Communication Miracles for Couples by Jonathan Robinson – Book Review


couple in field

Best for:

Communication Miracles is best for those in a committed romantic relationship looking to improve their communication. Could also be useful for those looking for such a relationship in the future, but the practical exercises will be hard to do solo.

Difficulty to digest:

This book is really easy to understand. There are plenty of examples, though there are quite a few arbitrary acronyms that can be difficult to remember. 

Key Insights:

Communication miracles by Jonathan Robinson is an action-focused guide to improving communication with your significant other. For those in a relationship, these techniques can drastically improve communication. In addition to exercises, thought experiments make this book easy to understand and implement.

There are two concepts in this book that can really change how we interact with others, especially our significant other. The first is the idea of acknowledgment, appreciation, and acceptance. When we show these three values in communication it leaves others feeling valued and makes future interactions easier. While it may seem easy to show these in good times, during difficult ones they’re often quickly discarded. This only fuels negative interactions. 

The second key concept is the idea of a self-esteem bank account. In essence, it’s the idea that relationships are created by a fund of goodwill. When we communicate in a way that others feel valued, we build our account. When we run into difficult topics, fail to communicate care, or have other troubles, we draw from the account. The balance in this account determines how our relationships play out. Our goal is to deposit into the account as often as possible so we have a surplus when difficult events arise. 

Beyond these concepts, there are a few repeated themes: 

Communication Without Blame

One strong theme in Communication Miracles is communicating in a way our partner doesn’t feel attacked or blamed. This way, we avoid defensiveness and can focus on the problem at hand. This also drastically reduces the odds of escalating the situation. 

The tactics tend to focus on ways we can shift our language away from blaming emotions and toward ourselves. For example, saying I feel anxious when you spend more than our budget instead of You’re reckless and wasting all our money. This change in wording reduces blame and focuses on your emotional state instead of accusatory attacks, which are far easier for others to process. 

Robinson also presents several tactics which focus on your contribution in difficult situations. Before asking your partner for a concession, consider what you can do. How could you resolve the problem yourself? What solutions do they think might work? Which makes more sense or is easier? Instead of looking for character weaknesses and demanding change, try to find a viable solution for both parties. 

Listening Tactics

Another major theme in Communication Miracles is listening tactics for both sides. Many of these tactics involve explicit creating space to slow down conversation until it’s clear both individuals have heard the other. There is attention to both verbal and physical cues, with a strong emphasis on verbal cues. 

This includes tactics such as verbal repetition of concepts, asking what the other person thought you meant, letting one person talk until their satisfied the other understands their position, or having one person exclusively ask questions until understanding has been achieved. While probably overkill for casual conversations, this can slow the pace and intensity of more difficult conversations, resolving miscommunications before they escalate. 

Teamwork and Synchronicity

The last major theme is teamwork and synchronicity. Essentially, this is ensuring both individuals are clearly on the same page on important issues. Most couples will find incongruities, and doing so during a calm time is much more effective than finding out via dispute. The goal is to work together as a team, not determine who’s right.

Robinson lists ideas such as 12 typically contentious topics, syncing on what makes each person feel loved, and experimenting with new boundaries to determine the best fit. In all these instances, the goal is better understanding and moving toward the shared goal of a mutually beneficial relationship. Neither parties needs should be swept aside, all positions are valid.  

It’s also recommended to do a weekly cleanup using the question what are you avoiding saying to me? In this way, potentially contentious issues are brought to the table before they have a chance to develop further. While a difficult challenge, it’s certain to be a useful one, pushing both partners to be vulnerable and work together toward solving issues that would otherwise stay buried, possibly until eruption. 

Conclusion 

Communication Miracles for Couples is overall a useful, action-oriented book. If some strategies don’t work for you, there are plenty to pick from. Each of these is explained simply and don’t take too much overhead to get behind.  In addition, each chapter has a nice recap at the end. This makes it extremely easy to get a clear, useful take away from each chapter. 

Other considerations:

While most concepts are useful and straightforward, a few delve into confusing and possibly unsound realms. For example, Robinson suggests creating pacts with your partner that have serious consequences for failing to act. While this may be effective in producing the desired change, it does so at the risk of damaging the relationship. Who wants to be with someone that punishes them instead of negotiating? Becoming hostage to the desired change seems like a very difficult line to walk effectively. 

There were also a few chapters that mentioned using completely facetious compliments to ‘soften’ difficult conversations. Almost everyone will be able to see through such a thinly veiled attempt. You know I love you and you’re great at sewing but I really don’t like your food won’t win many points. If you need to have a conversation like this, skip the fake niceties as they only make the interaction feel superficial. Instead, focus on avoiding blame and finding a solution. 

Is it really a miracle?

Communication Miracles also makes a few boisterous claims, such as never arguing again and solving problems instantly. While I understand the desire to speak strongly of your tactics, this can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Reality is often much messier than this, requiring practice and growth to master such tactics. 

Finally, the book was published in 1997, and a few of the examples don’t hold up. This is really to be expected of any writing, over time some connections will fade in relevance. On the bright side, this is rarely a problem. The vast majority of examples and tactics seem completely relevant even 20 years later. 

Applicable Content:

  1. How can you better communicate acknowledgment, appreciation, and acceptance to those around you?
  2. Consider the self-esteem bank account of your three closest relationships? How can you improve them?
  3. Does blame or judgment slip into your language with loved ones?

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