Communication in Relationships

Before you begin, commit this phrase to memory: There are no defective units. For this exercise to work, you have to approach it with the idea that everyone is just fine how he or she is right now.  You are not trying to change the other person in any way.  Instead, you are merely trying to honestly share who you are and what you need, with the goal of learning how (and if) you can exist in the same space.

This exercise aims, using William Schutz’s Interpersonal Needs Theory and John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley’s Exchange Theory, to help you find the truth, without judgement, about what your needs are and the truth about what the other person’s needs are. For example, you will be asked to rate your need for control and your partner’s need for control.  If you both have a high need for control, it’s not something that needs to be “fixed;” it just is.  The question is: how do you manage your relationship to accommodate both your needs and your partner’s?

First, choose your significant other or a good friend. Carefully, thoughtfully, place them and yourself on the three continua listed in Interpersonal Needs Theory above.  Also create a list of the at least four costs of being in the relationship and a list of at least four benefits of being in the relationship. Have the person you chose do the same thing. For example:

Need for affection/attention – People who need a phone call every hour to reassure them that they are loved and valued have a high need for attention/affection.  People who can be absent for a month and still feel great about the relationship have a low need for attention/affection.
I————W-M———I (M = me; W = my significant other)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Need for social interaction – People who need to go out every night have a high need for social interaction.  Those who always want to stay home and watch a movie have a low need.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Need for control – Those who can’t imagine letting their significant others manage the checkbook, or who can’t imagine riding with someone else to a party, have a high need for control.  Those who jump into a friend’s car without a plan or explanation have a low need.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  • Having to let you know where I am all the time
  • Having less control over my finances because we have to compromise on housing, where to eat etc.
  • Having to deal with your parents
  • Having less time with my friends


  • Having someone I can really trust to have my best interests in mind
  • Having help with living costs
  • Having someone to help with the kids
  • Feeling loved

Next, exchange your ratings and lists and discuss what you learned.

Last, write two 100-word paragraphs, each describing one thing that you learned from this experience and how you learned it. (You will write both paragraphs from your perspective. Your partner will not write a paragraph.) See the example below. (In addition to handing in the written assignment below to Blackboard, you will share this orally next class.) The two paragraphs below are the only things you will share in class and the only things you will submit to Blackboard.


I learned that we have a fairly similar view of the relationship and our needs and costs etc. One of the costs he listed was that he had less time with his friends, and I knew that before the exercise. I did learn that it was a little more intense than I knew. So we have planned for one night every couple weeks for each of us to go out separately with our friends.  We talked about how we manage our finances. I do most of that, and he appreciates it.  I thought that he was okay with that arrangement, but this exercise confirmed it.

I learned that my mother is a big problem in our relationship. She comes over a lot unannounced and makes “suggestions.”  For example she rearranged the kitchen one day while I was at work. I learned that my partner finds this infuriating but that he didn’t want to  increase my stress by complaining to me about it.  Admittedly, it’s  pretty big problem for me too, so we have decided we really need to confront it.  Exactly how we will deal with it is hard to say; we have spoken to her about it before.  We are considering moving farther away from her because I don’t want to completely cut ties with her.

You will be graded on three criteria:

  • The instructor understands clearly what two things you learned from this exercise.
  • Each example contains enough depth, detail, and explanation so that your points are clear—about 100 words per paragraph should do it.
  • The things reported that you learned were important and meaningful.