Using NVC (Non Violent Communication) With Your Partner
Many couples fall into the trap of accidental bickering and getting into fights, and sometimes they don’t even know what happened to spur this. We have all been taught ways of communication in our families and in our previous relationships. Sometimes we’ve never evaluated these methods and our intention in communication may come across as different from what we really mean. Non-Violent communication is a method of communication that focuses on “I” statements, that teaches us to highlight our own feelings, and that helps us understand when what we are saying might actually be coming off as blaming or accusing. I would like to give you an example of non violent communication in action using the example of S and J, a fictional couple that has come to therapy. This is what a conversation may look like before NVC is implemented:
S: Well, I told J to take out the trash but he never listens and he only thinks about himself.
J: That’s not true, you are always complaining about everything! You’re a perfectionist and you don’t appreciate anything that I do!!!
In this example, I’ve underlined the parts where S and J go about expressing their anger at each other by putting the focus on what the other person does wrong. I’ve also highlighted statements that are the opposite of non-violent communication; that is to say, “violent communication” so to speak. Any time a statement is made starting with YOU or blaming the other, this is a sure way that communication can lead to a fight. Using damning statements such as “they never” or “they always” can be a trigger for the other person. Focusing on what the other person did wrong instead of what you feel can be a trap and can create more problems.
Non-violent communication encourages each person to speak directly to their own feelings, and to try and communicate about something that has bothered them without automatically assuming judgments of others or putting blame on the other. Lets return to the example of S and J. I am going to have them try again. This example will be partially in use of NVC, but I will include common mistakes that people make when first trying to use NVC.
S: I was angry because I asked if J could take out the trash, I felt that he doesn’t listen a lot of the time and perhaps he doesn’t consider that I take the trash out a lot.
J: I didn’t know that you took the trash out. I feel like you ask me to do a lot and then you don’t notice when I actually do things.
In this example, S and J are communication better, but they are still using linguistics that put the focus on the other instead of on themselves. When many people begin to learn NVC they think that “I feel Like” or “I feel That” are feeling statements, but actually, they are opinions, that usually direct the focus on the other again. It’s very tricky to communicate without using a “you” statement. Let’s give it another try and see if NVC can be implemented in its true form:
S: I feel frustrated J, but more so, I feel a little bit hurt. I want to feel close to you. When I am cleaning up a lot of our house and doing a lot of errands, I start to get upset. I really want us to respect each other and find a way to take an equal load of chores so that we don’t resent each other.
J: I hear you. I guess I’ve been feeling angry and a bit rebellious. I get upset sometimes when I feel as if someone is telling me what to do. I hear that your intentions are different from how I’m taking them. I would feel better about helping if I could be asked in a different way.
In this example, both S and J are expressing their feelings and their hurt in a non-accusatory way. They both get to have their opinions and feelings heard. Neither person presents a statement that is sure to trigger the other, therefore, neither becomes immediately angry and can therefore hear each other better. Practicing this style of communication is tedious and takes a lot of practice. Couples therapy can be a very constructive and helpful place to parse out these feelings and learn a new way to communicate.
Bianca Aarons LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco. Bianca’s specialties include attachment, trauma, sexual abuse, post traumatic stress, relationship issues, depression issues, couples work and work with teenagers. Learn more about Bianca at www.biancaaarons.com, email her at BiancaAaronsMFT@gmail.com, or call her at (415) 553-5346 to ask any questions or to set up a consultation session.