Do you find yourself having yelling matches with your spouse, in front of or within earshot of your kids, frequently enough that you and your spouse know it’s time for a change? Most of the time when couples yell in fights, it’s because either one or both of the people in the couple have strong feelings which arise because a deep-seated need is not being met.
For instance, let’s say that a woman asks her spouse daily that before he go watch television after dinner, he clean up the counter and dishes there after she has done the cooking. The cooking partner has to ask several times, nagging, and the frustration builds up. More often than not, the evening erupts into a yelling match over dishes. But we all know it’s not about dishes. What it is about is the fact that the irritated partner feels ignored, disrespected, unheard, dismissed, unloved, and has needs for cooperation, consideration and equality that are not being met.
This is how Non-Violent Communication (NVC) works: first off, the person who wants to communicate her feelings starts off by identifying the moment/behavior/action of the person she is communicating with which most causes her to feel these strong feelings, in an objective way. In this case, it’s the moment when her partner gets up from the table and goes to the couch instead of spending some time clearing and cleaning up after dinner.
In NVC, you start off a conversation with this identifying action. You say, “When I see you get up from the table to watch television without clearing dishes or cleaning up…” This wording has the feel of looking through a camera lens. You simply communicate what you see, without judgment or hard criticism.
The next step is to clearly identify how this behavior/action makes you feel, and to be specific. Rather than saying it makes you mad, say it makes me feel dismissed, ignored and disrespected – much stronger and more specific feelings which land with more clarity and emotional strength for the person listening.
Then you add to the statement of communication: “When I see you get up from the table to watch television without clearing dishes or cleaning up, I feel ignored, disrespected and dismissed…”
Then you identify the underlying need that is not being met, and which is causing the strong feelings to erupt: “When I see you get up from the table without clearing dishes or cleaning up, I feel ignored, disrespected and dismissed because I need cooperation, equality and consideration…”
The last part of the statement is a request. After you explain what happened and how it makes you feel, what needs are underlying the strong feelings, you request if the person would be willing to act in a new way to correct course and prevent this hurt in future.
A final NVC statement would look like this: “When you get up from the table and start watching television without clearing dishes or cleaning up, I feel ignored, disrespected and dismissed because I need cooperation, equality and consideration. In future, would you be willing to help me to clear the table and clean the dishes and countertops before you turn on the television?”
This is very clear, it is not accusatory, it is not said while yelling. It is straightforward, specific and proactive in what it communicates and requests gently a new action/behavior which is supportive and appropriate.
So the next time you and your spouse are veering towards a yelling match, stop, take a deep breath, and try this NVC methodology out: describe the action objectively, state the feelings that arise when this action occurs, what the underlying unmet need is, and what if he or she would be willing to act differently in future so this hurt/feelings can be avoided.
You may be surprised at your spouse’s willingness to change when you approach him/her with calm, clarity, specificity, vulnerability, proactivity and gentleness.
Wishing you all the best as you consider using NVC to redesign your marital communication!