position to Kathy. Ironically, both of these people seemed to have also created a complimentary relationship in their first marriages, with both Kathy and Dave serving in “one-down” positions.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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