Over the next few months, we’re going to be diving deep into the art of communication, which I see as the single biggest area of personal growth. Communication, when done elegantly and thoughtfully, can make us feel connected to others and help us feel understood. But, when done poorly, communication can contribute to conflict and alienate us from ourselves and our loved ones. Furthermore, among couples, while bad communication might not be the root of all conflicts, it certainly interferes with any attempt at resolution.
The best framework I know of is Non-Violent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg. Marshall created a format and process for communication that enables us to be honest about our feelings but still keeps us connected with others. NVC both helps increase our chances of getting what we want and also encourages us to share our feelings with others before our frustrations accumulate.
Rather than look to the other person as the source of our frustration and the possibility for our healing, NVC allows us to look within ourselves to see why we’re so triggered and what feelings and needs are not being met that led to the thoughts about the other person. This is revolutionary and will absolutely change your life—if you embrace it.
You see, in our seeking communication with others, generally what we’re doing is looking for opportunities to start and cultivate a dialog, rather than trying to shut things down. But, often the language we choose to use is, in and of itself, triggering, and can lead to disconnection, pushing us farther and farther away from what it is that we really want.
Communicating Feelings and Needs
Let’s take a typical interaction between spouses:
“You make me feel angry (FEELING) when you leave the kitchen dirty (ACTION).”
All this statement really does is shift blame for our feelings onto our partner—something sure to put them on the defensive. And how can someone ever listen to us, and really take in what we’re trying to share, when they’re focused on trying to defend themselves?
What if, instead of the above statement, we try this:
“When you leave the kitchen a mess (ACTION), I feel anxious (FEELING), because I have a need for order (NEED). In the future, I have a hope that you might be able to be a little tidier in the kitchen (REQUEST).”
What we’ve learned about communication
We’ve done some very important things here:
- Recognized that our unmet need is at the root of our feelings, not our partner’s actions;
- Taken responsibility for our own feelings, no longer blame shifting onto another;
- Offered up a request so that our partner knows something productive he or she can do to help alleviate our discomfort in the future. We’ve given them a real opportunity for change!
If we’re able to express ourselves more like this, chances are our partner will be able to hear us, likely empathize with our experience, and possibly want to be different in the future.
Shifting the responsibility for our feelings from our partner back onto us may seem like a small thing, but what it ultimately does is allow our partner to hear us without becoming triggered by an accusation. Don’t take my word for it. Try it next time you find yourself upset or frustrated and see the difference for yourself.
We’re ready to help your marriage!
This is just the beginning of our adventure into NVC, so be on the lookout for additional posts and videos! If you would like personal help improving your communication, contact the Marriage Recovery Center; we’d be happy to help you have more productive conversations and feel more connected to your spouse!