The effect of tone of voice in a relationship
There was a poster that used to hang up on my office wall that read:
"90% of the friction of life is caused by the wrong tone of voice".
It was amusing when new client couples would glance over at the poster, and almost simultaneously say to each other "That's you". The less subtle would just look at their partner, point to the poster, do "the eye" thing (you know the one I mean), then sit back in their chair, arms folded, looking both triumphant and validated.
I hadn't yet said a word.
According to a 2015 study that examined hundreds of conversations from over 100 couples during marriage therapy sessions, tone of voice was a key indicator of relationship success. What the researchers affirmed was that communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it, including pitch, pace, volume, timbre, and timing.
A low pitch can make you seem more authoritative and serious, even if what you’re actually saying isn’t profound. Consequently, your tone of voice can have the opposite effect. If you’re constantly at a high pitch, others might assume you’re unsure about what you’re trying to convey. This can lead to a sense of untrustworthiness that can make it harder to get what you want.
When you slow down, you can help your partner understand what you are saying, and they will be better able to absorb your message. Going too slow, however, can be construed as demeaning and offensive. Pausing, before speaking, really does help.
Yelling at your partner will just fire back at you, either causing them to yell back or retreat from the conversation entirely. Instead of raising your voice, if you want to emphasize something, try slowing the pace of your words.
This is the emotion in your voice - the attitude you bring to what you say. Your partner will use this to build their understanding of what you are saying. Emotionally charged words set you apart. Shift your mindset to your heart and let your message shine through your words.
Sometimes, it just isn't the right time to talk. For example, just before the kids head off to school; when you’re at the in-laws; and 1.47am. However, NEVER talking about an issue that needs to be resolved isn't helpful either. Couples that do this have to keep going out and buying bigger carpets to sweep things under.
Emails and texts communicate tone as well. It’s better to pause and consider, rather than send and regret.
Steve is the Director of Relationship Matters Ltd. He holds two applied Bachelor's degrees (Counselling & Addiction) and a P.G. Dip. in Applied Social Practice. Steve is married with two children and lives in West Auckland.