Nonviolent Communication (called NVC, for short) consists of an elegantly simple 4-step formula created by Marshall Rosenberg for clearly stating our needs, while taking 100% responsibility for our own feelings and not eliciting defensiveness from the other person through blame. He has used this technique with couples, families, organizatons, and even in peace negotiations. (If NVC can work for warring governments, it can certainly work for two people in love!)
Step 1 - Neutral Observation The key here is to make an objective observation, without a globalization or evaluative judgement attached. Instead of, “You never want to have sex with me,” a neutral observation would be, “When you shifted away from my touch 3 times this week...”
Step 2 - Identify Your Feelings This is always an “I” statement. After all, it is your feeling. Watch out for sneaky “You” statements, like, “misunderstood” or “ignored”. “Misunderstood” is an assessment of another’s actions and “ignored” is an interpretation of another’s actions. Neither of these words actually describe the feeling state alive within you. And pointing the finger at someone else is pretty great at getting them to close off, not open to you! Continuing our example: “... that leaves me feeling lonely, disappointed, and frustrated.”
Step 3 - Identify Your Needs (especially if they haven't been met) Take responsibility for your feelings by expressing why you feel the way you do - using an “I” statement. “I feel ... because I...” Continuing our example: “... because I was hoping to connect with you and feel closer. I have a need for touch and sexual expression, and I was hoping to feel more reciprocity from you.”
Step 4 - Make A Request Take 100% responsibility for your needs by making a request. Use positive language (do’s instead of don’ts) and word your request in the form of concrete actions. “I would ideally like to have sex at least twice a week.” "And for a start I would really appreciate some more cuddle time on the couch." Be prepared to let your partner have his or her own response to your request, and continue the conversation, negotiating so both of you get your needs met. (Or, tolerating the disappointment of not getting your need met and sharing that disappointment with your partner.) If your partner can’t fulfill your request and you get upset at your partner, then it wasn’t actually a request where you took 100% responsibility for your need; it was a demand. Advanced NVC is helping the other person identify their own feelings and needs. "I wonder what you would need to help make this happen?"
Bonus Step 5 - (Beyond traditional NVC, a building block of Conscious Relating) Take Responsibility and Get Curious About Yourself I'm a huge believer in personal responsibility so I had to add my own extra step here. This idea deserves its own blog post, so that's coming soon...
Allow your asking for something different from what's been happening to open you both to wonder and curiosity about how both of you are responsible for your own contributions to creating the current pattern! "I wonder how I am contributing to creating this dynamic?"
Are you replaying old patterns from childhood or past relationships? Is an old wound being triggered and causing you to react with more sensitivity? Are you projecting old hurts onto your partner and reading into his or her behavior? Practice compassionately loving your reacting self.
Seriously, take a moment...
Send yourself a wave of love for the hurt you feel, even if it's old hurt, it obviously was significant enough to still be impacting you today. The old hurt will continue pushing you to act out from a reactive and scared mindset until it's acknowledged so go ahead and give it some love. See if you can get a little bigger than that pain. Allow your bigger perspective to take in all of the ways the present is different from the past, even if it's similar enough to push those old buttons. Chose to cultivate a feeling of curiosity and wonder, free from blame, where you can more easily get in touch with your own power to change the present.
NVC is a Paradigm Shift This technique with its steps might sound formulaic and maybe even a little odd, especially if you’re not accustomed to sharing your feelings in many words. However, I guarantee you, everybody whom I’ve seen apply this process to their relationships has decreased their anxiety and increased the satisfaction they feel in relationships. And it doesn’t just work for love relationships; NVC is a powerful tool in business and in friendships!
Also, check out this video of Marshall Rosenberg teaching NVC for relationship issues: (Please stick with it, even if you find the puppets a little odd, this man is a international peace visionary and gifted mediator.) He holds some golden keys for drama-free communication: listening without filters!