Closeness Communication Bias: Why it’s Hurting our Relationships

One of my aims on my 23 for 2023 List is to read 50 books this year. I’m an avid reader, but this is the first time I’ve had a concrete aim, so I’m taking it very seriously. For one of my nonfiction book choices, I just finished You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy. As I was reading it, I thought about how closeness communication bias applies to stepfamilies and how it affects our relationships.

What is Closeness Communication Bias?

A couple of weeks ago, I was having dinner with my husband and my parents. My husband started asking my parents questions about when they met, and how they started dating. This was a story I thought I knew well, so I wasn’t listening attentively. However, as my parents were sharing their story, I found myself saying, “What? I didn’t know that?!” and “Really?” quite a few times.

This is an example of closeness communication bias, which means that we assume we know everything about our loved ones, so we fail to listen closely. We become complacent in our relationship, and stop being curious about each other. Why? Because we overestimate how well we know the other person. This causes us to miss out on important moments with our loved ones.  

How to Overcome Closeness Communication Bias

1. Ask your spouse questions and practice empathic listening. Shared vulnerability leads to feelings of intimacy and closeness. Try asking your spouse “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love.” Arthur Aron, a psychology professor, used these questions in a research study. He paired students together, and had them ask each other these 36 questions. After finishing the exercise, the paired students reported strong feelings of closeness, more so than other students who were paired together to accomplish a task. In fact, two pairs of the subjects ending up getting married later on.

2. Eat dinner together as a family. I know this is challenging with school, work, and extracurricular activities, but try to make it happen when you can. Numerous studies have touted the benefits of families eating together, ranging from lower depression rates among teens to higher GPAS to lower obesity rates. The Family Dinner Project, created by a group of Harvard researchers, has conversation starters, recipes, and even games to play with your family.

3. Try improv. It sounds silly, but many companies, such as Google and Ford, have used it for professional development and team building activities with their employees. I tried it myself a couple years ago, and I found 3 basic improv techniques to improve stepfamily communication.

4. Give your full attention to the speaker, whether it’s your spouse or your daughter or your stepson. Non-verbal cues are key! In fact, at least 55 percent of the emotional content of a message is expressed non-verbally, according to psychologist Albert Mehrabian’s research. If you’re looking at your phone or the TV, you’re missing a big chunk of what the speaker is trying to say. Put your phone away and tune out distractions. Be fully present in the moment.  

Try it Out

I hope that you can carve out a little time in your day to try these exercises. Investing time in your family is one of the biggest investments you’ll make. One way we can achieve this is through talking and really listening to our loved ones. As Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Mosaidis is a Certified Resilience Professional through the Trauma Institute International. She is also a Stepfamily Foundation Certified Coach and an author. Her books are available here.

Certified Resilience Professional