If your relationship is stuck in a cycle of blame, you probably wonder what happened to the communication that brought you together. It may work in politics, but blaming your partner will never get your needs met in a relationship. You have a better chance of recapturing the intimacy with a few simple tools from Marshall Rosenberg’s in Non-Violent Communication.
When you start a sentence with “you” or “you always…” your partner will hear it as criticism and probably become defensive. For example, “You’re always late, I can’t believe how inconsiderate you are!” is filled with blame and bound to start an argument. Instead, try calmly stating the behavior you observe without evaluation. If you say, “you’re 30 minutes late,” or “when you’re late I feel…(impatient, angry, worried, etc),” you’re off to a better start.
Expressing feelings is trickier than it sounds. For example, “I feel like you’re always criticizing me,” uses the word feel, but is more about your partner’s behavior than about what you feel. A healthier way to phrase it would be: “I feel hurt when you tell me that I didn’t do a good job.” To keep the feelings about you, try words like: angry, discouraged, scared, worried, frustrated and heartbroken. Your partner’s actions may trigger your feelings, but they are rarely the cause. More often, your feelings are rooted in unmet needs.
Clearly understanding what you need is basic to a healthy relationship. If you say things like,” I’m angry because you…” you’re back into the cycle of blame. But if you replace it with “I’m angry because I need…” you are more likely to be heard and get your needs met. You can get away with telling your kids things like, “I need you to clean your room,” but it’s really about your need for order or cooperation. Try expressing your needs with words like: appreciation, honesty, compassion, integrity, acceptance, etc. So if you’re partner’s late, it’s better to say, “I need to make a good impression on this interview by being on time,” than to yell, “I need you to be on time.”
The last step in Rosenberg’s model involves making a request. Some examples of useful requests are: “Would you be willing to leave a little earlier next time, when you know I have an interview?” or “Would you be willing to look me in the eyes when you talk?” These help restore a more empathetic connection with your partner and head off ensuing conflict.
5. Non-Violent Communication:
The NVC model depends on observation, feelings, needs and requests. You can try it out by using the following model: When I see or hear__________, I feel__________, because I need__________. Would you be willing to__________? Or back to our original example: “When you’re 30 minutes late I feel angry because I need to keep my word and be on time (integrity). Would you be willing to leave a little earlier next time to avoid the traffic?”
It may sound stilted at first, but with a little practice you’re on your way to a healthier relationship. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Torrance, California. I specialize in working with couples just like you. If you want to improve your relationship with both yourself and others, contact me at http//:www.sydellweiner.com. I’d love to hear from you!
Sydell Weiner, Ph.D