Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.
Connecting with others and others in a meaningful way is a requirement for happiness and success in life. Many mental health issues are the result of disconnectedness. Connectedness requires engaging with oneself and the world and being open to meaningful messages from others. In this sense, connectedness serves as a foundation in the creation of meaning. Since meaning has the potential to induce change, connectedness not only helps realising one’s needs, values and aspirations but also to adapt better to the world, which increases the level of well-being and happiness.
Keywords: connectedness, communication, psychotherapy, psychiatry
Table of Contents
Connectedness with other people allows us to change our world. It broadens horizons and understanding, and generates positive feelings. Returning the smile of a stranger makes the world a better place and conveys understanding, while empathically understanding a loved one can be a special moment for oneself and the other. Connectedness is when we exchange meaningful information with another person over time. Any feelings or thoughts associated with it are the consequences of information flows.
When looking at another person we feel something special in that person and in ourselves at the same time. All this is due to our ability to translate meaning into messages, encode, transmit and decode information and translate the messages back into meaning. Resonance, how information within oneself is brought to interact with the new information, plays an important role in the awareness and identification of meaning.
Connectedness with others expands how we feel about ourselves. Exploring the other is similar to exploring ourselves. There is a feedback between the outside and inside worlds. Connecting to another means opening up to flows of information in both directions. Feeling is an aggregate of all the information that we are exchanging with the other person. With a wink or another small gesture, a massive amount of information can be shared with another person, all at once. This may also cause fears to surface that one is becoming more vulnerable because of the insight another person might gain, and insight into an area we may not want to make visible.
Radiating contentment and happiness tells a love interest or a business partner that we are on a good path, which makes these encounters more rewarding for everyone involved. It also helps form bonds and relationships with other people. A first important step is the openness to experience the contentment and happiness one could feel within oneself. This may sometimes not so easy, because of the things we feel we have to do to attain these feelings. But once we realize that these feelings actually serve the connection with another person, they become easier.
The better we can communicate with ourselves, the better we can communicate with other people. Openness and empathy help to understand others, but also show that one is at ease with oneself. Happiness is an important prerequisite to be able to engage in fulfilling interactions, and this requires connecting with the own happiness on the inside. With the right information we can activate centers of the brain that allow us to feel more happiness. The information from connectedness lets us do this as well.
Happiness is an emotion we often feel when we are engaged in something that is meaningful and valuable to us. When we are engaged in something that is meaningful, that contains the promise of something novel that can change us, we feel happiness. Whether solving a science problem, observing another person, having sex or talking to someone else, we are engaged in processes that produce new meaning, new information, and often a sense of happiness. Communication with oneself and others, the exchange of meaningful information, is ultimately what leads to more meaning and greater happiness.
To create meaning with another person, however, also means that one has to contribute something meaningful. In a situation where people are on a date, for example, there needs to be an actual exchange of information to create more meaning, and, as a consequence, more connectedness. Happiness is often a result of this.
Connectedness can come in many shapes and forms, but it appears that the more meaning can also be generated about the relationship through meaningful communication, the more satisfying the relationship is. For example, in ‘friends with benefits’ who lack the deeper romantic relationship, one would expect that there is less satisfactions and less communication in some areas. And this was also shown in a study using an online survey (Lehmiller, VanderDrift, & Kelly, 2014). In this study, friends with benefits, who were also found to be less sexually exclusive,
- had a lower frequency of sexual interaction and were less sexually satisfied,
- generally communicated less about sex than romantic partners did, and
- communicated more often about extradyadic sexual experiences.
One’s values and basic interests determine what is valuable to oneself. Happiness requires that one engages in an activity that is meaningful and of value to oneself. Engaging in these activities and situations brings more positive emotions, happiness, and a greater sense of fulfilment in life. Wants and Needs that create greater happiness correlate with one’s values.
The basic values (Haverkampf, 2018e), the needs, values and aspirations are an important foundation in connectedness because they determine whether the connection will be maintained and intensified. The benefit from a communication is greater when needs, values and aspirations are shared. Since information about them is exchanged in everything one does, it would be difficult to hide them. Maybe sometimes people feel misled by a connection with another person, but it is often that they are ignoring signs which are there to be detected.
Almost everyone strives for happiness in life, and the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the US constitution and many other important documents, but many people feel it is beyond their reach. Some may suffer from a mental health condition like depression, which reduces the amplitude of one’s felt emotions overall, including happiness, and may require treatment. A larger problem is possibly missing direction in life and decision-making, which often is a result of being disconnected from oneself. If one feels what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, this leads to actions and thoughts that generate greater happiness.
Connectedness with oneself and others is closely related. Through connection with ourselves and others we can gain insight into the things and activities that can increase our happiness, satisfaction and contentment. However, the connection with oneself, also on a feeling level, is fundamental to this discovery process. Without this internal connectedness, it is impossible to find insight into one’s own basic parameters of needs, values and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2017b, 2018e). Many people feel the pressure from what they think the world expects of them. Simply internalizing external expectations will not bring happiness. My thoughts and actions have to make sense in relation to how I see myself and what I value.
The right information can increase happiness. Throughout life we learn what works and what does not work. All this is valuable information. This does not mean one needs to make a lot of mistakes, but that one should be where there is high quality information. Connecting with oneself and others makes it more likely that one acquires the right information. The more information I have about options in the world and what I truly value, the easier will it be to find greater happiness in the world. Meaningful information, which can be anything from a fact to an emotional signal when engaging in a task, coupled with reflection about it leads to better decision making, greater success in all areas of life, and a greater sense of happiness, contentment and satisfaction. Connectedness is a very important aspect.
Intimacy, when it is fulfilling, is a mental and physical escalation of connectedness. While the dopamine rush of physical sex can lead to a transient high, research shows that sex just for the purpose of sex is usually less fulfilling if emotional and other forms of connectedness are missing. Practicing intimacy is the ability to make close connections with the openness to receive sensations, perceptions and other information which could be potentially hurtful. This means that one needs to overcome fear to be able to be intimate with another. The fear of being hurt is something that can arise from early experiences in life that are no longer accessible to conscious awareness. But it can also manifest at any later stage in life. Like a physical hurt, an emotional hurt occurs if something disturbs the sense of integrity, in this case the emotional one. Feeling hurt calls for repair of this loss of the sense of integrity, whether outside or inside. This does not mean reconstituting an original status quo, but to use the healing process to feel whole again. Connectedness with oneself and others is the means to get there. And, if one has confidence in one’s ability to connect, the fear of being hurt can be reduced considerably, which also increases the capability to be intimate.
Intimacy comprises the exchange of much information, tactile, visual, and otherwise, through a large number of communication channels synchronously. At the same time this information resonates with the information that already exists. A romantic date and intimacy are built on past communication experiences with the other person and on future expected ones. They have meaning and intensity because of their context within these past experiences and expectations of the future. Intimacy is exciting because of uncertainty, the mystery of how communication unfolds in the present and may be affected in the future. Emotionally powerful moments are powerful because they drive us towards change in some way, internally and externally.
That communication apart from the sexual act is the most powerful determinant of intimacy becomes clear in those cases where the communication is missing or gone horribly wrong, such as in cases of rape. One may speak here of sex, but not intimacy. It is ultimately not fulfilling and extremely destructive. The lack of meaning generated in such situation, the meaninglessness, reflects back on people will also feel internally. Communication can be highly destructive when it leaves a large hole where there should be meaning.
A fear of intimacy is quite common and basically not different from any other fear of connectedness. As will be illustrated in the example on romantic dating, the possibility that a connection can end, as in the form of rejection, for example, may lead to a fear of making the connection in the first place. The dilemma is that we want to see and feel a connection as important to us, but at the same time this raises the stakes, when the connection is lost.
The author has explored the details of the communication dynamics of romantic dates elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2010c, 2010d, 2017e, 2020). What makes a romantic date so unique is that from an evolutionary perspective communication in the dating situation determines the future of the species. It is thus no wonder that it is one of the situations where we can observe communication at its most complex, even though it follows the same rules of communication and information.
The quality of communication seems to be related to attraction and the desire to see the other again. Its importance in a study by Sprecher and Duck, however, was greater for women than for men and greater for friendship attraction than for romantic attraction. (Sprecher & Duck, 1994) The connectedness itself is the important criterion whether a date will be successful. Maybe at first only some needs become clear, while values and aspirations develop over time. But they shine through the space between spoken words and within them, in gestures and all other behaviors and interactions which may constitute communication. If one makes another person laugh, it also shows an understanding of another person’s basic parameters. This can be quite general in the case of a comedian or quite specific as in two people on a date. The sense of connectedness facilitates communication, reducing the fears and increasing meaningfulness. Thus, building the feeling of connectedness can already have a significant positive influence on the dynamics of the interaction, whether a romantic date, a job interview or a presentation in an academic environment.
It may be possible to pretend, but only if there is inherently a disconnect with oneself, which in the future will make a real connection more difficult. A deep connectedness with oneself usually makes one strive for the connections that are really meaningful rather than wasting time and resources on the ones that are less so. However, it may first take some time to find out what really works for oneself. Over time it becomes clearer.
The emotional risks from rejection can influence how we choose our communication channels to make a connection (Haverkampf, 2010a). For example, online daters exploit certain communication features provided by dating website messaging services which allow new ways for romantic refusals to be performed that were not previously available in face-to-face communication or earlier forms of computer-mediated communication. (Tom Tong & Walther, 2011) No one likes to be rejected by another person, but there can be large individual differences in how bad it feels. Not taking it personally may be impossible, but the perspective one has and the communication patterns one uses with oneself and with others can make a large difference. Uniqueness and a perceived need for this uniqueness in another person can make rejection more hurtful. However, this is often a problem of misidentified needs. The better the basic parameters, the needs, values and aspirations are identified, the lower will be the emotional shock of rejection and the easier it will be to connect with another human being.
Connecting with another human being has an emerging and changing dynamic within a structured framework (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2010c). This framework is determined by biology, psychological, social and situational factors, as well as the basic parameters (Haverkampf, 2019). Motives and expectations affect the courtship sequence as a function of a variety of individual and social variables (Cunningham & Barbee, 2008). Cunningham and Barbee describe three stages in the courtship process (Cunningham & Barbee, 2008):
- attract attention
- notice and approach
- talk and reevaluate
- touch and synchronize
It is easy to see how changes in communication patterns and variations in an individual’s effectiveness at the different stages of communication, from encoding a message to decoding it, can affect the progress along the phases of the courtship process. Since any communication process and structure serves the overall purpose of building and sharing meaning (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018f), the romantic partner’s ability to communicate and create meaning keeps the romance alive and moves it forward. The dynamics of changing communication patterns and the overall communication structure are the manifestations of changing relationships (Haverkampf, 2017d). To be aware of them and to work with them is key in establishing the level of connectedness one desires.
The sheer quantity of dating advice, seminars and conferences out there, from little tips and tricks to reprogramming one’s personality, is mind boggling. It seems much of their appeal is to be able to communicate what one wants without saying it. Research, however, shows that the best strategy is actually saying it. Whether something is communicated or not determines what happens next, and connectedness with another person, which is the precondition for any form of relationship, requires communicating something about one’s needs, values and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2018b). There is some support that directness in communicating has a negative association with relationship uncertainty and with partner uncertainty that is mediated by relationship uncertainty (Theiss & Solomon, 2006). The communication dilemma (Haverkampf, 2018a) is that communication becomes easier if there is more certainty, but to reach more certainty one needs communication to provide the information.
Clarity and openness help to reduce uncertainty as more meaningful information is available. Relational uncertainty and intimacy are related. Relational uncertainty tends tobe high in non‐ intimate associations and substantially lower in highly intimate associations. (Solomon, 2015)Clarity and openness are thus important steps in intimacy.
As connectedness increases, a relationship usually goes through transitions. Changes in communication patterns and in the framework of the communication structure signify these transitions. In the case of a developing romantic relationship, Mongeau and colleagues describe three changes that occur (Mongeau, Serewicz, Henningsen, & Davis, 2006):
- two people meet and talk for the first time,
- they communicate regularly and get to know and like each other,
- the discovery and consummation of mutual romantic interest; the romantic relationship transition between a man and a woman, when the relationship changes from being either platonic or nonexistent to being romantic
What these three changes have in common is that they describe changes in communication. But it goes even further, as relationship transitions are changes in both internal and external communication patterns (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2010c, 2018b). As relationships are kept alive and progress through communication transitions, they require an openness for external and internal changes. Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT), as developed by the author, works on both the internal and external communication patterns, which to a large extent reflect each other (Haverkampf, 2017a).
Communicating about how we communicate, internally and externally, is a powerful tool in changing communication (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a, 2018d). Since relationships and our experiences in them are determined by the communication dynamics in them, experience and communication are linked. Marston and colleagues found empirical evidence for the following a strong coherence in lovers’ experience of love and in their reports of how love is communicated (Hovick, Meyers, & Timmerman, 2003; Marston, Hecht, & Robers, 1987). The link between our experience and the communication patterns we use is not only valuable from a therapeutic perspective, but it also provides an insight for the considerable stability of communication patterns and relationships patterns over time (Haverkampf, 2018d).
The level of connectedness is determined by and determines the communication patterns we use, but it also influences the content of the communication. As we have seen above, the more meaning that can be communicated, the stronger the connectedness will be. Meaning and connectedness go hand in hand, which is one reason why helping a person communicate better also creates more meaning in the life of that person (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017a, 2018b). However, it is also possible that the individual meaning a person sees in life effects the openness and communication about meaning. At the same time, openness may be lower the less one knows about the other person and the nature of the relationship. In a study by McCurry and colleagues, results indicated that relational uncertainty was inversely associated with the frequency and comfort with which dating partners discussed religious and spiritual topics (McCurry, Schrodt, & Ledbetter, 2012). There is thus a vicious cycle between the fear of greater openness and less communication about meaning which could reduce the fear.
Online spaces are used infrequently for meeting romantic partners, but play a significant role in how teens flirt, woo and communicate with potential and current flames. (Lenhart, Smith, & Anderson, 2015) Digital communication offers fewer communication channels and a more controlled space than would be available when meeting another person in real life. It can make it easier for an individual to overcome the fears of direct communication and being overwhelmed by information. Many relationships have been made possible because they started with a small set of only a single communication channel. In times past, this may have been an exchange of letters. In today’s world, it may be a chat on a dating app.
Digital communication has the advantage that it allows the observation of how people connect and what their topics are when they do if they consent to it. A study by Dong and colleagues based on a survey of 240 individual MySpace users found that (Dong, Urista, & Gundrum, 2008)
- low self-esteem encourages young adults to engage in romantic communication (such as having intimate communication with the opposite sex and looking for romantic partners)
- higher emotional intelligence discourages such activity
- those who have a higher self-image, such as thinking themselves attractive and happy with their appearance, tend to engage in romantic communication.
Communication thus seems to fulfil an essential role in emotional regulation. It also appears that merely engaging in it can already have a positive effect. In many forms of digital communication, the other person is not physically present, but an image and a felt emotional connection with that person
An overview of communication structure and patterns has been provided by the author in greater depth elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2019). All communication follows particular rules, which also gives rise to the evolution of distinct patterns and structures. Working with them is an essential pillar in Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a), and understanding them can be helpful in all situations in daily life, which required internal and external communication.
It is crucial to keep in mind that communication patterns depend on the kind of relationship one has with another person (Haverkampf, 2010a). Both cross‐sex platonic and romantically involved partners use flirtation to varying degrees. However, how flirtatiousness is actually displayed and how it relates to evaluations of appropriateness and communication competence differs between the two types of relationships. (Egland, Spitzberg, & Zormeier, 1996)
From a much more macroscopic perspective in the area of romantic dating, there is empirical support for five styles of communicating romantic interest in others (Hall, Carter, Cody, & Albright, 2010): physical, sincere, playful, polite, and traditional. Following the argument above that open and full communication can help strengthen the connectedness, one would expect communication styles that help to share relationship affirming messages facilitate escalating a relationship faster. In a study by Hall and colleagues, dating success correlated with physical, sincere, and playful styles. The physical and sincere styles correlated with rapid relational escalation of important relationships with more emotional connection and greater physical chemistry. (Hall et al., 2010) In other word, it appears that
- the physical style and
- the sincere style
correlate with both dating success and the development of greater emotional connection and physical chemistry. These also appear to be the styles of communication which are less influenced by social convention (as in the polite and traditional style) or conscious communication techniques in response to what the other may be expecting (as in the playful styles). This would support the general communication hypothesis that people are at their most effective when they directly communicate the basic parameters, their needs, values, and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2018e, 2018b).
One has to marvel at the wide range of communication styles that are used in connecting with others. But this may not be as surprising when one considers that the use of particular communication patterns and styles also carries meaning (Haverkampf, 2018c, 2018f). This applies to all areas of human communication. Egland and colleagues identified four types of flirtation behaviour in their study through factor analysis (Egland et al., 1996), namely display, stereotyped, attentiveness, and conversational behaviours.
The transition from casual to serious involvement in dating relationships largely corresponds with changes in internal and external communication patterns and changes in the overall communication structure (Haverkampf, 2010c). These changes often happen without conscious awareness of them. The partners do not even have to know that they are transitioning, but the communication patterns always change.
The relational turbulence model is an example of a framework that explains the increased conflict, negative emotions, and heightened relationship thinking in transition times. Relational uncertainty and interference from a partner are heightened when intimacy transitions from casual and independent relating to serious and mutually committed involvement. Empirical findings show that doubts about the relationship are salient even within very casual associations and resolving relational uncertainty may be an important part of forming an intimate bond. (Solomon, 2015) An existential uncertainty is present from the beginning of any relationship, and navigating through it with the use of communication can lead it through the transitions that ultimately result in a fulfilling committed partnership (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017e, 2017d, 2017c).
Relational uncertainty and interference from a partner have been linked to more pronounced experiences of negative emotions, such as hurt, jealousy, anger, and sadness, both in response to a partner’s behavior and in general. (Solomon, 2015) They can impair communication and lead to cognitive biases. Relational turbulence theory links cognitive appraisals and emotions to communication. It describes how episodes characterized by biased appraisals, intense emotions, and volatile communication coalesce into global evaluations of relationships as turbulent (Solomon, Knobloch, Theiss, & McLaren, 2016). McLaren and colleagues proposed that relational communication (specifically, perceptions of dominance, and disaffiliation) is the mechanism linking relational qualities to hurt. Empirical data shows that people’s experiences of hurt vary as a function of both relationship characteristics and relational inferences, although there are differences between the sexes. (McLaren, Solomon, & Priem, 2012)
While it may be impossible overall not to communicate, it is possible not to exchange specific information. Since meaningful information can trigger other meaningful information, for better or for worse, the fear of talking about a controversial subject is often greater when there is less certainty about the other person. In the beginning of any relationship, from business to romantic, there is usually a lack of knowledge about the other person, which impacts communication patterns and content (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018c). It has been shown that the higher (or lower) is the relational uncertainty the higher (or lower) is topic avoidance in romantic relationships (Knobloch & Carpenter-Theune, 2004). Knobloch and colleague also showed that relational uncertainty mediates the (convex) association between intimacy and topic avoidance.
One may wonder how deeper relationships get started at all. One reason why they can evolve is simply because they develop gradually and in stages. Even if the partners seem to skip a stage because it may be short or not as visible, usually they go through all of them.
Our values are mostly stable over time and allow us to pursue goals in life. Having insight into one’s true needs, values and aspirations can help to find greater stability in the world and to pursue and reach what is important to us. Sometimes they may appear to be in conflict, but the more basic needs and values can be explored by paying closer attention to the communication patterns used when engaging in activities and behaviors. When someone does something which brings about feelings of fulfillment or happiness it happens within flows of information that are sustainable (Haverkampf, 2012, 2018b, 2018a). Let us look at an example where this is not the case:
Peter talks to Jane. He tells her that he really believes in the common business venture of starting a steak restaurant. The more he talks about what this may grow into the future and how he feels this will be important to him also in the future, the more strenuous it becomes. The following days he reluctantly answers Jane’s calls. When he opens a new account for the business at the bank, he feels anxious.
Peter may not even know himself that he would rather start a vegetarian restaurant. However, once he observes his communication patterns with himself and others, it very likely would become clear to him that something is out of sync. In the moment, when he talks to Jane, it may not become clear to him, because he thinks about a specific content rather than how the content is being communicated. However, by observing how he communicates a specific content he can gain clarity and insight into the basic parameters of needs, values and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2018b, 2018e).
The meaning we see and share in the world depends on the exchange of information, both with ourselves and with the environment. One can be happy in solitude, but this happiness depends on how one communicates with oneself and interacts with the living world around. Most people need companionship on a regular basis, because they need more varied communication and a at least a certain minimum level of interactions with others to create and maintain meaning. Connectedness can thus take many forms, and it is important to find the right communication and interaction styles and intensities which lead to a high level of satisfaction, contentment and happiness.
Because connectedness offers more insight into the own needs, values and aspirations, it also helps to stabilize the own perception of them and the perception of those in others, which can contribute to a greater sense of stability within oneself and with the world. Thus, all opportunities to connect more deeply with another human being can further the sense of stability in the world. When the ability to connect with others in a meaningful way is impaired, the world is often a more frightening place. ‘Meaningfulness’ is an important criterion. For example, an inability to be intimate on a deeper level often causes those affected by it to try to compensate with more sex with more partners. However, sex without a deeper connection is usually not fulfilling and leads to a hunger which is not stilled no matter how often one tries.
Connections need to align with the basic parameters, the needs values and aspirations. Otherwise the connection is not sustainable over the long-term. This does not mean that people in a relationship have to have the same basic parameters, but it requires that the connection aligns with them. As we have connections with many different people in different types of relationships, each connection has to have mutual benefits on a deeper level to be sustainable. ‘Deeper’ simply means that is not solely transaction based, such as the temporary connection between a customer and a shop assistant; the relationship has to have potential benefit over time to be sustainable, which goes beyond the benefit of a momentary transaction.
Communication that serves to test and experiment with the potential alignment between partners can be likened to a trial dance to see if sharing a rhythm is possible. This may also explain why the the choice of communicatioon patterns and styles in a dating situation may be more important than the actual content that is being talked about. The alignment manifests itself when new meaning is created.
A connection flourishes if there is some knowledge in each partner of the own needs and values to at least know what does not work for them. While explicit knowledge grows through awareness, an implicit knowledge which comes from experience is enough. There is thus a positive cycle between communication which delivers greater insight into needs, values and aspirations, and the latter, which help maintain and deepen the connection. Having a greater understanding of the own basic parameters and the communication patterns one uses with oneself and others is the key towards a better connectedness with oneself and with others (Haverkampf, 2010a). Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT), as developed by the author offers several approaches (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a) Finding meaning in things leads to greater happiness, and the basic parameters are ways to find and communicate what is meaningful. This requires doing what feels important, which can be a radically new way of doing things.
Sustainable happiness is when we are connected to the inside and outside worlds, when we can communicate freely within both. When an organization strives to be optimally adapted to itself and the environment, when it allows itself to be changed by it and to change it in beneficial ways, it can induce positive feelings and productivity. Fears, however, can be a significant hindrance.
Happiness does not require great activity. Even sitting in one’s chair at home can bring about happiness, when the feeling of connectedness with oneself and the world around is present. Happiness and the flow of meaningful information are linked. Happiness as an emotion is an indicator of how we process information, of how we think. Taking a step back and ‘observing’ how one process information on the inside (thinks and feels) and how one processes information on the outside (interacts with others) leads to greater connectedness and usually also higher satisfaction in life. Connectedness helps to optimize how we arrange our surroundings and ourselves in these surroundings.
Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. (Vienna) MLA (Harvard) LL.M. (ULaw) trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy, counselling and psychiatric medication in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of several books and over two hundred articles.
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