Level Four Communication: Sharing Personal Information

Positive communication is essential for marriages to thrive. However, some people mistake merely engaging in discussion as positive communication. While it is true that any communication that does not lead to conflict or problems is positive in one sense, not all communication brings the same benefit to the relationship. Specifically, one of the objectives of communication in marriage is to develop and maintain a sense of bondedness and intimacy between partners. However, talking about the news and the weather will not accomplish this. Deeper levels of interaction are required to achieve this important goal.

Level one communication involves sharing facts and information. This is the most basic, albeit important, form of communication, but it does not get very personal. [See related article.] Level two communication is discussing ideas of others. While this also is not too personal in nature, it is typically more abstract, compelling, and memorable and, therefore, an important step to relationship building. [See related article.]

Level three is considerably more personal than the first two levels. In this level, people discus their ideas, views, opinions, and beliefs about matters that they deem significant. [See related article.] At this level we begin to see increased risk and vulnerability, but also greater potential for the reward of deeper intimacy.

The fourth level of communication is sharing personal information. It has some common characteristics with the previous level in that both involve some personal expression. The main difference is that level three typically involves discussing ideas that are shared with others (e.g. political, moral, spiritual) while level four involves divulging things about oneself that are more private. For example, sharing personal information may delve into areas such as personal history and experiences, likes, dislikes, accomplishments, failures, goals, hopes for the future, and so forth.

The level of risk and vulnerability is higher at level four than at any of the previous stages. If received well, the relational rewards can be significant as two people move to a new plane in their understanding and appreciation of one another. They bond and become closer as they learn more about each others' personal lives. By contrast, if the exchange is not perceived to be well received, the relationship suffers and a sense of rejection or isolation may be felt.

Many relationships do not achieve level four (and level five) communication very often. This is because people are reluctant to share more deeply personal information if they do not feel a sense of safety, trust, or acceptance. Unfortunately, people are generally more accepting of one another in new relationships than they are in longer standing ones. Most are more apt to invalidate, criticize, or marginalize personal disclosures of their mate the longer they have been together. When this is the case, intimacy will be stifled because the depth of communication that leads to closeness and bondedness becomes a rare occurrence when acceptance and positive regard are not the norm.

If you and your spouse rarely or never share personal information with one another it is wise to determine why this is the case. If the reason is because a sense of trust and safety are lacking then it is definitely time to make some changes. Perhaps the reason is just due to a busy schedule or a lack of effort. Or maybe both partners feel they already know everything there is to know about one another. These are all common reasons, but also poor excuses. In the most satisfying and successful marriages couples continue to learn about each other on a deeply personal level. Even after years of being together they put effort into remaining connected through intimate communication.

Articles in this series:

Levels of Communication (Introduction)
Level One: Facts and Information
Level Two: Ideas of Others
Level Three: Your Own Ideas
Level Four: Personal Information
Level Five: Emotions and Needs
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