Nonviolent Communication™ Skills in Intimate Relationships
“NVC requires us to be continually conscious of the beauty within ourselves and other people. ”
The connection between Nonviolent Communication and Intimate Relationships is strong and vital — and perhaps not obvious to those unfamiliar with NVC.
For those of us with NVC skills who are also in intimate relationships, we can’t imagine being in a relationship without NVC!
Intimate relationships are some of the most meaningful connections with the people who are most important to us.
This is why when disconnection happens it can be more painful than in other types of relationships.
In intimate relationships the stakes are higher, in part because our emotional investment is greater.
For all these reasons and more, learning NVC skills to prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts in intimate relationships can help us deepen and enjoy those relationships more fully!
The Importance of Communication in Intimate Relationships
An intimate relationship without communication is like a bird without wings, or a tree without leaves. Communication is one of the primary mediums for connection, and without connection how intimate can a relationship be?
The importance of communication in intimate relationships — now, today —can be summed up by the proverb: “dig your well before you’re thirsty.”
What does this mean?
In this metaphor, thirst is the need for connection, for mutual understanding, for the trust and good will that take us to mutually satisfying ways of living. The well would be access to NVC tools and the practice to become skillful with them.
Your NVC skills can take you to mutual understanding and deeper connection — consistently!
However — there is a big difference between having a tool and being skillful with it.
Can you understand why it might serve NOT to wait until you’re in a full-blown conflict to decide that you want to develop your communication skills?
Communication helps us each know where we’re at, what we’re each feeling, what’s important to us, and what we would like.
There’s another apt proverb here: “An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.”
The importance of communication in intimate relationships goes way beyond resolving conflicts.
As you develop your skills you begin to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts. And this allows you to conserve mental and emotional energy, and prevent angst and suffering.
Beyond misunderstandings and conflicts, the importance of communication in intimate relationship is that it contributes to an ongoing deepening of your most important connections.
Common Communication Problems in Relationships
There are many common communication problems in relationships.
Fortunately, NVC has principles, insights, and tools that address every one of them!
One of the most common communication problems in relationships is when we listen to respond rather than to understand.
When you are present, and listening to understand, you will still have a chance to respond later! But first, help the other person experience being understood. This is not the same as agreement; simply understanding.
When the other person feels understood they are much more open to hearing you out! And the dynamic of hearing each other deeply as each person reveals vulnerably, allows the conversation to deepen to a place of authentic connection in which conflicts often resolve themselves.
Sometimes you might be in a conversation that is going just fine, and a little while into it you and the other person find yourselves in a very uncomfortable place — a disagreement, a disconnection, or even a full-blown conflict — and you’re wondering, how did we get here?
This is actually quite a common experience, and is related to the previous communication problem. Sometimes there is even a slight miscommunication — for example one person says red and the other hears blue — and nobody notices.
These situations easily lead to misunderstandings which can lead to conflicts.
A true-life example: a woman said to her male partner, “I don’t want to be so wifey.”
What she meant: “I don’t want to be the only one doing the housework.”
What he heard: “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
This couple ended up divorcing — true story — and is an example of a small miscommunication that can spiral out of control quickly if we don’t catch it. So slowing down, listening to understand, and asking clarifying questions can save us all a lot of heartbreak! (In the example of the couple above, their large group of friends also went through a form of heartbreak.)
Another common communication problem in relationships is rushing to a solution in a way that skips the connection. Often the person who does this has positive intentions of wanting to resolve an issue or fix a problem.
However, when we skip the connection the other person rarely feels included in the solution. Furthermore, we have little guarantee that the solution will meet their needs because we haven’t taken the time to find out what they are! NVC encourages us to connect first — get clear on each person’s observations, feelings, needs, and requests — and then, once the needs are clear and there is mutual understanding, together arrive at a strategy that meets all or most of the needs.
Connection before solution!
Nonviolent Communication is also known as life-connected, life-serving communication. As such, it has its opposite: life-disconnected, life-alienating communication, which is defined as the type of thinking and language which takes us away from the quality of connection for which we are seeking.
Most of the common communication problems in relationships can be identified in this life-disconnected thinking and language. These include:
Diagnosing others: This includes judgments, name-calling, and criticism. Diagnoses also include assuming we know what another person is thinking, feeling, or needing. (“You’re obviously very angry about that!”) And they include any static language that would explain why someone is acting the way they are (the problem with you is you are [an egomaniac; an Aries; a troubled soul; a rebel, etc.]).
Denying responsibility: This includes any language that implies that we lack choice. I had to. I had no choice. You made me. I can’t. This does not mean that we always like the options of which we’re aware. Sometimes we dislike every option, and yet, within that we still have choice. And sometimes we’re not aware of other possibilities because we are in a “crisis of imagination.” Rather than owning our choices we act as if we are powerless. I have no choice, it’s (the law, company policy, superiors’ orders). Accusatory blame would fit in this category.
Placing demands on others: In NVC we take responsibility for what we are wanting by expressing clear requests. In a request, the other person’s needs matter too, and so no is an option. In a demand, ‘no’ is not an option. In a demand, by definition, the other person’s needs do not matter equally to the person issuing the demand. The reason this hurts relationships is that, if I am on the receiving end of demands it communicates that my needs don’t matter. This, in turn, leads to resentment and disconnection. Over time, it is quite likely that the needs of the person placing the demands cease to matter to the person on the receiving end.
Life-alienated motivations: The key insight here can be summarized by a phrase often emphasized by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, creator of NVC: The energy with which we do anything for each other is just as important as the action itself. Life-alienated motivations include fear, guilt, shame, duty/obligation, to obtain an extrinsic reward, to avoid punishment, or acting out of “shoulds” or have-tos.” When we do something for each other out of these motivations, it creates disconnection, resentment, and serves to break down trust. We want to do things for each other when we are connected to how it serves life, how it also contributes to our needs.
Using Compassionate Communication in Relationships
The key to using Compassionate Communication in relationships consists of remembering three things: Purpose, Intention, and Attention.
It’s extremely helpful to remember that the purpose of Compassionate Communication (another name for NVC) is to create a high quality of connection out of which people naturally and spontaneously enjoy contributing to one another’s well-being. This is how we find win-win or mutually satisfying outcomes: out of the connection.
The purpose is not to get others to do what you want, or to get your way, or to get a particular thing to happen!
So when you enter a conversation or are in an interaction, remember that the purpose is first to connect.
And so it helps if this is our intention.
When connecting with another, check your intention. What do I want here? Is my intention to be right? Am I willing to let go of being right and my preferred outcome in order to connect first? Do I trust that once we connect we can together find a mutually agreeable outcome?
And one of the outcomes of developing in NVC is skillful deployment of your attention.
Using Compassionate Communication in relationships means being able to put our attention on feelings and needs, rather than on who’s right and who’s wrong. It means putting our attention on our own, and the other person’s, humanity in order to connect and find a way of being with each other that is mutually fulfilling.
This is how using Compassionate Communication in relationships teaches us to use purpose, intention, and attention to create deeper and more satisfying relationships.
Using NVC to Improve Communication in a Relationship
Using compassionate communication in relationships is simple, though it is not necessarily easy.
The reason is that it helps us become aware of and re-configure old, unconscious patterns that get in the way of the quality of connection we’re looking for. Sometimes discovering these old patterns is painful, and shifting them can take time.
The good news is that as you get better at it, it becomes more fluid and takes less time.
How do we do it?
First, a clarification. We can think about communication in intimate relationships as consisting of a spectrum:
In this simple diagram, we can see that informal NVC could be indistinguishable from a normal conversation. That’s because connection is happening — which after all is the purpose of NVC.
At the other end of the spectrum we see “formal” NVC, which has certain key differentiations and follows a particular structure and syntax. Formal NVC keeps our communication extra clear, and helps us keep the key differentiations clear in our mind.
The dance of connection refers to the steps we take to move toward connection. A simple mnemonic device is ABABAB, referring to person “A” and person “B.”
Here’s how “the dance of connection” works:
1) Person A speaks with honesty from the heart.
2) Person B reflects back their understanding of what Person A said.
3) Person A confirms they were heard accurately.
4) Person B speaks with honesty from the heart.
5) Person A reflects back their understanding of what Person B said.
6) Person B confirms they were heard accurately.
7) Return to the top, to #1. This process is continued until the two people feel connected and they trust that they are understood by the other. Then they can proceed to brainstorm or propose strategies and/or solutions.
Though somewhat of an oversimplification, this illustrates the process we undergo to allow a conversation to wind deeper and deeper, until there is a high quality of connection out of which people co-create mutually satisfying outcomes.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication Skills in Relationships
There is so much we can learn from Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication Skills in relationships.
He knew that intimate relationships are some of the most important relationships — and sometimes some of the most challenging ones.
Dr. Rosenberg explained that if you meet your needs at the expense of another, your needs will also not be met. Anytime you create a win-lose, you also lose — because we are all interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent.
When we coerce others or place demands on them, the quality of the connection suffers.
When we can let go of being right and put our attention on making life more wonderful, then we can create a high quality of connection out of which it’s easy to explore outcomes, solutions, and ways of living that are mutually satisfying.
Puddledancer Press Books About Healthy Relationships
PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication in relationships.
NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of healing past hurts, preventing and resolving conflicts, celebrating the ways we contribute to each other’s well-being, and arriving at mutually crafted solutions.
Because of the trust-building that happens naturally when we apply the process, using NVC for communication in relationships means that we will more consistently deepen and strengthen those relationships.
Our books on communication in relationships can help you:
- Offer compassionate understanding to others,
- Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
- Create mutual understanding without coercion,
- Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict,
- Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts,
- Create exceptional personal and professional relationships;
Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including the books on communication for healthy relationships, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.
Check out our catalog of books on conflict resolution… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!
Topic written by Alan Seid, a Certified Trainer, on behalf of PuddleDancer Press for use on www.nonviolentcommunication.com.
More information on Books about Relationships
NVC Intimate Relationships Web Resources
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Click here for Nonviolent Communication Intimate Relationships Videos
There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.